It marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of André Breton, one of the highest representatives of the intellectual scene of the first half of the twentieth century. Revolutionary and keen writer was the creator of the literary and artistic avant-garde that subsequently gave birth to works such as Salvador Dalí’s La Madonna de Portlligat or Frida Kahlo’s Las dos Fridas in painting, or the Surrealism Manifesto created by Breton himself
André Breton (1896-1966) was born in Tinchebray (Bocage, France) on 18 February 1896. As a child he was already interested in medicine and psychiatry, disciplines which he practised in psychiatric hospitals during the First World War. Later, he moved to Paris, where he began to develop as a writer. After studying the theories and texts of Sigmund Freud, he created the Surrealism Manifesto, through which he established the term surrealism, coined by the art critic Guillaume Apollinaire in a 1917 article for a new artistic movement.
Breton is considered one of the driving forces behind dadaism (Tristan Tzara) and the creator of Surrealism, two artistic currents that originated as a response to a world that was experiencing the irrationality of war and as an alternative to academic naturalism. Both currents were a manifestation of rebellion in a Europe destroyed by war.
In the case of dadaism, the French intellectual defined it as a state of mind that became a point of non-return for two reasons: First, the profound disillusionment and unease produced by the war as the ultimate achievement of the progress of Western civilisation; Second, by the eccentric situation of the artist within society in the contemporary world. In 1921 he left the dadaist group.
Three years later, he published the aforementioned Surrealist Manifesto in the magazine Litterature. In this text he presented automatic writing and defined Surrealism as: “Pure psychic automatism through which we proposed to express in writing or in any other way the true mechanism of thought”. He pointed out that this process was alien to the intellect, that is to say, totally affective and emotional in character. So the subconscious is expressed through art. The artists of this trend even produced works in a state of hypnosis. After the first publication, Breton produced two more versions in 1930 and 1942.
The movement took a political approach as texts were published in which communist positions were produced, but it was viewed with suspicion by Stalinism. Breton belonged to the French Communist Party from 1927 until he was expelled in 1933. He would meet Trotsky and Diego Rivera during his stay in Mexico.
Finally, the French writer died in Paris on 22 September 1966. He left behind an extensive bibliography in which a passionate and dreamlike outlook that goes beyond the limits of the established was always present. From L’amour fou dedicated to one of the women in his life, Jacqueline Lamba, to the historical book he kept hidden for 30 years, L’Art magique.
And he will never abandon his commitment to the processes of change and the need for rebellion, as he once said: “Rebellion, and only rebellion, creates light, and that light can only take three paths: poetry, freedom and love”.