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Kurt Seligmann

The Dance

Kurt Seligmann. The Dance, 1940. Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection. © 2018 Orange County Citizens Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Date of birth
Date of death

Associated with the Surrealist movement in France and the United States, Kurt Seligmann had wide-ranging and unique interests—from medieval heraldry to Native American totemism and the occult—which drove his prolific artistic endeavors in painting, engraving, and writing.

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Seligmann spent much of the first 30 years of his life in Europe. As a teenager, he worked in a print shop where he hand-colored glass lantern slides, foreshadowing his later, extraordinary experiments with oil paint on glass, such as The Dance (1940). 

Living in Paris during the 1930s, Seligmann participated in the Abstraction-Création group before joining the Surrealist movement. In this context, he developed close friendships with Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage, who followed him and his wife, Arlette Paraf, to New York in 1939. Settling on a farm in Sugar Loaf, New York, Seligmann and his wife assisted many colleagues as they attempted to flee Europe in the early years of World War II.

After the war concluded, Seligmann remained in the United States, which became a crucial site of artistic inspiration for him. The American landscape drove his exploration of his “cyclonic forms,” as he called them––powerful, whirling, mummified figures created by transcribing the intricate patterns of fractured glass. Such figures appear in paintings like Melusine and the Great Transparents (1943), a work acquired by Seligmann’s longtime friends, the Chicago collectors Mary and Earle Ludgin. The Ludgin Collection constitutes the foundation for the Art Institute’s unparalleled 41 artworks by Seligmann, the largest and most representative of his work within any museum collection in the world.

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