Nothing but the Marvellous is beautiful.

By Jo Phillips

Many may not know but the seminal classic book of psychotherapy by Sigmund Freud The Interpretation of Dreams was a vital work for many artists’ approaches to Surrealism. Freud himself was not a fan of the art movement, his preference was for classic Old Masters but a meeting late in his life with the Spanish Surrealist artist Salvidor Dali did somewhat change his thinking, which considering they were so influenced by him brings a nice circle to the story. Nothing but the Marvellous is beautiful said Breton so find out more here.

Image on left, René Magritte Time Transfixed 1938. The Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

Sigmund Freud noted that dreams played an important role in his analysis of neurotic and “hysterical” patients. He encouraged them to free-associate, getting them to talk about whatever came into their minds. It was through this that he noticed, that they often referred to their dreams. From this point he noted, free associations would connect other important past experiences. Freud also recognised hallucinations in psychotic patients were very much like dreams regular patients talked of. It was through these observations, he believed, that sleeping dreams were very similar to daydreams and wish fulfilment.

So he decided to write a book about dreams, as at this point most people believed dreams were nonsense. It took Freud about two years to write The Interpretation of Dreams,  being released in 1900.

The book explained a double level of dreams: the actual dream with its “manifest content,” and the dream’s true if hidden meaning, or “latent content.”

Press Photography of Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate Modern, 2022, ©Tate

The idea of dream as wish-fulfilment was explained, and he introduced the theory that sexuality was an important part of childhood, a shocking idea at the time. He also outlined a sort of universal language of dreams, by which they might be interpreted.

The book was not received well and it only sold 600 copies in 1900. In 1910, however, Freud’s overall work was becoming better known and a second edition was printed. There would be six more in Freud’s lifetime, the last in 1929. He changed very little in the book, only adding illustrations, elaborating certain ideas, and adding to the portions on symbolism.

Although Freud’s not his personal preference his psychoanalytical theories had a massive impact on the early days of the 20th-century artistic movement.

This world, now that photography had been invented meant they looked further from the visible world into exploring the human psyche. His theories very much encapsulated the artistic thinking of the time, and his writings on dream analysis and free association had a profound effect on what became the Surrealist movement. It produced works of painting, writing, theatre, filmmaking, photography, and other media including fashion.

This movement began in 1924 with the publication of the first Manifesto of Surrealism, penned by poet and writer André Breton, who became the movement’s leader until his death in 1966. The term “Surrealism” originated with Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917.

Surrealism developed in Europe in which artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. Its aim, from the perspective of  André Breton, was to

resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality”,

Above all, a revolutionary movement at the time, and was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism. Both Breton and Guillaume Apollinaire had their own groups which included altogether Pierre Albert-Birot, Paul Dermée, Céline Arnauld, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Pierre Reverdy, Marcel Arland, Joseph Delteil, Jean Painlevé and Robert Delaunay, Aragon, Desnos, Éluard, Baron, Crevel, Malkine, Jacques-André Boiffard and Jean Carrive, among others.

the marvellous is always beautiful. anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful“.

Andre Breton, 1924

Much of the Surrealist thinking was based on a simplistic understanding of the writings of Sigmund Freud reclaimed and used in written and visual arts.

The original manifesto described Surrealism as “psychic automatism”, something that encouraged freeing the mind from rational and utilitarian values and moral and aesthetic judgement.

It was thanks to Surrealism, that Freud became popularized by the 1930s because for the artists, the mind or human psychology, could be a source of artistic inspiration.

This new science, psychoanalysis, created by Freud, offered the Surrealists a way to move beyond surface apprehension of the world. At the same time, Freud was interested in how everyday life informs dreams, the Surrealists experimented with the ways in which our dream world informs everyday experience, including creative practice.

Kaveh Golestan Untitled, from Az Div o Dad series 1976 © Kaveh Golestan Estate, Courtesy Archaeology of the Final Decade

Famously Breton and Freud meet and didn’t get on at all. Breton who had considered Freud a hero, was deeply disappointed. He visited Freud in Vienna in 1921 and they corresponded about The Interpretation of Dreams. However, it was another Sureallist who actually did have an effect on Freud.

Before Salvador Dali met Sigmund Freud during the summer of 1938 in London, the great Surrealist artist had tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to meet the revered psychoanalyst at his consulting rooms in Vienna. yet it took Freud escaping the Nazi regime to London and another escapee a mutual friend the writer Stefan Zweig to introduce them.

Dali had spent his teens and early twenties reading Freud‘s works on the unconscious, sexuality and The Interpretation of Dreams.

Freud, already 81, and widely regarded as an intellectual giant. Dalí was a mere 34 but had already established himself as a key figure in the surrealist movement.

