"So far Yves Tanguy's paintings have only revealed their charm; we shall have to wait a little while for them to reveal their secret, a secret which is as well guarded as was that of the early de Chirico's for so many years." (André Breton, "Les tendances les plus récentes de la peinture surréaliste" , Minotaure, no. 11-12, Paris, 1939, p.17)
Formerly in André Breton's private collection, Proésépé is a particularly extraordinary early work which through its strange combinations of both solid and seemingly gaseous forms, disturbs the viewer's sense of reality and powerfully evokes the enigma of the unconscious mind.
Seeming as if it were a meticulous portrait of a strange undersea world, Proésépé's bizarre imagery creates an impossible mental landscape that is punctuated by fine geometric and topographical outlines which appear and then dissolve into puffs of cloud-like smoke around a central dolmen-like structure of amorphic shapes.
In the developing of these amorphic forms, Tanguy was profoundly influenced by the ancient landscape and neolithic stones that populated the far west coast of Brittany where he had grown up. The sight of these erect almost animate forms silhouetted against the horizon evidently burnt itself deep into Tanguy's young mind. During this time Tanguy's father had been a sea captain and Tanguy himself later became a cadet in the Merchant Navy. The sea consequently played a central role in both Tanguy's imagination and in the development of his early paintings which as Marcel Jean pointed out, displayed the same "penetrating loneliness" as that experienced by sailors alone on a seemingly infinite expanse of water. (Marcel Jean, The History of Surrealist Painting, London, 1959, p.198.)
For André Breton, who had also grown up in Brittany, Tanguy's paintings, with their invisible horizons and strange unknowable forms, represented the perfect pictorial embodiment of the Surrealist imagination. Here, in Proésépé Tanguy seems to unite all these extremes, assembling with his semi-soft amorphic forms, a strange almost anthropomorphic construction at the centre of the canvas. Deliberately ambiguous, this assemblage is framed by a carefully measured triangle that, like some astrological chart, seems to map the location. Perhaps Tanguy with his sailor's experience had in mind the star in the constellation of Cancer named "Proésépé" when he painted and named this work, but like much else, this remains uncertain. Evoking a sense of the boundless mystery of both the depths of the ocean floor and the outer reaches of the cosmos, the secrets of Proésépé remain guarded.