Yves Tanguy

Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy was born on January 5, 1900, in Paris. While attending lycée during the 1910s, he met Pierre Matisse, his future dealer and lifelong friend. In 1918 he joined the Merchant Marine and traveled to Africa, South America, and England. During military service at Lunéville in 1920, Tanguy became a friend of the poet Jacques Prévert. He returned to Paris in 1922 after volunteer service in Tunis and began sketching café scenes that were praised by Maurice de Vlaminck. After Tanguy saw Giorgio de Chirico’s work in 1923, he decided to become a painter. In 1924, he, Prévert, and Marcel Duhamel moved into a house that was to become a gathering place for the Surrealists. Tanguy became interested in Surrealism in 1924, when he saw the periodical La Révolution surréaliste. André Breton welcomed him into the Surrealist group the following year.
Despite his lack of formal training, Tanguy’s art developed quickly and his mature style emerged by 1927. His first solo show was held in 1927 at the Galerie Surréaliste in Paris. In 1928 he participated with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and others in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps, Paris. Tanguy incorporated into his work the images of geological formations he had observed during a trip to Africa in 1930. He exhibited extensively during the 1930s in solo and Surrealist group shows in New York, Brussels, Paris, and London.
In 1939 Tanguy met the painter Kay Sage in Paris and later that year traveled with her to the American Southwest. They married in 1940 and settled in Woodbury, Connecticut. In 1942 Tanguy participated in the Artists in Exile show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, where he exhibited frequently until 1950. In 1947 his work was included in the exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947, organized by Breton and Marcel Duchamp at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. He became a United States citizen in 1948. In 1953 he visited Rome, Milan, and Paris on the occasion of his solo shows in those cities. The following year he shared an exhibition with Kay Sage at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and appeared in Hans Richter’s film 8 x 8. A retrospective of Tanguy’s work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York eight months after his death on January 15, 1955, in Woodbury.

Tanguy, Le soleil dans son écrin (The Sun in Its Jewel Case), 1937
Oil on canvas, 115.4 x 88.1 cm
The Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Tanguy arrived at his lunar or submarine morphology in about 1927, and spent the rest of his artistic career exploring and elaborating it without changing its essential character. His compositions, arrived at in an unpremeditated manner directly on the canvas, recall the landscape of Locronan, in the French province of Brittany, where he spent childhood summers at a house owned by his parents. The repertory of memory was augmented by his experience of Africa during a trip of the early 1930s. After this the light in his paintings became clear and strong and the color schemes more complex. Vegetal forms were replaced by mineral formations. Dolmens and menhirs, stone remnants of prehistoric ages, and fossilized bones were smoothed and tinted in the dream spaces of his canvases. The assertive shadows cast in these landscapes recall those of Giorgio de Chirico, whose example had inspired Tanguy to take up painting in 1923.
The spatial paradox of The Sun in Its Jewel Case depends on the merging of sky and earth, achieved through the continuous gradation of color over the surface—there is no horizon line—and the device of a diagonal line of forms shown receding in perspective from lower right to upper left. Acute angles are suggested throughout, by the placement of objects, by the relationship of shadows to objects, or by the things themselves. Geometric precision and a minutely detailed academic technique, in which careful modeling lends plastic solidity to form, heighten the poetic strangeness of Tanguy’s world.

Lucy Flint
Guggenheim Collection Online
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