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Philippe Soupault

Chaville, France, 1897−Paris, 1990

French poet, writer, and journalist Philippe Soupault was a participant in Paris Dada and a founding member of the Surrealist group. After breaking with Bretonian Surrealism in 1926, Soupault wrote monographs and autobiographical texts recalling the everyday life and politics of avant-garde circles in Paris. As a prominent journalist, Soupault traveled widely as a correspondent for L’Intransigeant, Excelsior and VU magazine, edited La revue européenne from 1923 to 1928, and became a pioneering radio personality and producer during and after the Second World War. Though little is known about his collecting activities, he was a central figure within French avant-garde circles whose contributions impacted the early history of experimental art and literature in and well beyond Surrealism.

Born to a bourgeois family, Soupault’s study of law was interrupted by his conscription into military service during the First World War. Soupault’s assignment to an administrative position in Paris due to health problems enabled him to write throughout the war years; he published his first collections of poetry during and immediately after the war: Aquarium (1917) and Compass (1919). Around this time, Soupault entered the circle of Guillaume Apollinaire and became involved in Paris Dada activities. He contributed to prominent avant-garde periodicals and co-founded the periodical Littérature with André Breton and Louis Aragon in 1919. Later that same year, Soupault and Breton wrote Les champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), deemed the first Surrealist text due to its experimental use of automatic writing techniques. Despite his decisive role in the articulation of early Surrealism, Soupault fell out with Breton and left the movement by 1926. Nevertheless, a year later, he translated William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and completed a monograph on the British poet in which he declared him a Surrealist avant la lettre. His best-known work, the semi-autobiographical Les dernières nuits de Paris (1928), was translated into English as Last Nights of Paris by William Carlos Williams in 1929.

From fall 1921 to at least winter 1922, Soupault operated Librarie Six bookshop and gallery, where he mounted Man Ray’s first solo exhibition in Paris in December 1921. The following year, Robert Delaunay painted Soupault on a balcony looking out upon the Eiffel Tower in The Poet Philippe Soupault (1922; Centre Pompidou, Paris). While few details are known about his collecting activities, Soupault acquired paintings together with André and Simone Breton in the Kahnweiler sequestration sales, which they sold at a profit in the years that followed. In the second Kahnweiler sale (November 1921), for instance, they pooled resources to acquire André Derain’s Portrait of Iturrino (1914; Centre Pompidou, Paris) for 3400 francs; just two years later, they sold the work to Marius de Zayas for 8000 francs. Using the proceeds, Breton subsequently acquired a large canvas by Georges Braque, which he and Simone were forced to sell when Soupault requested his share from the profits. Soupault purchased Pablo Picasso’s Pipe, Glass, Bottle of Rum (1914; The Museum of Modern Art, New York) in the fourth sequestration sale, and sold it to Juliana Force by 1926. While Soupault did not develop a personal collection comparable to those assembled by Aragon or Breton, he continued to write about modern art and to collaborate with artists; in 1926, his poetry collection, Corps perdu, was illustrated by Jean Lurçat. Soupault purchased Giorgio de Chirico, Mannequin Head (1916−17; private collection) from Belgian poet Léon Kochnitzky in 1937.

Soupault ran the anti-Fascist Radio Tunis from 1937 until 1940, when he was imprisoned by pro-Vichy forces in Tunisia for six months. Soupault fled to Algeria in November 1942, and subsequently traveled throughout South America in 1943–44, helping to restore French news agencies (Agence France-Presse) in support of forces led by Charles de Gaulle. After the war, Soupault wrote widely on issues of cultural heritage for the newly established UNESCO. He composed several plays for radio, wrote theater productions, and continued to chronicle the history of the literary and artistic avant-garde in several additional autobiographical texts during his lifetime: Les moribunds (The Dead; 1934), Le temps des assassins (Time of the Assassins; 1945) and the three-part Mémoires de l’oubli written decades later (Memories of Oblivion; 1981, 1986, 1987). In 1972, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Poésie by the French Academy.

For more information, see:

Colville, Georgiana, ed. Simone Breton, Lettres à Denise Lévy. Paris: Gallimard, 2005.

Ensabella, Alice. L’arte dei frères voyants: Caratteristiche e dinamiche del mercato artistico attorno al movimento surrealista (1919−1930). Rome: University of Rome – La Sapienza; Grenoble: University of Grenoble, 2017.

Soupault, Philippe. Collection fantôme. Paris: Galerie de Seine, 1973.

Tasseau, Vérane. “Les Ventes de séquestre de la galerie Kahnweiler et leur réseau d'acheteurs: L'exemple d'André Breton et Paul Eluard.” Ojo Le Journal 34 (September 2016),

How to cite this entry:
O'Hanlan, Sean, "Philippe Soupault," The Modern Art Index Project (August 2018), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.