The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931. Image: The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931. Image:

Lautreamont's novel Les Chants de Maldoror, which includes the phrase “As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” was well known among the surrealists as it resonates with the very nature of surrealist thought, and represents the surrealist dislocation of the reality of which the movement aimed to distort.

This quote along with his novel would become one of the main sources of inspiration that would influence the birth of surrealism.

Psychoanalysis and taboos

Acknowledging the subconscious and investigating our most inner thoughts was a fairly new practice at the start of the 20th century, known as psychoanalysis. The psychologist Sigmund Freud famed the practice with his writings of which focused on the subconscious mind of their patients.

Sigmund Freud. Photo: Sigmund Freud. Photo:

Through challenging rational thought through psychoanalysis, taboos surrounding sex, religion and desire began to break down as conventional ideas were pushed into widespread discussion. As the dispute regarding social normalities began to brew, the mind became the main source of inspiration for artists of the century.

André Breton and The Surrealist Manifesto

André Breton is respectively known to be the pioneer of the surrealist movement. Breton was a poet and a writer, of which his most notable works include the Surrealist Manifesto, published in 1924. For Breton, surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement by how it defied social norms through its defiance against rationality in reality. It became a subversion from the conventionality in art, drawing ties with the philosophical idea of ‘art for art’s sake’.

The manifesto established the main principles of surrealism, particularly highlighting that dreams and the subconscious were the primary sources for surrealist inspiration. This manifesto would later on inspire the renowned surrealist artists of whose work still alludes and transcends us today.

‘The Treachery of Images’. Rene Magritte. 1928. Photo: MoMa ‘The Treachery of Images’. Rene Magritte. 1928. Photo: MoMa

Ceci n’est pas une pipe

This iconic image of a pipe above the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, meaning “this is not a pipe”, is as provoking as it is fascinating. René Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’, 1928, characterizes the surrealist discipline that challenges our perception of conventional thought. The juxtaposition of elements and words that together make no rational sense evokes a sense of uncertainty of our own understanding of reality.

Read more about Rene Magritte here!

René Magritte was a Belgian artist and became a leading member of the surrealist movement in Paris in the late 1920’s. His artistry is best known for their wit and irrationality and above all embody the dream-like qualities of the surrealist dimension.

Find Rene Magritte on Barnebys

Salvador Dali in his studio. Image: El Pais Salvador Dali in his studio. Image: El Pais

Dali and the lobster

Salvador Dali, a name that defined surrealism and is the most well known of the surrealist artists. His artistry is characterised by his puzzling imagery and deformation of subjects and objects which together create a chaotic, nonsensical scene.

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‘Lobster Telephone’, Salvador Dali, 1936. Image: Tate ‘Lobster Telephone’, Salvador Dali, 1936. Image: Tate

One of his most famous artworks (and probably one of the simplest) is the ‘Lobster Telephone’ of which denotes a sexual connotation through the eyes of the artist. With his frequent association between food and sex, the lobster, in particular, is supposedly an erotic feature of this artwork as the lobster’s tail is placed over the telephone’s mouthpiece, of which the sexual organs are located.

The intimate placement of completely unrelated objects which often reveal a hidden connection, much like a dream, is a common depiction in surrealism, just as in ‘Lobster Telephone’.

Birth of the World, Joan Miro, 1925. Image: MoMa Birth of the World, Joan Miro, 1925. Image: MoMa

“Assassination of painting”

Joan Miro is one of the most renowned names in art history as well as in surrealism. His work converses with the idea of revolutionizing the art world through the so-called “assassination of painting”, where his abstract forms and incongruous imagery convey the abandonment of conventionality in fine art.

Under the influence of the surrealists in Paris and joining the group formed by Andre Breton his most iconic pieces were made.

‘Birth of the world’ depicts a playful representation for the beginning of life, where Miro’s process consisted of splattering paint onto the canvas to create the erratic and unsettling background. He then applied the various motifs which lack any association whatsoever to form a consistently illogical masterpiece.

Would you like to read more about Miro? Click here!

Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Image: Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Image:

Surrealism in photography

Man Ray is also an iconic name of the surrealist movement as he is best known for using surrealism in his photography. Having moved from the United States to the artists’ district of Montparnasse in Paris, he too became associated with the surrealist movement brewing in the French capital in the early 20’s.

'Le Violon d’Ingres', which also is a French idiom for “hobby”, conveys a witty and playful image of a woman’s back with the two f-holes centred along her spine, as usually seen on a violin.

The model was, in fact, a muse and lover of Man Ray. The metaphorical representation of her body is rather an intimate portrayal of their relationship with one another, toying with the subconscious realm of inner emotions and desires.

Son of Man, Rene Magritte, 1964. Image: Son of Man, Rene Magritte, 1964. Image:

The surrealists of the 20th century managed to captivate the public imagination through playing with metaphysical ideas and provoking social conducts.

Therefore, surrealism's monumental impact on society was a game changer for both the art world and modern life.