Mental Floss

Get a Closer Look: Yves Tanguy

Andréa Fernandes

At the request of reader Peter, today we will take a look at Yves Tanguy (1900-1955), a French-American surrealist who passed away on this date 54 years ago.

1. In 1922 or 1923, Yves Tanguy was so affected by a Giorgio de Chirico painting, "Le cerveau de l'enfant" (1914), that he took up painting himself, although he had never received any formal training. Upon glimpsing de Chirico's painting in a gallery window while he was riding a bus, Tanguy actually jumped off the moving bus to get a closer look.

2. Not much is known about Tanguy's creative process, unlike many other modern artists, because Tanguy was lax to discuss artistic opinions and theories. He explained, "I believe there is very little to gain by exchanging opinions with other artists concerning either the ideology of art or technical methods." He went on to say that, "Geography has no bearing on it, nor have the interests of the community in which I work."

3. André Breton was one of Tanguy's first patrons. In the late 1920s, Breton commissioned Tanguy to paint 12 pieces a year. Tanguy painted less once he had a fixed income, though, so he wound up completing just 8 paintings for Breton. In later years, their friendship faded; according to one source, the friendship became difficult to maintain after Tanguy's second marriage because Breton and Tanguy's new wife, Kay Sage, a fellow surrealist, hated each other.

4. Tanguy was close friends with Pierre Matisse, a gallery owner and the son of famed artist Henri Matisse. They were classmates at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, and Matisse later became Tanguy's dealer. After the death of Tanguy's wife in 1963, eight years after Tanguy's death, Matisse scattered their ashes on a beach in Brittany, near where Tanguy grew up.

5. Except for one short period, Tanguy never executed preliminary sketches for his work. As he explained, "I found that if I planned a picture beforehand, it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting." Instead, Tanguy practiced automatism, describing his process thus: "The painting develops before my eyes, unfolding its surprises as it progresses. It is this which gives me the sense of complete liberty and for this reason, I am incapable of forming a plan or making a sketch beforehand."

A larger version of Tanguy's "Hands and Gloves" (1914), shown above, is available here. Fans should check out the Yves Tanguy site and the Tanguy galleries at the Art Renewal Center and Art in the Picture. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.