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About This Artwork
The Rapidity of Sleep, 1945
Oil on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm)
Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1946.46
Modern and Contemporary Art
Not on Display
This painting exemplifies Yves Tanguy's late style, especially as he practiced it after his move to the United States in 1939, where he married the American painter Kay Sage. The forms have become harder and more sculptural, resembling strangely shaped stones, rather than the amorphous creatures of his earlier paintings, and echoing more clearly the prehistoric stones—the dolmens and menhirs—of Tanguy's native Brittany. Color is also intensified, as the artist makes more generous use of the orange-red and blue found only spottily in earlier works, such as his 1928 screen. The arrangement, size, and shape of these forms has become more varied, from the regimented clustering of forms on the right to the horizontal scattering of forms on the left and in the background. The viewer is also brought visually closer to the scene through the cropping of forms in the foreground.
The title of the painting (inscribed on the back as La Rapidite des sommeils) works in conjunction with the image to heighten its enigma and mystery, as in the works of Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte. Perhaps the title refers to the onset of sleep, or to the different stages of sleep, as the French use of the plural "sommeils" seems to suggest. This interpretation seems to find a visual equivalent in the progression from congested, active foreground to sparse, quiet back-ground, from the thicket of vertical forms on the right to the more relaxed rhythm of horizontal forms extending into the distance. In the middle ground, at left, is an unusual configuration that seems particularly evocative in relation to the title. A horizontal form reminiscent of a sleeping figure lies, as in a bed or coffin, within the rectangular space defined by a rocklike border. Is Tanguy referring to the sleep that ushers in the dream-world of his landscapes or to the ultimate sleep, the sleep of death? The mood of the picture hovers uncertainly between the ominous and the contemplative, between lower and upper halves, engendering a desire to traverse the inhospitable foreground to reach the soothing, misty reaches of the background. Given the date of the work, at the end of World War II, one also wonders whether there is embedded in this work something of the emotional tenor of the times, a yearning for a peace that would transcend recent history.
—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 176-177.