André Breton Biography


André Breton (1896-1966): French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of Surrealist movement with Paul Eluard, Josef Agnon, Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, and Jean Cocteau among others.

André Breton was born in Tinchebray (Orne) as the son of a shopkeeper. He spent his childhood on the Brittany coats and started to write early poems - he met the poet Paul Valéry while still young. Breton studied medicine and later psychiatry, and met also in 1921 Freud in Vienna. He never qualified but during World War I he served in the neurological ward and made some attepts to use Freudian methods to prychoanalyze his patients. Among Breton's friends was Jacques Vaché, a wounded soldier, who declared in his letters the nonsenser of art and the joyless futility of everything, and committed suicide in 1919. Vaché, whose angry response to the bloodbath and senseless slaughter of the trenches reflected the views of numerous artist, was virtually enshrined as a patron saint of the dadaist movement.

Breton joined first in 1916 the Dadaist group, but turned then to Surrealism and cofounded with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault the review Littérature. Very important for his literary work was his wartime meetings with Apollinaire. His MANIESTE DU SURRÉALISME was published in 1924. Influenced by psychological theories Breton defined Surrealism as a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to everyday world.

Breton and his colleagues believed that the springs of personal freedom and social an political liberty lay in the unconscious mind. They found examples of exploration of the mind from the works of such painters as Hieronymus Bosch and James Ensor and from the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Alfred Jarry - and also from the revolutionary thinking of Karl Marx.

In the 1930s Breton published several collection of poems, including Mad Love (1937). However, his prose has been more highly rated than his poetry, and among his masterworks from the 1920s is NADJA (1928), a portrait of Breton and a mad and inspired woman, a patient of Pierre Janet.

From 1927 to 1935 Breton was a member of the French Communist Party, and although he broke with the party in disgust with Stalin and Moskow show trials, he remained committed to Marxism. In 1938 he founded with Leon Trotsky, whom he met in Mexico, the Fédération de l'Art Revolutionnaire Independant. When the Nazis occupied France, Breton fled to the United States with Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. He held there a broadcasting job and arranged a surrealist exposition at Yale in 1942.

After WW II Breton travelled in the Southwest and the West Indies and returned to France in 1946. He soon became center of young Surrealists. In the 1940s and 1950s Breton wrote essays and collections of poems, among them ARCANE 17 (1945), a statement of love. He died in Paris on September 28, 1966