André Masson was born in Balagny-sur-Oise on 4 January 1896. He studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels before transitioning to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Masson fought in the First World War and was severely wounded. In 1920, he settled in Paris and two years later met Joan Miró and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who served as his principal dealer until 1931. His first one-man show was held at Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon in 1924. That same year Masson met André Breton and joined the Surrealist group, with which he was initially affiliated until 1928. During his first Surrealist period, Masson made automatic drawings and paintings and experimented with sand paintings. At this time be began to explore violent and erotic themes, also finding inspiration in Analytical Cubism. In 1925 he participated in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. He also illustrated books and regularly had his works reproduced in the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste.
After breaking with the Surrealists in 1928, Masson progressed through various phases: from violent and erotic themes interpreted with increasingly abstract forms to more figurative landscapes, massacre subjects and finally, when he lived in Spain from 1934 to 1936, Spanish subjects. In 1933 the artist designed sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes, subsequently producing designs for the theatre, the opera and the ballet frequently. In 1936, Masson returned to Paris and the following year reconciled with the Surrealists. In 1941 he fled France for America, where he settled in New Preston, Connecticut, with his first major museum exhibition taking place later that year at the Baltimore Museum of Art. During his stay in America, Masson showed at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in New York, and delivered Surrealist lectures to the emerging New York school. In 1943 he made his final break with Breton and Surrealism.
Masson returned to France in 1945, having broken with Breton and the Surrealists in 1943. In the succeeding years he painted landscapes as well as abstract works and continued to explore the violent and erotic imagery of his early years. Plaisir de peindre, a volume of Masson’s collected writings, was published in 1950. In 1976 the Museum of Modem Art in New York held a major Masson retrospective. Masson died on 27 October 1987 in Paris.
André Masson’s work can be found in the following major international public collections: the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Collection, London.
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