As a result of his travels during the years spent in the merchant marines (1918-20) and army (1920), Yves Tanguy had stored in his memory the impressions of a host of faraway, exotic places, such as Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia, and the coast of Africa. In Paris in 1925, he met André Breton and joined the Surrealist group. His ensuing friendship with the older poet proved decisive for Tanguy. Breton served as both mentor and advocate. Until Tanguy's departure for the United States in 1939, he remained deeply devoted to Breton; Breton in turn regarded Tanguy as one of the purest painters among the Surrealists.
By 1927, the self-taught Tanguy had found his own personal style and acquired amazing technical skill. From then until his death in 1955, he focused on the same dreamlike subject-an imaginary landscape, deserted except for various fantastical rocklike objects, rendered with precise illusionism. Usually filled with an overcast sky, the plain below stretches toward infinity without an exact horizon line. If Tanguy's eerie vistas are pure invention, the three-dimensional, biomorphic objects that fill them may have their sources in early reliefs by Jean Arp and the paintings of 1922-23 by Joan Miró, two artists whose works were exhibited in Paris at the time. It is also possible that Tanguy was influenced by the strange stone and rock formations near Locronan in Brittany, where he sometimes visited his mother.
Tanguy's style varied little throughout the years. Even his move to the United States had little effect on his work, although it would bring about important changes in his personal life. In New York, he joined the American Surrealist painter Kay Sage (1898-1963), and they married in 1940, the year of this painting. The long phallic form in the center of the composition may in fact reference this new relationship.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): YVES TANGUY 40
[Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1940–41; stock no. 1016; purchased from the artist in October 1940 for $150; sold on December 20, 1941 to Ault]; Lee Ault, New York (1941–at least 1944); [Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, probably by 1946–58; sold on May 8, 1958 to Gelman]; Jacques and Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1958–his d. 1986); Natasha Gelman, Mexico City and New York (1986–d. 1998; her bequest to MMA)
New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Recent Paintings by Yves Tanguy," April 21–May 9, 1942, no. 1 [checklist published in "View" 2, May 1942].
Cincinnati Modern Art Society. "12 Surrealists," April 20–May 23, 1943, unnum. brochure (as "Diapason in Satin," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Lee A. Ault).
New York. Valentine Gallery. "Modern Paintings: The Lee Ault Collection," April 10–29, 1944, no. 55.
New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Yves Tanguy," November 5–30, 1946, no. 9.
New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Yves Tanguy: A Retrospective," January 21–February 27, 1983, no. 80.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," December 12, 1989–April 1, 1990, unnumbered cat. (p. 230).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Twentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection," April 19–July 15, 1990, unnumbered cat.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "De Matisse à Picasso: Collection Jacques et Natasha Gelman," June 18–November 1, 1994, unnumbered cat. (p. 254).
André Breton. Yves Tanguy. New York, 1946, ill. p. 26.
Kay Sage. Yves Tanguy, Un recueil de ses oeuvres/ A Summary of His Works. New York, 1963, p. 117, no. 251, ill.
Sabine Rewald inTwentieth-Century Modern Masters: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. Ed. William S. Lieberman. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, pp. 230–32, 315, ill. (color and bw).
Kathryn Calley Galitz The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 526, ill. (color), colorpl. 452.