Through the looking glass

This galley takes a look at some of the earliest pieces of surrealist art.  Focusing on 1910-1930 by observing what started this movement, what it meant to people, and how it changed over the two decades.

Woman with her elbows on the table, Olga Sacharoff, Ca.1915, From the collection of: Museo Art Nouveau y Art Déco - Casa Lis
The title of this piece is pretty straight forward. It is a painting of a woman sitting, reading a book, with her arms on the table. This artist uses different geometric shapes together in order to form this scene. This makes the painting seem simplistic, but the artists use of color and contrast is what adds in the detail. The use of color is how you know this woman is depressed, or bored at the very least. This piece is an example of how early surrealist paintings took a "less is more" approach, rather than the more "out of this world" ones that we think of today.
Landscape, János Mattis Teutsch, 1916–1917, From the collection of: Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
This is a landscape of hills, with some barren trees in the center and mountains in the foreground. This artist uses mostly lies of color to create this landscape. At first glance, you just notice the hills trees, and mountains, but the more you look at it you realize that the use of color is intentional. The lighter green colors are flat valleys that are surrounded by a dark green wooded area in the front, and brown and orange hills to the front. The dark grey colors are the shadows that outline the landscape. Some art like this were though thought, in the time, to be nothing but crude or childish drawings that were up the the viewers interpretation.
We are Making a New World, Nash, Paul, 1918, From the collection of: Imperial War Museums
This is a painting of a field post-battle, with the sun rising from the mountains in the background. This piece is a good example of the beginning of this artistic movement. WWI just ended and the people were ready for change, and the artists were ready to create something new. This battlefield was obviously ravage with gunfire and explosives, but green life has taken over the area, and the rising sun represents the coming of a new day.
The Lamb, Paul Klee, 1920, From the collection of: Städel Museum
This painting is a representation of a lamb being sacrificed. It has deep religious meaning that is not obvious at first, but I'm not going to get into that here. This artist draw lines and shapes, and used blotched of color in a way to resemble stained glass. He makes sure to only use red as blood coming from the lambs throat and staining the ground beneath the animal and the cross, in order portray the sacrifice without being graphic. Surrealist artwork is never an exact representation of the actual world.
A Wedding, Olga Sacharoff, 1919 - 1923, From the collection of: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya - MNAC, Barcelona
In this painting, we see a wedding party gathered together in the woods, presumably for wedding shots. Previously, artist believed you needed as much detail as possible in your work to to convey emotion within it. Early surrealism broke down these barriers. They were lacking in detail, but still represented real life, while still looking different enough to break tradition.
Clock and Telephone, Rufino Tamayo, 1925, From the collection of: Museo Nacional de Arte
This is just an old clock and telephone sitting on a table. Here you start to see the change to a more detailed representation of something with obvious real wold differences. The corner of the wall curves giving it that fish eyed view. The clock and phone themselves are drawn in a way that looks as thought hey are melting, adding to the overall "weirdness" of this painting.
Self-portrait wearing a velvet dress, Frida Kahlo, 1926, From the collection of: Museo Frida Kahlo
This is the a self portrait of the artist with her back to the ocean. Although lacking in detail, the portrait is an accurate representation of the artist. That being said, it is not detailed enough to where you could easily identify the subject without already knowing who she was. The artist also uses the whirling blue lines to provide movement to the waves in the ocean.
This is s child's toy repurposed into art. It's a duck on wheels connected to a stick. As the wheels turn the legs move in a way that make look like the duck is walking. That sounds rather normal, except this duck has the legs of a zebra. You cannot find a duck with zebra legs on this planet, but the artist wants you to imagine a world where there are such things.
This is a painting of a giant vase and bouquet of flowers, with two newlyweds standing beneath it. Behind them there is a goat man playing the violin, and some buildings making up a town. This is is an example of the change to surrealist art having a more abstract concept rather than look. This resembles a fantasy world with animal people and giant flowers, merged with our world.
The Archaeologists, Giorgio de Chirico, 1927/1927, From the collection of: Museo Carlo Bilotti
Here we see two faceless mannequin-like figures sitting with their chests open showing abstract landscapes containing various things like old columns, buildings, and ruins. Nothing in this painting is realistic, and at this point the surrealism movement was considered to be the work of crazy people.
Gomorrhe, Alberto Savinio, 1929, From the collection of: Mart, Museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto
This is a painting of ancient ruins during a storm. There is a giant mass of objects that looks like its made of balloons or something perturbing out of the ruin. The artist uses a contrast in colors to have the two things stand apart. The statue coming up in the center is made of bright primary colors, while the scene around it are more natural earth-tones. This makes the statue stand out even more from the rest of the painting.
The Snack Bar, Edward Burra, 1930-01-01, From the collection of: Tate Britain
This is a scene at an old cafe, with a woman sitting at the counter have tea and biscuits and a man behind the counter slicing ham for sandwiches. Here, the artist uses an unrealistic sense of perspective of how people look. The scale isn't right. The mans hands are the same size as his head, while the woman mouth takes up half of her face. If this work of art were to be taken at face value, then we would all be horribly disfigured looking people.
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