Surrealist artists embraced the anti-art and anti-establishment philosophies of Europe in the 1920s and focused their work on attempting to capture glimpses into the unconscious mind. Juxtaposed images, dreamlike sceneries and startling contrasts are characteristic of Surrealist paintings. While there were many Surrealist artists during the height of the movement, the four who defined the period were Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro.
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
When Andre Breton formed a society of Surrealists in Paris, Dali was already a struggling young Spanish artist in the city. Within a few years of joining the group, Dali's artwork became the signature pieces for the movement. However, in 1934, he disagreed with some of the fundamental decisions of the Surrealist group and formally broke away from them. By 1940, Dali had moved into new areas of art, remaining a prolific artist throughout his life. His legacy extended beyond paintings; the artist also produced numerous sketches, watercolors, sculptures, films and photographs.
Max Ernst (1891-1976)
Perhaps the most entrenched of the Surrealist painters, Max Ernst, a German, was a founding member of the Paris group, and his paintings are widely representative of Surrealist imagery, using many of the characteristics that made the movement so innovative. He is also credited with inventing the artistic technique of grattage, which involves scraping paint from the canvas. Many of Ernst's works focused on dream imagery, eroticism, symbolism and politics, as he served in World War I and was briefly imprisoned during World War II. He escaped Nazi-occupied France for the United States in 1941.
Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
Born in Belgium, Rene Magritte emerged as one of the most recognized of the Surrealist painters of the 1920s. Inspired by Dada philosophies, Magritte joined the Surrealist movement in his home country and then moved to Paris in 1927 for the larger art scene. Magritte also wrote prolifically and turned to murals and frescoes in the 1950s and 1960s. Worldwide shows for Magritte were well received until his death in 1967 in Brussels.
Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, Spain, and he showed a talent for drawing at a very early age. He was schooled in some of Spain's finest art academies and then moved to Paris in 1921. Like many of his Surrealist colleagues, Miro also created works of art in sculpture, collages, engravings and lithographs. Although he was often associated with the Surrealists and worked with them, he preferred to remain independent. Despite that, Andre Breton once called Miro "probably the most Surrealist of us all."
Many of the Surrealist artists continued to evolve and expand their interpretations of the movement, and they paved the way for other forms of art in the middle and later part of the 20th century. Nearly all art movements that came afterward, including abstract expressionism and pop art, were somehow influenced by the Surrealists.