10 Most Famous Surrealist Artists And Their Masterpieces


Surrealism was a movement, primarily in literature and the visual arts, that flourished in Europe between the First and Second World War. Along with Abstract Expressionism, it was perhaps the most influential art movement of the twentieth century. Surrealist artists rejected rationalism and literary realism; and instead focussed on channelling the unconscious mind to unveil the power of the imagination. They devised several techniques to accomplish their objectives including automatism, frottage, grattage, paranoiac-critical method etc. Surrealism saw many great artists in diverse fields including the film-maker Luis Bunuel; the photographer Man Ray; the writer Louis Aragon; and several renowned painters including Salvador Dali and René Magritte. Here are the 10 most famous artists of the influential art movement Surrealism.


#10 Louis Aragon

Louis Aragon
Louis Aragon

Lifespan: October 3, 1897 – December 24, 1982

Nationality: French

Dada or Dadaism was an art movement in Europe which developed as a reaction to World War I. Surrealism developed out of activities of some Dadaists, which included Louis Aragon. Along with André Breton and Philippe Soupault, Aragon was a founding member of Surrealism. He also experimented with automatic writing with the two and, along with them, co-founded the Surrealist review Littérature in 1919. Aragon was one of the leading voices of Surrealism and among the most prominent writers of the movement. His early poetry and novels were Surrealist. His writings during the Second World War were more in keeping with the emergency but he did incorporate elements of Surrealism in his later years. Louis Aragon was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature four times; and was made a member of the French Legion of Honour in 1981.

Masterpiece: Irene’s Cunt (1927)

Cover of Irene's Cunt (1927)
Cover of Irene’s Cunt (1927) – Louis Aragon

Other Famous Works:-

Paris Peasant (1926)

Perpetual Motion (1926)

#9 Yves Tanguy

Yves Tanguy
Yves Tanguy

Lifespan: January 5, 1900 – January 15, 1955

Nationality: French

Self taught but extremely skilled, Yves Tanguy was one of the leading painters of the Surrealist movement. He had a unique and immediately recognizable style of non-representational surrealism. He painted a hyper-real world with exacting precision and his works are best known for their vast, abstract landscapes populated with various abstract shapes. His landscapes captured the attention of important artists and thinkers from Salvador Dalí to Mark Rothko, who admitted their debt to Tanguy. Yves Tanguy is said to have captured the unconscious more vividly than any artist before him and his artistic style was a major influence on several younger Surrealist painters, such as Roberto Matta and Wolfgang Paalen.

Masterpiece: Mama, Papa is Wounded! (1927)

Mama Papa is Wounded (1927) - Yves Tanguy
Mama Papa is Wounded (1927) – Yves Tanguy

Other Famous Works:-

Extinction of Useless Lights (1927)

Indefinite Divisibility (1942)

#8 Man Ray

Man Ray
Man Ray

Lifespan: August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976

Nationality: American

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray produced prominent works in a variety of media. He considered himself to be a painter above all but is best known for his photography. A photogram is a picture produced with photographic materials, such as light-sensitive paper, but without a camera. Man Ray is the most prominent 20th century pioneer of photograms, which he called “rayographs” in reference to himself. His works featured in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925. Apart from paintings and photographs, he directed several influential Surrealist short films. Though he was never formally attached to Surrealism, Man Ray contributed significantly to the movement.

Masterpiece: The Violin of Ingres (1924)

The Violin of Ingres (1924)
The Violin of Ingres (1924) – Man Ray

Other Famous Works:-

Glass Tears (1932)

Object to Be Destroyed (1923)

#7 Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington

Lifespan: April 6, 1917 – May 25, 2011

Nationality: Mexican

Considering that renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo declared that she was not a Surrealist, Leonora Carrington is perhaps the most famous female Surrealist artist. Leonora was born in England but lived most of her adult life in Mexico. She had a romantic relationship with Max Ernst, one of the leading Surrealist artists; and her first work in the genre was a portrait of Ernst as a tribute to their relationship. Unlike the other Surrealists, Carrington was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud. She is instead famous for her haunting, autobiographical paintings that incorporate images of sorcery, metamorphosis, alchemy and the occult. Her art is also known for expressing female sexuality in a distinctively different way than male Surrealists. Living till the age of 94, Carrington was among the last surviving participants of the Surrealist movement.

Masterpiece: Self-Portrait: The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1937 – 1938)

Self-Portrait, The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1938) - Leonora Carrington
Self-Portrait, The Inn of the Dawn Horse (1938) – Leonora Carrington

Other Famous Works:-

Portrait of Max Ernst

The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (1947)

#6 Luis Buñuel

Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel

Lifespan: February 22, 1900 – July 29, 1983

Nationality: Spanish

Luis Bunuel pioneered Surrealist cinema and he became the most famous film-maker of the movement by successfully achieving the movement’s goals of liberation from linear, logical narrative. Bunuel was able to successfully capture the incoherent narratives of dreams and destroy comforting human assumptions about existence and reality. His films are best known for their surreal imagery; for shocking and challenging the viewer; and for criticizing simplistic societal or religious solutions to human issues. Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), the debut film of Luis Bunuel, has been called “the most famous short film ever made” and six of his films were included in a 2012 critics’ poll, by Sight & Sound magazine, of the top 250 films of all time.

