André Breton – Complete Freedom of Art

Portrait of André Breton, 1924

André Breton (1896 – 1966) was a French writer, and a poet. Breton was a major member of the Dada group and the co-founder of Surrealism with Paul Éluard, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. He was dedicated to avant-garde art-making. His writings include the first Surrealist Manifesto (Manifeste du surréalisme) of 1924, declaring surrealism as “pure psychic automatism”, deeply affecting the methodology and origins of future movements, such as Abstract Expressionism.

(Surrealism was a cultural movement during the 1920s that evolved around visual art and other literature in Paris. It uses techniques, such as word games, to challenge the mind.  Surrealist art focuses on the element of surprise and unexpected juxtapositions. The leader of the movement, Andre’ Breton, believed that surrealism was a revolutionary movement above all.)

André Breton worked in various creative media, focusing on collage and printmaking as well as authoring several books. “Breton innovated ways in which text and image could be united through chance association to create new, poetic word-image combinations. His ideas about accessing the unconscious and using symbols for self-expression served as a fundamental conceptual building block for New York artists in the 1940s.” (The Art Story)

Along with his role as leader of the surrealist movement he is the author of celebrated books such as “Nadja” and “L’Amour fou”. Those activities, combined with his critical and theoretical work on writing and the plastic arts, made André Breton a major figure in twentieth-century French art and literature.

André Breton, 1929

Breton launched the review Littérature in 1919, with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault. He also associated with Dadaist Tristan Tzara. In 1924, he was instrumental in the founding of the Bureau of Surrealist Research, also known as the Centrale Surréaliste or “Bureau of Surrealist Enquiries”. It was a Paris-based office in which a loosely affiliated group of Surrealist writers and artists gathered to meet, hold discussions, and conduct interviews in order to “gather all the information possible related to forms that might express the unconscious activity of the mind.

In Les Champs Magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), a collaboration with Soupault, he implemented the principle of automatic writing. He published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, and was editor of the magazine La Révolution surréaliste from that year on. A group of writers became associated with him: Soupault, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, René Crevel, Michel Leiris, Benjamin Péret, Antonin Artaud, and Robert Desnos.

Breton joined the French Communist Party in 1927, anxious to combine the themes of personal transformation found in the works of Arthur Rimbaud with the politics of Karl Marx. He was expelled in 1933.

In 1938, he met Leon Trotsky. Together, Breton and Trotsky wrote the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art (published under the names of Breton and Diego Rivera) calling for “complete freedom of art”, which was becoming increasingly difficult with the world situation of the time.

“One of Breton’s fundamental beliefs was in art as an anti-war protest, which he postulated during the First World War. This notion re-gained potency during and after World War II, when the early Abstract Expressionist artists were creating works to demonstrate their outrage at the atrocities happening in Europe.”  (The Art Story)

Breton was an avid collector of art, ethnographic material, and unusual ornaments. He was particularly interested in materials from the northwest coast of North America. He subsequently rebuilt the collection in his studio and home at 42 rue Fontaine. The collection grew to over 5,300 items: modern paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, art catalogs, journals, manuscripts, and works of popular and Oceanic art.

André Breton

Always for the First Time – André Breton, 1934

Always for the first time

I barely know you by sight

You return at some hour of night to a house diagonal from my window

An imaginary house

Where from one second to the next

In perfect darkness

I wait for the magic splitting to happen

A single tear

In the wall and in my heart

The closer I get to you

In real life

The more the key sings in the door of an unknown room

Where you appear to me alone

Where you first melt into brilliant light

Into the stray angle of a curtain

Into the field of jasmine, I saw at dawn on a road in the province of


With the diagonal arc of the harvesting girls

Behind them the dark falling wing of plants stripped bare

Before them a square bracket of dazzling light

The curtain raised invisibly

The flowers all returning in fury

It is you face to face with an hour too long never dark enough for sleep

You as if you could be

The same except that I might never meet you

You pretend not to know I see you

Miraculously I’m no longer sure you do

Your lazy lingering fills my eyes with tears

A swarm of meanings surrounds each of your gestures

This is a hunt for honey

There are rocking chairs on a deck there are branches that will scratch you in the forest

There’s a shop window on Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Street

Two lovely crossed legs caught in stockings

Spreading out from the center of a great white clover

There’s a silk ladder rolled out across the ivy


A way that by gazing into the void and into your absence

I’ve found the secret

Of loving you

Always for the first time.

(Translated from French by P. Weinfield)

Toujours pour la Première Fois, André Breton, 1934

Toujours pour la première fois

C’est à peine si je te connais de vue

Tu rentres à telle heure de la nuit

dans une maison oblique à ma fenêtre

Maison tout imaginaire

C’est là que d’une seconde à l’autre

Dans le noir intact

Je m’attends à ce que se produise

une fois de plus la déchirure fascinante

La déchirure unique

De la façade et de mon cœur

Plus je m’approche de toi

En réalité

Plus la clé chante à la porte de la chambre inconnue

Où tu m’apparais seule

Tu es d’abord tout entière fondue dans le brillant

L’angle fugitif d’un rideau

C’est un champ de jasmin que j’ai contemplé à l’aube

sur une route des environs de Grasse

Avec ses cueilleuses en diagonale

Derrière elles l’aile sombre tombante des plants dégarnis

Devant elles l’équerre de l’éblouissant

Le rideau invisiblement soulevé

Rentrent en tumulte toutes les fleurs

C’est toi aux prises avec

cette heure trop longue jamais

assez trouble jusqu’au sommeil

Toi comme si tu pouvais être

La même à cela près que

je ne te rencontrerai peut-être jamais

Tu fais semblant de ne pas savoir que je t’observe

Merveilleusement je ne suis plus sûr que tu le sais

Ton désœuvrement m’emplit les yeux de larmes

Une nuée d’interprétations entoure

chacun de tes gestes

C’est une chasse à la miellée

Il y a des rocking-chairs

sur un pont il y a des branchages

qui risquent de t’égratigner dans la forêt

Il y a dans une vitrine

rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette

Deux belles jambes croisées prises dans de hauts bas

Qui s’évasent au centre d’un grand trèfle blanc

Il y a une échelle de soie déroulée sur le lierre

Il y a

Qu’à me pencher sur le précipice

et de ton absence

J’ai trouvé le secret

De t’aimer

Toujours pour la première fois.