Both of course shared an interest in dreams and the unconscious, so it may seem like they should bond but Freud was ‘once bitten twice shy’ after a fateful meeting with Breton. Dali bought along his painting The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Intimidated by the “father figure” he was nervous and the conversation was stilted. Freud asked if all Spaniards looked like him. If they did, then this might explain the Spanish Civil War. Freud’s joke fell flat.

Dali wrote later that he wanted to be viewed as “a kind of dandy of universal intellectualism,” however Freud was transfixed by the painting when Dali revealed it and said

…”in classic paintings, I look for the unconscious, but in your paintings, I look for the conscious”…

Dali was unsure whether Freud meant it as a criticism, and took it as so but small talk ensued with Dali even sketching Freud.

Dali thought his meeting with Freud a failure, but days later, Freud wrote to Stefan Zweig expressing his pleasure at meeting Dali,

“that young Spaniard, however, with his candid and fanatical eyes, and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion”.

High praise indeed which must have thrilled Dali.

Eighty-five years later Salvador Dalí’s melting clocks, Lobster Telephone and René Magritte’s visual illusions are the somewhat overly familiar images of Surrealism we conjure up, yet it has crossed over so many boundaries.

So many artists in a plethora of fields have contributed and still do to the world of surrealism. think, Meret Oppenheim’s Object (1936), a fur-covered tea-cup and spoon, (fetishism of our relationship with ordinary objects), whilst Man Ray’s photographs exemplify the Surrealist’s reconciliation of art and life, dream and reality incorporation shadows, distortions and reflections revealing a new awareness of every day, and even Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s 1929 film Un Chien Andalou  (An Andalusian Dog) captured the surreal possibilities of cinema seen later in the works of Alfred Hitchcock’s then much later in films from modern masters such as of David Lynch and David Cronenberg.

Playful yet almost frightening Surrealism is rich, poetic and emotional. It informs our relationship to the everyday material world and what lies beyond. It is these ideals that the Tate Modern are celebrating in the exhibition Surrealism Beyond borders due to finish on 29th August 2022.

Surrealism was always international and this ground-breaking exhibition reveals the broad scope of this radical movement, moving beyond the confines of a single time or place.

Based on extensive research undertaken by Tate and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, it spans 60 years and 50 countries to show how Surrealism inspired and united artists around the globe.

A revolutionary idea sparked in Paris around 1924, Surrealism prioritised the unconscious and dreams over the familiar and every day. While it has often generated poetic and even humorous works, from Salvador Dalf’s Lobster Telephone to Rene Magritte’s train rushing from a fireplace it has also been used by artists around the world as a serious weapon in the struggle for political, social, and personal freedom.

Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone 1938 Tate Purchased 1981 © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2022

Featuring over 150 works ranging from painting and photography to sculpture and film, many of which have never been shown in the UK, this exhibition explores the collective interests shared by artists across regions to highlight their interrelated networks. It also considers the conditions under which they worked and how this, in turn, impacted Surrealism: Its social and political importance.

Mayo (Antoine Malliarakis) Coups de bâtons1937. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022, Foto: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf 

Familiar Surrealist themes are repositioned from a fresh perspective with iconic paintings alongside lesser known but significant works. Photographs of the female body are contrasted with a double image exploring female desire as well as works by both French Surrealist Claude Cahun and Sri-Lankan-based artist Lionel Wendt, whose radical photographs present queer desire outside of a Western context.

The exhibition also considers locations around the world where artists have converged and exchanged ideas of Surrealism. From Cairo, across to the Caribbean, where the movement was initiated by writers; to Mexico City. Then on to Chicago, where Surrealism was used as a tool for radical politics to Korea via New Zealand, will offer further insight into the adaption of Surrealism across the globe. From household names to many practically unnoticed outside of their homelands, the exhibition is a must for anyone that wants to dig deeper into this fascinating movement.

Eugenio Granell The Magical Blazons of Tropical Flight 1947. Colección Fundación Eugenio Granell, Santiago de Compostela © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid. Photo by Margen Fotografía

Our thirst to go beyond the rational Surrealism completely transformed our literary and artistic worlds, bringing with it a rich and devise plethora of brave thinking. Because after all, Nothing but the Marvellous is beautiful

For more information and tickets please visit the Tate Modern page Here

Surrealism Beyond Borders is organised by Tate Modern and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It is co-curated by Matthew Gale, Senior Curator at Large at Tate Modern, and Stephanie D’Alessandro, Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Modern Art and Senior Research Coordinator in Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met; with assistance at Tate Modern from Carine Harmand, Assistant Curator, International Art; and at The Met from Lauren Rosati, Assistant Curator, Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, and Sean O’Hanlan, Research Associate in Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Image in preview picture Max Ernst Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale. © 2021. Digital image, The The Museum of Modern Art, New York – Scala, Florence.

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