Andre Breton Biography

Andre Breton, a distinguished writer and poet from France, was a leading figure in the Surrealist movement. Known for his influential ‘Surrealist Manifesto’, he championed free expression and the exploration of the subconscious mind. Breton’s extensive body of work includes volumes of essays and poetry, with his novel ‘Nadja’ being a notable example. Throughout his career, he delved into radical and metaphysical themes, often incorporating elements of fantasy. In addition to his artistic pursuits, Breton mentored aspiring Surrealists and advocated for the movement through literature and art. His personal life was marked by three marriages, a fascination with Freudian psychology, and a distinctive sense of style.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In February
  • Also Known As: André Robert Breton
  • Died At Age: 70
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Elisa Claro, Jacqueline Lamba, Simone Kahn
    • Children: Aube Breton
  • Poets
  • French Men
  • Died on: September 28, 1966
  • Place of death: Paris, France

Childhood & Early Life

Andre Breton was born into a working-class family in Tinchebray, Normandy, France. He studied medicine and psychiatry as a young boy and started to take a particular interest in the study of mental sicknesses. He never qualified as a psychoanalyst because his education was disturbed by the imminent World War I. During the war, he worked in a number of neurological/psychiatric wards in Nantes. At the same time, he studied the works of Sigmund Freud, whom he would meet later in his life.

Career

In his early years, he was extremely influenced by the works of poets, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and writers like Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1916, he joined the Dadaist movement in France along with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.

In 1919, he established the journal ‘Litterature’ along with Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon. The subsequent year, he authored his work of literary ‘Surrealism’ titled ‘Les Champs magnetiques’ (Magnetic Fields). This work introduced the surrealist automatic writing practice.

In 1924, he founded the Bureau of Surrealist Research and also published one of his literary masterpieces, the ‘Surrealist Manifesto’. The same year, he also became the editor for the magazine, ‘La Revolution surrealiste’, during which he was associated with numerous writers such as Robert Desnos, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault and the like.

From 1927 to 1933, he served the French Communist Party, after which he was debarred from the group. It was during this time he penned one of his greatest novels, ‘Nadja’.

In 1935, he attended the ‘International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture’, where he got into a tiff with other Surrealists. As a result, all the Surrealists were removed from the Congress.

His poem, ‘Fata Morgana’ was published in 1939 after collaborating with artist Wifredo Lam, who was given the responsibility to illustrate his poem.

At the onset of World War II, he was enlisted in the medical corps of the French Army. The Vichy government disqualified his writings, during which time; he escaped from France to the United States, in 1941.

He wrote ‘Arcane 17’, in 1944 after he traveled to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. Two years later, he returned to Paris, where he openly opposed French expansionism and also mentored a second group of up-and-coming Surrealists.

From 1953 to 1958, he penned numerous works including ‘La Cle des Champs’, ‘Farouche a quatre feuilles’, ‘Manifestos of Surrealisms’ and ‘L’Art Magique’ and ‘Constellations’.

From 1959 to 1965, he organized a display in Paris, authored the book, ‘Le la’ and published the last of his works, ‘La Surrealisme et la Peinture’.

Major Works

‘The ‘Surrealist Manifesto’ was published in both, 1924 and 1929. Considered one of his ‘largest’ works, the manifesto defines surrealism as ‘pure psychic automatism’. Penned with a lot of absurdist comicality, the publication also outlined the influence of the Dada movement, which heralded the ‘Surrealist’ movement. The two books became popular among Surrealist circles and his writing even spawned a third manifesto, which was never published.

‘Nadja’, his second novel, published in 1928, is regarded as one of his most iconic works. This novel was based on his private exchanges with a woman called ‘Nadja’. A semi-autobiography, the book came to be known as one of his best-works in his career and was also featured in Le Monde’s list of ‘100 Books of the Century’.

Personal Life & Legacy

Breton married Simone Collinet on September 15, 1921. He divorced her after ten years. He married his second wife, Jacqueline Lamba, a painter. She was the theme of a number of his poems and he loved her dearly. He had his only child with Jacqueline; a daughter called Aube. He married a Chilean woman, Elisa Claro, whom he met during his exile in the United States. She stayed with him till his death.

He passed away at the age of 70 and was interred at the Cimetiere des Batignolles, in Paris. After his death, Elisa and Breton’s daughter, Aube, permitted pupils and investigators with the right to use his personal library and collections at home. A number of his writings and works were published posthumously, carrying forward his legacy and his ideologies on Surrealism. Works such as ‘Selected Poems’, ‘Perspective Cavaliere’ and ‘Poems of Andre Breton’ were published after his death. Nine of his unpublished texts and the famous ‘Manifeste du Surrealism’ were auctioned, in 2008.

Trivia

This famous French Surrealist author and poet was an avid collector of art and other relics, collecting over 5,300 items over his lifetime, including paintings, furniture, drawings, photographs, scripts and Oceanic art.

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