Post Lot Text
1900-1918: Born in Paris on 5 January at the Ministère de la Marine, Place de la Concorde, where his father, a retired sea captain, works. Spends family vacations at Locronan, in the Finistère province of Brittany.
1918: Joins the merchant marines; travels to South America, Africa and England.
1920: Enlists in the army; meets Prévert.
1922: Finishes his military service; joins Jacques Prévert in Paris.
1923: Leaps from a bus to view di Chirico's paintings in the window of the Galerie Paul Guillaume, the experience which leads him to begin painting.
1924: Takes an apartment at 54 rue du Château with Prévert and Maurice Duhamel, which will become an important center of Surrealist meeting and activity; discovers the periodical La Révolution Surréaliste.
1925: Meets and develops a close friendship with André Breton; joins the Surrealist group; exhibits two or three drawings at the Salon de l'Araignée.
1926: His first published painting, L'Anneau d'invisibilité, is in La Révolution Surréaliste (15 June, no. 7).
1927: Marries Jeanne Ducrocq; has his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Surréaliste, Paris.
1928: Participates in l'Exposition du Groupe Surréaliste at the Galerie Sacre du Printemps, Paris.
1930: Travels to Africa, and is fascinated by local rock formations that will play an influence in his work.
1939: Meets the American painter Kay Sage in Paris; spends the summer with Breton, Matta and Estebàn Francés at the Château de Chemillieu; joins Sage in New York on 1 November after the declaration of war.
1940: Travels to the American West, and is struck by the similarities of the geography to that of his own paintings; marries Kay Sage.
1941: Moves to Woodbury, Connecticut.
1948: Becomes an American citizen.
1951: Travels to Sedona, Arizona to visit Dorothea and Max Ernst.
1954: With other Surrealists in New York, acts in Hans Richter's film, 8 x 8.
1955: Dies suddenly in Woodbury, 15 January.
"Qu'est-ce que le surréalisme? --C'est l'apparition d'Yves Tanguy, coiffé du paradisier grand émeraude."
The event which inspired Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) to suddenly become an artist may seem the stuff of Hollywood fiction, but is true nonetheless: in 1923 he leapt off a bus in motion to examine two strange paintings that had caught his eye in a passing gallery window. They were by Giorgio de Chirico, and the gallery, operated by Paul Guillaume, was the same in which Surrealist impresario and theoretician André Breton discovered the art of de Chirico several years earlier. Although Tanguy was entirely untrained as an artist, and didn't begin to paint until after his encounter with the de Chirico paintings, he quickly developed a wholly original visual language and style that would place him in the foremost rank of the Surrealist movement.
Tanguy's entry into the Surrealist group came as the result of a confluence of his personal qualities and external circumstances. To begin with, Tanguy's personality was already predisposed to a love of the absurd. He stated in an interview that "about 1924 I came across the first issue of La Revue Surréaliste and I became very much interested in it. Not so much in the paintings reproduced in it as in the general spirit of it contents" (quoted in J. J. Sweeney, "Interview with Yves Tanguy," The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, New York, 1946, vol. 13, no. 4-5, p. 22). Sir Roland Penrose has related that Tanguy, during his military service, would often delight in shocking others by eating his own socks at the mess table or relishing spiders, soaked in wine, on a slice of bread --a practice that apparently didn't end in later years. Having completed his service, Tanguy returned to Paris in 1922 and was reunited with an old friend, the poet Jacques Prévert. Joined by Maurice Duhamel, the men took an apartment in Montparnasse that would become a hub of Surrealist activity. In 1925, Tanguy met Breton through mutual friends; the two discovered they held similar philosophical and aesthetic views, and Breton became an immediate champion of the promising young artist.
Breton first reproduced Tanguy's paintings and drawings in the 15 June 1926 issue of his La Revolution Surréaliste; he was thereafter recognized as one of the "official" Surrealist artists. These early paintings show bizarre, incongruous images with a deliberate disregard for conventional style and composition. A supernatural mood was already emerging, with murky backgrounds and flashes of light permeating the compositions. These early works reflect the stylistic influence of André Masson, Max Ernst and Joan Miró (who was a frequent visitor to the Montparnasse apartment), as well as intellectual ideas culled from Tanguy's studies in metaphysics, psychiatry and alchemy. Some of these early oils reveal the initial emergence of motifs such as the "weblike" tightropes and amorphous "anemone-like" bodies that would reappear in more simplified form in Tanguy's later, less literal compositions.
By 1927, the year of his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Surréaliste in Paris, Tanguy's mature style had emerged, one that would change little over the course of successive decades. According to James Thrall Soby, Tanguy "sometimes talked irritatedly of painters who felt obliged to evolve a new approach every few years, as a means of freshening their own and the public's interest in their work. Once he had found his direction -- and he found it with startling abruptness -- he followed it with devotion and purity, secret in his quest and oblivious of the pressures of fashion and commerce" (Yves Tanguy, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955, p. 9). Certainly one can detect a progression --however relaxed-- in the course of his work, including the evolution of his forms and a refinement of his palette over his 30 year career, but the overriding autograph throughout his oeuvre is unmistakable. Indeed, he once admitted that "here in the United States the only change I can distinguish in my work is possibly in my palette. What the cause of the intensification of color is I can't say. But I do recognize a considerable change" (quoted in Sweeney, op. cit., p. 23).