Masterpiece: An Andalusian Dog (1929)

Poster of Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Poster of Un Chien Andalou (1929) – Luis Bunuel

Other Famous Works:-

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

#5 Max Ernst

Max Ernst
Max Ernst

Lifespan: April 2, 1891 – April 1, 1976

Nationality: German

Max Ernst was a pioneer of Surrealism as well as the Dada movement, from which Surrealism evolved. Among the most prominent contributions of Ernst is his invention of Surrealist techniques frottage and grattage. In frottage, the artist takes a pastel, pencil or other drawing tool and makes a rubbing over an uneven surface. The drawing can be left as it is or used as basis for further refinement. Grattage involves laying a canvas prepared with a layer of oil paint over a textured object and then scraping the paint off to create an interesting and unexpected surface. Along with Joan Miro, René Magritte and Salvador Dali; Max Ernst is credited with being primarily responsible for creating the golden age of Surrealism.

Masterpiece: The Elephant Celebes (1921)

The Elephant Celebes (1921) - Max Ernst
The Elephant Celebes (1921) – Max Ernst

Other Famous Works:

Forest and Dove (1927)

Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924)

#4 Joan Miró

Joan Miro
Joan Miro

Lifespan: April 20, 1893 – December 25, 1983

Nationality: Spanish

Joan Miro was one of the first artists who developed automatic drawing to undo traditional techniques in painting. Automatic drawing was one of the most important techniques in early Surrealist visual arts. In it, the hand is allowed to move ‘randomly’ across the paper allowing the subconscious a greater say. Miro was always linked with the rural world and the influence of country landscapes can be seen in several of his works. Two of his earliest major paintings that are classified as Surrealist are Catalan Landscape and The Tilled Field. Apart from being a pioneer of the Surrealist movement; Joan Miro is also regarded as the forefather of Abstract Expressionism. He was thus an essential part of the two most dominant art movements of the 20th century.

Masterpiece: The Harlequin’s Carnival (1925)

The Harlequin's Carnival (1925) - Joan Miro
The Harlequin’s Carnival (1925) – Joan Miro

Other Famous Works:-

Catalan Landscape (1924)

The Tilled Field (1923)

#3 André Breton

Andre Breton
Andre Breton

Lifespan: February 19, 1896 – September 28, 1966

Nationality: French

Poet and critic Andre Breton was the founder and chief theorist of Surrealism. He was initially involved in the Dada movement but then became the leader of the group which called itself Surrealist. More importantly, he pioneered Surrealist automatism, the technique on which the movement was based. Automatism is a method in which the artist suppresses conscious control and allows spontaneity by letting the unconscious mind to have a greater influence. Along with Philippe Soupault, Breton co-authored the 1920 book Les Champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), which is famous as the first work of literary Surrealism. He also wrote and published two manifestos of Surrealism in 1924 and 1929. Such is his influence on the movement that many consider his death in 1966 as the end of Surrealism as an organized movement. André Breton is referred to as “the Pope of Surrealism”.

Masterpiece: Nadja (1928)

Cover of Nadja (1928)
Cover of Nadja (1928) – Andre Breton

Other Famous Works:-

Surrealist Manifesto (1924)

The Magnetic Fields (1920)

#2 René Magritte

Rene Magritte
Rene Magritte

Lifespan: November 21, 1898 – August 15, 1967

Nationality: Belgian

After struggling in his initial career, Rene Magritte became one of the most renowned and influential artists of the 20th century. In contrast to other Surrealist artists, like Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, who created distorted and dream-like representations of real forms mixed with abstract shapes, Magritte evoked strangeness and ambiguity in realistic depictions. His objects are often ordinary in singularity but surreal by context or their relationship to each other. His Surrealist art remains hugely analyzed and acclaimed for its wit and for its thought provoking nature. Apart from being the most famous Surrealist artist after Dali, Rene Magritte also influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art. Famous artists influenced by his art include leading American Pop artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns; and renowned German Conceptual artist Martin Kippenberger.

Masterpiece: The Treachery of Images (1928 – 1929)

The Treachery of Images (1929) - Rene Magritte
The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe) – Rene Magritte

Other Famous Works:-

The Son of Man (1964)

Golconda (1953)

#1 Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali

Lifespan: May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989

Nationality: Spanish

Known for his eccentric manners, Salvador Dali created the most famous masterpieces of Surrealist art. His contribution to Surrealist painting include the paranoiac-critical method; in which the artist attempts to tap into his subconscious through systematic irrational thought and a self-induced paranoid state. Although he is most renowned for his striking and bizarre Surrealist paintings, Dali was also involved in film, sculpture and photography. He wrote the script for Luis Bunuel’s famous film An Andalusian Dog; and created two of the most famous objects of the movement: Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa. Though he was expelled from the movement due to clashes with its members, Salvador Dali became the most influential Surrealist artist; and perhaps the most renowned twentieth century painter after Pablo Picasso.

Masterpiece: The Persistence of Memory (1931)

The Persistence of Memory (1931) - Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory (1931) – Salvador Dali

Other Famous Works:-

Lobster Telephone (1936)

Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)

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