Sunday, August 22, 2010

Victor Brauner

  Victor Brauner, The Surrealist, 1947

Victor Brauner (1903-1966) was born in Piatra Neamt in the historical region of Moldavia, eastern Romania. He was the son of a Romanian-jewish timber manufacturer who settled in Vienna with his family for a few years. It was there that Victor attended the elementary school. When his family returned to Romania in 1914, he continued his studies at the evangelical school in Braila. Brauner attended the Art School in Bucharest (1919-1921), and started painting landscapes à la Cézanne. Then, as he testified himself, he went through all the stages: "Dadaist, Abstractionist, Expressionist". 

 Victor Brauner, Poet in Exile, 1930s

In 1924, the Mozart Galleries in Bucharest hosted Brauner's first personal exhibition. In that period he met the poet Ilarie Voronca, with whom he founded the 15HP avantgarde magazine. In this magazine Brauner published the articles The pictopoetry and The surrationalism. In 1925, he undertook his first journey to Paris, from where he returned to Romania in 1927. In the period 1928-1931 he was a contributor of Unu magazine (an avant-garde periodical of Dadaist and Surrealist conceptions), which published reproductions of most of his paintings and graphic works.

 Victor Brauner, Self-Portrait with a Plucked Eye, 1931

In 1930, Brauner settled permanently in Paris, where he became a friend of the Romanian poet Benjamin Fondane and met Yves Tanguy, who would later introduce him to the circle of the Surrealists. He lived on Rue Moulin Vert, in the same building as Giacometti and Tanguy. There he painted his famous Self-Portrait with a Plucked Eye (above) - a premonitory theme, since seven years later Brauner lost his left eye in a violent argument between the Spanish surrealist painters Oscar Dominguez and Esteban Francés (Brauner attempted to protect Francés and was hit by a glass thrown by Dominguez).

 Victor Brauner, Mr. K's Power of Concentration (part of left side of diptych), 1934

In 1933, André Breton opened Brauner’s first personal exhibition in Paris, at the Pierre Gallery. Mr. K’s power of concentration (above) and The strange case of Mr. K (below) were paintings that André Breton compared with Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi, "a huge, caricature-like satire of the bourgeoisie". The strange case of Mr. K can also be interpreted as a brilliant visualization of  Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. Structured as a diptych, Mr. K’s power of concentration combines oil painting with a collage of heterogeneous objects. With this anonymous character, elephantine in figure and idiotic in look, Brauner evokes a ridiculous dictator, a kind of Ubu, with celluloid dolls clustered on his face and body. As André Breton remarked, however, given the history of the 20th century, "this image stopped making us laugh a long time ago."

 Victor Brauner, The strange case of Mr. K, 1933

In 1935, Brauner returned to Bucharest. He joined the ranks of the Communist Party for a short while, without a very firm conviction. In 1938, he returned to France. The same year, he met Jaqueline Abraham, who was to become his wife. At the time, he created a series of paintings called lycanthropic or chimeras. After Nazi Germany's invasion of France in 1940, Brauner had to leave Paris. He lived for a while in Perpignan  and Saint Feliu d’Amont. However, he kept in touch with the Surrealists that had taken refuge in Marseille, and, in 1941, he was granted the permission to move there too. 

 Victor Brauner, Prelude to a Civilization, 1954

After the war, Brauner settled in Paris again. In 1954, he produced Prelude to a civilization (above), one of his best known paintings. Brauner executed this work in encaustic, a technique in which paint is mixed with molten wax. Into the resulting hardened surface, he incised the figures with pen and ink. He had first employed this medium after he was forced to take refuge in Southern France and was unable to obtain his usual working materials. 

 Victor Brauner, La fiancée de la nuit, 1937

Around 1960, Brauner settled in Varengeville (Noremandie), where he spent most of his time working. In 1965, he created an ensemble of object-paintings full of vivacity, grouped under the titles Mythologie and Fêtes des mères. In 1966 he was chosen to represent France at the biannual exhibition in Venice, where an entire hall was dedicated to him. Brauner died in Paris, on March 12, 1966, as a result of a prolonged illness. The epitaph on his tomb at Montmartre cemetery is a phrase from one of his notebooks: "Peindre, c'est la vie, la vraie vie, ma vie". You can see more works by Victor Brauner in my Flickr set.

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