André Masson (1896 – 1987) was an important French painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer whose work was influential in the development of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. He attended the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels at an early age and then studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His early paintings were influenced by André Derain and Analytical Cubism. After being invited to join the Surrealist group by André Breton, Masson began to experiment with automatic drawing. To create these works, Masson frequently used techniques that involved an element of chance, such as throwing colored sands onto canvases on which he had drawn “automatically” with glue or gesso. Masson’s interest in psychology and his experience of being gravely wounded in World War I led him to explore violent and/or erotic imagery which often focused on themes of war, massacre, physical metamorphosis, and mythology.
Masson’s graphic work was an important part of his artistic oeuvre. His work illustrating books began early in his career and grew out of his many friendships with poets and other literary figures in the 1920s and it frequently touched upon the same themes as his paintings. The first book to which Masson contributed prints was his friend Georges Limbour’s first book of poems, Soleils bas (1924). In Sacrifices (1936), Georges Bataille’s text about the suggestive violent quality of many myths is accompanied by Masson’s five etchings of mythical deaths. Masson also provided twelve lithographs for Georges Duthuit’s text about the atrocities of World War II in the book Bestiaire (1946). In Les Conquérants, one of André Malraux’s most famous works, Masson created illustrations portraying revolutionary events in 1920s China.
In addition to illustrating works by other authors, Masson created 14 albums of his own conception. Two examples of these books are Anatomy of my universe (1943), which features Masson’s reflections on his personal philosophy, and Voyage à Venise (1952), which was inspired by his travels to Italy and contains thirty-eight color lithographs and his handwritten commentary. In all, Masson contributed illustrations to roughly 120 books over the course of his career.
Books by André Masson available from Boreas Fine Art:
[ Masson, André ] Malraux, André. Les Conquérants. Paris: Albert Skira. 1949.
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