By Carter B. Horsley
Tanguy is one of the great Surrealists and his works appear only
infrequently on the auction block.
has 32 works by Tanguy that amply demonstrate his remarkable inventiveness.
The auction was very successful with a sales total of $2,803,960
and 97 percent of the offered lots sold.
two-page essay on the artist provides the following commentary"
event which inspired Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) to suddenly become
an artist may seem the stuff of Hollywood fiction, but is true
nonetheless: in 1923 he leapt off a bus to examine two strange
paintings that had caught his eye in a passing gallery window.
They were by Giorgio de Chirico, and the gallery, operated by
Paul Guillaume, was the same in which Surrealist impresario and
theoretician André Breton discovered the art of de Chirico
several years earlier. Although Tanguy was entirely untrained
as an artist, and didn't begin to paint until after his encounter
with the de Chirico paintings, he quickly developed a wholly original
visual language and style that would place him in the foremost
rank of the Surrealist movement.
entry into the Surrealist group came as the result of a confluence
of his personal qualities and external circumstances. To begin
with, Tanguy's personality was already predisposed to a love of
the absurd. He stated in an interview that `about 1924 I came
across the first issue of La Revue Surréaliste and
I became very much interested in it. No so much in the paintings
reproduced in it as in the general spirit of its contents.'Sir
Roland Penrose has related that Tanguy, during military service,
would often delight in shocking others by eating his own socks
at the mess table or relishing spiders, soaked in wine, on a slice
of bread a practice that apparently didn't en in later years.
Having completed his service, Tanguy returned to Paris in 1922
and was reunited with an old friend, the poet Jacques Prévert.
Joined by Maurice Duhamel, the men took an apartment in Montparnasse
that would become a hub of Surrrealist activity. IN 1925, Tanguy
met Breton through mutual friends; the two discovered they held
similar philosophical and aesthetic views, and Breton became an
immediate champion of he promising young artist.
first reproduced Tanguy's paintings and drawings in the 15 June
1926 issue of his La Revue Surréaliste; he was thereafter
recognized as one of the `official' Surrealist artists. These
early paintings show bizarre, incongruous images with a deliberate
disregard for conventional style and compositions. A supernatural
mood was already emerging, with murky backgrounds and flashes
of light permeating the composition. These early works reflect
the stylistic influence of André Masson, Max Ernst and
Joan Miro (who was a frequent visitor to the Montparnasse apartment),
as well as intellectual ideas culled from Tanguy's studies in
metaphysics, psychiatry, and alchemy. Some of these early oils
reveal the initial emergence of motifs such as the `weblike' tightropes
and amorphous `anemone-like bodies that would appear in more simplified
form in Tanguy's later, less literal compositions.
1927, the year of his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie
Surréalste in Paris, Tanguy's mature style had emerged,
one that would change little over the course of successive decades.
According to James Thrall Soby, Tanguy `sometimes talked irritatedly
of painters who felt obiged to evolve a new approach every few
years, as a means of freshening their own and the public's interest
in the work. Once he had found his direction and he fount it with
startling abruptness he followed it with devotion and purity,
secret I his quest and oblivious of he pressures of fashion and
commerce".Certainly one can detect a progression however
relaxed in the course of his work, including he evolution of his
forms and a refinement of his palette over his 30 year career,
but the overriding autograph throughout his oeuvre is unmistakable.
Indeed, he once admitted that `here in the United states the only
change I can distinguish in my work is possibly in my palette:.The
aesthetic for which Tanguy became known depicts indefinable `inhabitants;
of an otherworldly place, rendered in a meticulously detailed
style. The objects seem real, yet we known them to be non-existent;
they bridge the line between the abstract and figurative. The
compositions regularly defy gravity and conventional rules of
perspective. Most striking about these forms is that, in true
Surrealist fashion, they seem at once familiar yet completely
evocation of landscape is the overriding constant in Tanguy's
art. It is, according to Penrose, the aspect that granted Tanguy
a unique place among the Surrealist painters, and influenced Dali
an artist with full academic credentials to treat his trompe
l'oeil landscapes in a similar way, although, Penrose notes,
with Tanguy the atmospheric depths are more variable, more subtle
and more profound. Tanguy's pictures possess only one familiar
reference point the horizon in which to relate them to landscape
in a traditional sense. Yet the horizon sometimes appears as a
hard dividing line, or it can melt away altogether.
of the particular `inhabitants' of his pictures, the consistent
element in Tanguy's technique is his `dual manipulation of perspective,
from far to near and from high to low. Naturally, conventional
perspective presupposes both depth and height, but perhaps no
other modern painter has so insistently dramatized an opposition
between these two dimensions.Indeed, it is Tanguy's extreme manipulation
of space which imparts such a disquieting mood to the works.
his trip to Africa in 1930, Tanguy briefly experimented with underdrawing
as a preliminary step in his paintings. He quickly abandoned the
technique, he said for `I found that if I planned a picture beforehand,
it never surprised me, and surprises are my pleasure in painting."
