Victor Brauner, “Le Surréaliste”, January 1947, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 45 cm, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Victor Brauner was a Romania painter and sculptor. He aided in the growth of Surrealist art by developing its vocabulary and drawing inspiration from new sources, including mythology, alchemy, Hinduism, Judaism, and both Aztec and Native American belief systems. Brauner developed a private and very personal iconography and his pictorial presentations of the etheric body had a direct impact on other Surrealist painters.
Brauner was born in June of 1903 in the city of Piatra Neamț nestled in the Eastern Carpathian mountains, His family lived in Vienna for eleven years until they returned to Romania in 1914. Brauner’s father was involved in spiritualism and, in 1916, sent his son to an evangelical school in the city of Brăila, where Victor developed a strong interest in zoology. In 1921, Brauner briefly attended Bucharest’s National School of Fine Arts. He also studied at the private school of Romania director Horia Igiroşanu.
After his studies, Victor Brauner visited the Moldavian city of Fălticeni and the coastal Bulgarian resort town of Balchik, where he painted landscapes in the manner of Cézanne. In September of 1924, he had his first solo exhibition of expressionist paintings at the Mozart Galleries in Bucharest. Brauner also participated in a November 1924 exhibition sponsored by the avant-garde art and literary magazine, Contimporanul.
In 1925 Brauner travelled to Paris for the first time, where he stayed in the same building as Swiss sculptor and printmaker Alberto Giacometti and the French Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy, who introduced him to many of the Surrealists in Paris. Brauner also befriended Romanian sculptor and painter Constantin Brancusi, who taught him the methods of art photography. His circle of friends at that time included poet Benjamin Fondane and artists such as Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Robert and Sonia Duchamp.
As Fascism began to take hold in 1930, Victor Brauner settled in Paris more permanently and married Margit Kosch, whom he would divorce nine years later. In 1931 he painted one his most famous images, “Self-Portrait with Plucked Eye”, a work that was eerily prophetic, as on August 28th in 1938 Brauner lost his left eye when he was hit by a glass during a violent argument between Spanish Surrealist painters Oscar Domínguez and Esteban Francés.
Brauner had his first solo exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Pierre in 1934; the enthusiastic catalogue introduction was written by author and poet André Breton. However, the show was not well received and Brauner, disheartened and low on funds, returned to Bucharest in the following year. During this period in Bucharest, he stopped painting and instead produced illustrations and caricatures, including his 1935 “Anatomy of Desire”. Financially more secure, Brauner moved back to Paris in 1938.
The German army’s advance into France in the middle of 1940 forced Victor Brauner, a Romanian Jew and former Communist, to flee to southern France. He continually moved throughout France, living for a short time with writer Robert Ruis, before finally settling in Saint Feliu d’Amont, a commune in the very southern tip of France. While living there, Brauner unsuccessfully tried to obtain a visa to travel to the United States, however, he managed to get official permission in 1941 to settle in Marseilles, a haven for many Surrealists. In Marseilles, the surrealists continued their work and created a number of collective projects, that included a deck of Tarot cards to which Brauner contributed two images.
Near the end of the war, Victor Brauner moved to Switzerland to escape the increasing Nazi persecution of foreign Romanian nationals. There he discovered pioneer psychotherapist Marguerite Sèchehaye’s writings on schizophrenia, treatises which influenced his later paintings. In 1945, Brauner returned to Paris and placed his work at the Galerie Maeght for the 1947 International Exhibition of Surrealism. Not long after his return to Paris, Brauner was expelled in 1947 from the Surrealist group by André Breton for refusing to support the ouster of prominent member Roberto Matta. Brauner began to experiment in other genres and completely left Surrealism in 1948.
Brauner returned to more personal and primitive themes in his work, in a more stylized and abstracted form, done in the mediums of paper, encaustic painting, and thin oils on board. He established a studio in 1959 at 72 Rue Lepic in the Montmartre district of Paris. After a trip to Italy in 1961, Brauner settled in Varengeville, a commune on the sea in Normandy. In the same year, his work was presented in a solo exhibition at New York City’s Bodley Gallery, a prominent art gallery that became the venue of choice for the Pop Art movement. In 1966, Brauner was selected to represent France and given an entire hall at the Venice Biennale for his work.
After a period of prolonged illness, Victor Brauner died in Paris on March 12th of 1966. He is buried at the Montmartre Cemetery; the epitaph on his tomb reads: “Painting is Life, the Real Life, My Life”.
Note: In ” The Surréaliste”, Victor Brauner borrows motifs from the tarot to create a portrait of himself as a young man. The tarot was a subject of widespread interest to Brauner and other Surrealists. One tarot card, the Juggler (the first card in the Marseille tarot deck), provided Brauner with a key prototype for his self-portrait. The Surrealist’s large hat, medieval costume, and the position of his arms all derive from this figure who, like Brauner’s subject, stands behind a table displaying a knife, a goblet, and coins. In the Waite tarot deck, the first card is the Magician. A sign of infinity (the symbol of life) that appears above the Magician’s head is also depicted on the hat of Brauner’s Surrealist.
Second Insert Image: Victor Brauner, “Le Codex du Poète, Mythologie du Poète, Première Naissance”, 1947, Oil on Canvas, 91.7 x 72.9 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Victor brauner, “Prelude to a Civilization”, 1956, encaustic and Ink on Masonite, 129.5 x 202.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fourth Insert Image: Victor Brauner, “La Couronnée”, May 1945, Oil and Wax with Black Ink on Board, 27 x 22 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Victor Brauner, Title Unknown, circa 1945, Encaustic on Board, Private Collection
2 thoughts on “Victor Brauner”
I was not familiar with this artist but I loved the works you shared and the background on the artist.
Thank you. I am actually getting 10 to 15 people from your site each day. Thank you for adding my blog to your site. I had previously posted a short biography on Victor Brauner several years ago. I found more information on his life recently from other sites which led me to update the post. Hope you are well and enjoying the spring weather. My best to you. Chas