The aesthetic for which Tanguy became known depicts indefinable "inhabitants" of an otherworldly place, rendered in a meticulously detailed style. The objects seem real, yet we know them to be non-existent; they bridge the line between the abstract and figurative. In some cases their carefully modeled volumes cast heavy shadows across the landscape, while nearby translucent and even crystalline forms materialize. The compositions regularly defy gravity and conventional rules of perspective. Most striking about these forms is that, in true Surrealist fashion, they seem at once familiar yet completely unidentifiable.
Much has been made of the importance to Tanguy's imagery and compositions of his childhood spent in Brittany. During his family's frequent visits to Locronan, in the coastal Finistère province, Tanguy encountered imposing masonry in the forms of prehistoric dolmens and menhirs. The marine life of the tide pools and rocky shores along the coast, as well as local legends of the submerged city of Ys, also provided the inspiration for elements of his aesthetic language. Moreover, as a child Tanguy often watched a local painter named Toché at work, whose aim was to capture the atmospheric qualities of landscape at dusk or at night (Soby, op. cit., p. 10).
The evocation of landscape is the overriding constant in Tanguy's art. It is, according to Penrose, the aspect that granted Tanguy a unique place among the Surrealist painters, and influenced Dalí --an artist with full academic credentials -- to treat his trompe l'oeil landscapes in a similar way, although, Penrose notes, with Tanguy the atmospheric depths are more variable, more subtle and more profound. Tanguy's pictures possess only one familiar reference point --the horizon-- in which to relate them to landscape in a traditional sense. Yet the horizon sometimes appears as a hard dividing line, or it can melt away altogether. Regardless of the particular "inhabitants" of his pictures, the consistent element of Tanguy's technique is his "dual manipulation of perspective, from far to near and from high to low. Naturally, conventional perspective presupposes both depth and height, but perhaps no other modern painter has so insistently dramatized an opposition between these two dimensions" (ibid, p. 15). Indeed, it is Tanguy's extreme manipulation of space which imparts such a disquieting mood to the works.
After his trip to Africa in 1930, Tanguy briefly experimented with underdrawing as a preliminary step in his paintings. He quickly abandoned the technique, he said, for "I found that if I planned a picture beforehand, it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting (qtd. in ibid., p. 17). What most interested Tanguy was the unpredictable progression of motifs, each suggested by and playing upon the one before, both metaphorically as well as visually. This focus on spontaneous relationships was a hallmark of Surrealist creativity; it also found expression in the exercise of "automatic writing," which all of the Surrealists practiced in one form or another. Tanguy's automatic drawings were not studies for his paintings but independent creations, and were often used as illustrations in publications of Surrealist poetry and exhibition catalogues.
Yet the practice of these revolutionary ideas did not lead Tanguy to completely reject the past. He readily admitted to his admiration for artists of previous generations, particularly the mysterious, symbol-laden work of the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516). Both artists shared a taste for a strange and not easily explicable imagery, alchemical references, large crowds and enigmatic processions, as well as meticulous detail in their rendering.
Certainly this neatness and precision is evident throughout the artist's oeuvre. A slow and meticulous craftsman, Tanguy loved objects that were beautifully made. The elements of his paintings and drawings are rendered with the same care and convincing presence that a realist painter would impart to a still life or landscape. One encounters the imagery in a Tanguy "inscape" as if one were examining a familiar object through a magnifying glass or microscope, to discover that it is composed of a plethora of weirdly grotesque and beautiful shapes. The Surrealists in general were fascinated by the struggle between order and chaos in the natural, as well as the man-made, world. Biological and geological specimens were often displayed alongside the art at their exhibitions, and their repetitive, organic structures became the subjects of probing photographic studies by Brassaï, Le Charles, and others.
Tanguy's working methods were sporadic, yet highly focused. The artist explained, "I work very irregularly and by 'crises' - sometimes for weeks at a stretch, but never on more than one painting at a time, not in more than one medium. Certain of my paintings are finished very quickly; others take two months or more. This does not depend on the size of the canvas." (quoted in "The creative process," Art Digest, New York, 15 January 1954, vol. 28, no. 8, p. 14). Charged with a solemnity that counters the deliberate playfulness of much Surrealist art, Tanguy's painting achieved a new rubric in painting, a bridge between the abstract and the figurative, the real and the absurd.
Yves Tanguy, 1936 (photograph by Man Ray)
The Surrealist group, from left to right: Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray; second row: Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, Tanguy, René Crevel, 1930 (photo Man Ray)
Exhibition announcement with a design by Tanguy, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1945
Page facing lot one:
The element of surprise in the creation of a work of art is, to me, the most important factor --surprise to the artist himself as well as to others.