An explosive vision of dynamic lines and bold colours, André Masson’s Constellation des amants was painted in 1958 and 1960, during a period of renewed innovation in the artist’s career. A frenetic energy radiates from this kaleidoscopic composition. Like fireworks illuminated against the dark night sky, fine lines, drips, stipples and flecks of colour dance across the entirety of the large composition, as a large golden orange orb hangs to the lower left, serving to anchor the dazzling forms. With its immersive, astral-like whirlwind of forces, Constellation des amants encapsulates the style and themes of Masson’s work of this late period. Seeking to invent new forms of artistic expression, Masson amalgamated and synthesised the various techniques and styles that he had used in the past – namely automatic drawing, Oriental calligraphy and the use of bold colour – to create a new pictorial vocabulary. At the time he painted Constellation des amants, Masson had become interested in Zen Buddhism, adopting a form of gestural calligraphy in his painting. In the present work, the artist's vertical signature could be seen to reflect this concurrent interest, appearing like the vertical scripture of Japanese calligraphy.
In many ways, this hallucinatory, abstract vision of colour and line is reminiscent of Masson’s vivid description of his experience on the battlefields of World War One. Seriously wounded, he was unable to be rescued and was left for the night lying in a shell hole. As he gazed up at the sky, he recalled: ‘The indescribable night of the battlefield, streaked in every direction by bright red and green rockets, striped by the wake and the flashes of the projectiles and rockets – all this fairytale-like enchantment was orchestrated by the explosions of shells which literally encircled me and sprinkled me with earth and shrapnel’ (Masson, quoted in exh. cat., W. Rubin & C. Lanchner, André Masson, New York, 1976, p. 30). Yet, the title of the present work, Constellation des amants or Constellation of lovers, seems to invoke an exuberant, joyous subject, a spontaneous, lyrical and deeply subjective surrealist vision.