The title of the present work, Poete en exil, may be read as a poignantly autobiographical reference to Brauner's self-imposed exile in a small village in the Pyrénées during the Second World War. He had left his homeland of Romania in 1930 and settled in Paris, where he became deeply involved with the Dada and Surrealist review UNU and worked alongside Constantin Brancusi, Yves Tanguy, and Alberto Giacometti. Officially joining the Surrealist movement in 1932, Brauner derived much inspiration from the flatness of folk art, as well as from themes of spiritualism and the occult--interests inherited at a young age from his father.
During the war and for many years thereafter, Brauner experimented with the medium of encaustic, creating "candle paintings" using wax when he did not have ready access to oil paint and canvas. In the present work, the medium is applied with particular heaviness. Words are strewn about the composition in seemingly haphazard fashion, though upon closer inspection it becomes evident that their placement is deliberate. "Force de soumission" ("force of submission"), the artist has written this figure's shackled ankles, indicating the sense of imprisonment he must have felt during his exile. Here, the poete possesses two pairs of eyes, belying the artist's personal fascination with this element of human anatomy. He had lost his left eye in a brawl in the studio of his Surrealist compatriot Oscar Dominguez in 1931, and later described this event as "the most painful and important fact of my life."
Of Brauner's oeuvre, Susan Davidson has written,
An erudite man of high intellect, Brauner made paintings that often have a naïve, folk art quality. Primarily focusing on figuration--whether human, animal, occult or mythological beings--his works coversely are often realized in boldly colored abstract shapes permeated by expanses of decorative two-dimensional patterning. While his paintings often seem thematically simple and straightforward, invoking images from a child's storybook, they are in fact underpinned by a lexicon of symbolism and archetypes that waves an intricate tapestry of meaning (in Victor Brauner: Surrealist Hieroglyphs, Houston, The Menil Collection, exh. cat., 2001, p. 9).