The term surrealism comes from the French and is composed of the words sur (pronounced: sür = over) and réalisme (= reality, realism). It therefore literally means: above reality.
The goal of the surrealists was to create a superior reality that goes beyond what we see and also includes the unconscious and dreamlike.
They wanted to depict in their artworks not only what we see and know, but also dreams, visions, the unreal and the fantastic. In doing so, they let themselves be guided by spontaneous feelings and moods.
In order to suspend the laws of logic and reason, the surrealists invented the technique of spontaneous painting or writing (automatism).
Here, the artist only follows his spontaneous inspiration when he puts words or colours on paper, so that the unconscious can express itself without control by the mind. Associations, images and thoughts that arise during the work should flow unfiltered into the artwork.
The surrealists also ventured into new pictorial forms and techniques. For example, the painter Max Ernst developed the techniques of frottage and grattage.
In frottage, paper is placed on a structured surface such as wood. The grain is then rubbed onto the paper with a soft pencil.
In grattage, the artist applies the paint in several layers on top of each other and then scrapes it off the canvas again, creating new colour patterns.
Collage, which Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso developed in 1911/12, was also popular. In this process, different materials such as scraps of paper, pieces of wallpaper, fabric, wood or wire are processed and glued together to form a picture.
Surrealism was founded in France by a group of artists that included French writers such as André Breton, Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon as well as the German painter Max Ernst. Breton published the Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924, in which he introduced the new movement in art.
A first exhibition of Surrealist art took place in Paris in 1925. Among the artists represented there were Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Man Ray, who became famous as a photographer.
Surrealist painting is divided into two styles: Painters like Salvador Dalí or René Magritte depicted unrelated things and forms in a naturalistic setting. Others, such as Joan Miró, painted in a completely abstract manner.
Surrealism was a worldwide movement, surrealist artist groups formed in many European countries. After the Second World War, painters like Dalí and Max Ernst also made surrealism known in America.