What most interested Tanguy was the unpredictable procession of
motifs, each suggested by and playing upon the one before, both
metaphorically as well as visually. This focus on spontaneous
relationships was a hallmark of Surrealist creativity; but also
found expression in the exercise of `automatic writing' which
all of the Surrealists practiced in one form or another."
All of the
works in this auction were acquired from the Pierre Matisse Gallery
with the exception of Lot 208, shown at the top of this article,
which was acquired from the Galerie Hervé Odermatt-Philippe
Cazeau in Paris, but had formerly been at the Pierre Matisse Gallery
and the Leo Castelli Gallery.
is entitled "Les sourciers" and is an oil on canvas,
18 by 15 inches, that was painted in July 1945. While most of
the works in this auction are small, Tanguy did paint larger canvases.
The highlight of the auction, it has a conservative estimate of
$400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $358,000 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
"L'orpailleuse," is the cover illustration of the catalogue.
An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/8 by 15 ¼ inches and
has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It was executed in 1945.
It sold for $369,000.
his oils have luminous and bright backgrounds, but sometimes he
used a darker background as in Lot 221, "Aux quatre angles,"
an oil on canvas, 18 by 14 inches, that was painted in 1843 and
has an estimate of $280,000 to $350,000. This work also is a bit
unusual since it has two clouds in the sky. It sold for $413,000.
his fabulous and unusual forms bear a striking similarity to some
sculptural motifs of Isamu Noguchi as can be seen in Lot 228,
"L'athée ou la religieuse," an oil on canvas,
14 by 10 1/8 inches, that was painted in 1942 and has an estimate
of $240,000 to $280,000. It sold for $226,000.
Tanguy arranges his groups of "inhabitants" most often
complexly sinuous, rock or marble-like formations of strong color
in the foreground with a lot of sky/space above, often in light
pastel colors. Lot 203, "J'avais déja cet age que
j'ai," however, demonstrates that Tanguy occasionally experimented
with other, recessed groups in the composition. This lot is an
oil on canvas that measures 17 by 14 inches and was painted in
1939 and has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for
$468,000. A similar work that is more delicate and "thinner"
is Lot 202, "Sans Titre," a gouache on paper, 11 by
9 3/8 inches, that was executed in 1941 and has an estimate of
$100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $182,000.
not familiar with his entire oeuvre, three of the works in the
auction are quite startling for their strong but sketchy backgrounds.
Lot 207, "Elle fut douce," shown above, is a 24 ¾-by-18
¾-inch gouache and pencil on gray paper that was executed
in 1947 and has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold
for $160,000. The artist has let the paper show through around
of his works are vertical compositions, Tanguy did some horizontal
works and they generally have less "empty" space than
the vertical compositions as indicated in such untitled lots as
206, 211, and 220. Lot 206 is a 3 5/8-by-11 1/8-inch gouache on
paper that was executed in 1938 and has an estimate of $70,000
to $90,000 and is one of the few in which some of the artist's
forms are seeming tied together or tethered. It sold for $82,250.
Lot 211, shown above, is a 6-by-10 ¾-inch gouache on paper
executed in 1943 and has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It
sold for $116,000. Lot 220 is a 2 3/8-by-12 3/8-inch gouache
and pencil on paper mounted on paper that was painted in 1936
and has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell.
also includes several drawings, some gouache on black paper, some
red pencil on green paper and some colored pencils or pen and
blue ink on paper. Most are quite complex and wonderful. Lot 225,
shown above, was drawn in 1938-9, measures 14 ¾ by 12 inches,
and has an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $10,575.
Lot 217, shown below, measures 11 by 8 5/8 inches and has an estimate
of $7,000 to $9,000. It sold for $10,575.
artist's imagination is so rich and fertile as Tanguy's stylistic
consistency throughout a career is something to be cherished.
landscapes are jewel-like, noble, wondrous, fascinating, strange,
and, with very rare exception, consistently glorious and not derivative.
They do surprise. They are dreams.