The Modern Art Index Project
Breton, André
Tinebrache, France, 1896–Paris, 1966

André Breton is primarily known as the co-founder of both Paris Dada and of Surrealism, yet he was also an important player in the burgeoning market in modern art in the 1920s. Breton is the author of such Surrealist literary works as Nadja (1928) and L’amour fou [Mad love] (1937), the editor of avant-garde journals including Littérature and The Surrealist Revolution, and, as the so-called “Pope of Surrealism,” was a main player in the international spread of the movement through his manifestos, exhibitions, and advocacy. He was a lifelong political activist, sympathetic to anarchism and to Communism: after being expelled from the French Communist Party in 1933, he continued to support socialist and anti-colonial causes until his death in 1966.

From 1920, in order to subsidize his intensifying literary activities, Breton worked as the librarian and art advisor to the fashion designer and collector Jacques Doucet until their falling out in 1924 due to Breton’s controversial Surrealist pamphlet condemning the writer Anatole France after his death. Breton was responsible for Doucet’s most famous purchase, as he organized the sale of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to the collector in 1924, which had remained unsold in the artist’s studio since its creation in 1907. Breton deployed his singular status in the Parisian art and literary avant-gardes to convince Doucet that “this is a work that, for me, surpasses painting; it is the theater for everything that has happened in the last fifty years.” Breton also participated in the sales of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s collection of Cubist works between 1921 and 1923, after the French government seized his property as a German national during World War I. Breton, indeed, purchased works during these sales both for Doucet and for himself. While the Dadaists with whom Breton was affiliated in these years publicly denounced the “academicism” into which they felt Cubism had fallen, Breton is listed as the buyer of at least sixteen works by Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Picasso. Two iconic works by Braque in the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection were owned by Breton in the early 1920s, Still Life with a Metronome (1909) and Fruit Dish and Glass (Autumn 1912), the first Cubist papier collé (work made with pasted papers). Breton, it seems, considered his art collecting to be primarily a financial and unsentimental activity, and by 1930 he had resold many of the works that he acquired at the Kahnweiler sales. Until his death in 1966, Breton remained devoted at first to expanding and then to preserving the legacy of Surrealism, participating in countless exhibitions and publications about the movement he founded.

Contributed by Trevor Stark, July 2017
For more information, see:

Breton, André. What is Surrealism? New York: Monad, 1978.

——. André Breton: La beauté convulsive. Paris: Musée National d’Art Moderne, 1991.

——. Surrealism and Painting. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor. New York: DAP Art Publishers, 2002.

Hubert, Étienne-Alain, and Philippe Bernier, “Andre Breton,” http://www.andrebreton.fr/card/andre_breton (accessed November 19, 2016).

 

How to cite this entry: 
Stark, Trevor, "Breton, André", The Modern Art Index Project (July 2017), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://doi.org/10.57011/ISZM7468

Artwork from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection formerly owned by Breton:
Fruit Dish and Glass
Fruit Dish and Glass Georges Braque
Sorgues, autumn 1912