This work is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Masson dated Paris, le 19 décember 2003.
"Woman is a trap but a trap you have to go through" (Masson, quoted in C. Mauriac, André Masson et les quatre eléments, Paris, 25 July 1959).
Executed in 1938, Pygmalion belongs to what has been termed Masson's "Second Surrealist period". This period is so-called not because of any dramatic change in direction in Masson's work at this time but primarily because of the reconciliation that took place between the artist and André Breton in 1937. This reconciliation led, for a time, to Masson once again becoming an important part of Breton's Surrealist fold and to his exhibiting with the group at several important Surrealist events such as the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1938.
Throughout the 1930s Masson's work had often centred upon mythological themes and the visual expression of these archetypal subjects through a loose swirling conglomeration of dream-like images rendered in a semi-automatic style of drawing and painting. Through his love of Nietzsche and Heraclitus, Masson had sought to explore the enduring power of the ancient myths by a kind of psychological exorcising of his own personal demons through his art. It was Masson who had persuaded Tériade and Skira to entitle Bataille's periodical "Minotaure" after the dark half-man half-beast of the unconscious who lay at the heart of the deepest recesses of the labyrinth of the mind, and along with the story of the Minotaur, such psychological interpretations of the ancient myths formed a central part in much of his work in the 1930s.
Troubled for much of the decade, Masson's art reflected this inner unrest by growing increasingly violent and tormented. The onset of the Spanish Civil War only compounded this tendency and re-awoke in Masson the trauma of his war experience. At the root of Masson's violent imagery lay a preoccupation with "Woman" as both mother and whore, temptress and destroyer, mantis, Earth Mother and eternal victim. In numerous images from these years Masson depicts women as both the victim of man's violent assault and as a morphological creature part mantis, part seductress.
It is in this guise that Masson depicts her in Pygmalion. The story of Pygmalion is that of an artist/king who creates the sculpture of a woman so lovely that he falls in love with his own creation. Taking pity on him, Aphrodite brings the sculpture to life and in most versions of the myth the couple, Pygmalion and Galatea, live happily ever after. In Masson's Pygmalion "Woman" is presented in two forms, as both a constructed sculptural form and as an intensely erotic semi-still-life-figure reclining on a table in front of a window opening on to the sea. Part vegetation and part mantis-like insect, each displaying an enlarged man-devouring vagina, the female creatures in this painting present a tormented vision of the female as a predator, a kind of Venus fly-trap brought to life by the feverish imagination of the artist.