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About This Artwork
Oil on eight joined panels
78 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (200 x 59.7 cm), each panel
Signed, l.r.: "YVES TANGUY.28"
Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1988.434
The largely self-taught Yves Tanguy decided to become an artist around 1923, when he was inspired by a painting by Giorgio de Chirico that he saw in a shop window. Tanguy became interested in Surrealism a year later, after reading the periodical La Révolution surréaliste. André Breton welcomed him into the Surrealist group in 1925. Inspired by the metaphysical qualities of de Chirico's work, as well as the biomorphic forms of Jean Arp, Max Ernst, and Joan Miró, Tanguy quickly developed his own fantastic vocabulary of organic, amoeba-like shapes that populate mysterious, dreamlike settings.
Tanguy painted this primordial landscape on a hinged wooden screen. Little information exists about the circumstances of the work’s making, but the artist probably intended it to be for a patron’s home, since many Surrealists were interested in the decorative arts and produced folding screens, furniture, and other domestic objects. In this unusual example, although the screen retains the potential to close off the private sphere, it simultaneously opens up more intimate dreams and fantasies to the outside world.
— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.271.
In 1923, Yves Tanguy saw a painting by Giorgio de Chirico in an art dealer's window and, like Max Ernst, Rene Magritte, and Paul Delvaux, was profoundly affected by his encounter with Metaphysical art. As a result, Tanguy resolved to make painting his life work and, despite his lack of formal artistic training, soon developed his own distinctive brand of Surrealist painting, which consists of vast, imaginary landscapes populated by oddly amorphous creatures.
Surprisingly, nothing is known of the circumstances surrounding the creation of this extraordinary and unique screen, which is certainly one of Tanguy's masterpieces. Given its size and ambition, this work was likely created for a specific patron. It shares many of the characteristics of Tanguy's other works of this period, but because of its almost environmental scale, the haunting grandeur of Tanguy's infinitely expanding vistas reaches here an unprecedented intensity.
As usual, Tanguy painted this work with great care and a profusion of subtle details, which reward close inspection and gently but inexorably draw us under the spell of his strange and marvelous world. For example, the horizon line, which appears almost flat in a reproduction, due to the enormous reduction in size, actually presents numerous hilly modulations. And the color scheme, although muted, reveals an infinite range of gradations, from white to gray to black or brown, punctuated by touches of vivid color—orange-red, blue, green. Similarly, the surface treatment is more varied than would initially appear—smooth and lush in the expanse of the sky, roughly textured through heavy scratching in the dark area below the horizon line. A number of bulbous creatures, uncertainly bridging the animate and the inanimate worlds, are scattered throughout the landscape and are sometimes paired in almost human ways (see the two forms in the lower right corner of the fourth panel from the left). Vaporous, cloudlike entities and plumed, linear structures are interspersed among them. This seems to be a lunar or undersea landscape, in which the pull of gravity is either absent or gentler than in our own world, since these creatures at times rest lightly on the ground, and at other times hover buoyantly above it. As we gaze into this aquarium like world, Tanguy's forms tenuously join and separate as if engaged in a slow dance. This is a parallel universe, which seems to unveil the deepest secrets and mysteries of our own.
—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. 166-167.
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Yves Tanguy: Retrospective, 1925-1955, June 17–September 27, 1982, ill. p. 49 (detail) in French ed.; traveled to Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, October 17, 1982–January 2, 1983, ill. opp. p. 49 in German ed. (detail).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Folding Image, March 4–September 3, 1984, no. 28.1/28.2; traveled to New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, October 11, 1984–January 6, 1985, no. 28.
Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1988-89, p. 29 (ill.).
Charles F. Stuckey, French Painting, (New York, 1991), p. 266 (ill.).
James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein, The Art Institute of Chicago: Twentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture (Chicago, 1996), p. 58 (ill.).
Galerie André-François Petit, Paris, by 1982–1988 [Paris 1982]; sold to the Art Institute, 1988.