Yves Tanguy was a Surrealist painter of French origin who became a naturalized citizen of the United States in the late 1940s. His paintings were known for their representation of the purest element in Surrealistic style.
Yves Tanguy's Early Life and Service
Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy was born in the Ministry of Naval Affairs building in Paris
in the winter of 1900. His father, a retired captain, passed away when he was eight years old, after which his mother returned to her hometown of Locronan in Brittany. Left in the care of various relatives, he grew up in Paris, attending secondary school with Pierre Matisse, with whom he formed a lasting friendship.
In mid-1918, Tanguy joined the merchant marines and traveled to England, North Africa, and South America before being drafted into the army in Luneville, where he met poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert. The two men developed a relationship based on mutual interests: modern art, literature, and the promise of the future. After two years of service, he left his post in Tunis to return to Paris; here he earned a living doing odd jobs while sketching café scenes in his spare time.
After a chance encounter with the mysterious work of Giorgio de Chirico in 1923, Tanguy resolved to become a painter himself, his total lack of proper training notwithstanding. In 1924, encouraged by appreciative words from Maurice de Vlaminck, he began living with Jacques Prévert and Marcel Duhamel in a house that would eventually become a hub of activity for Surrealist painters.
Yves Tanguy and The Surrealists
Prévert first put Tanguy in contact with the Surrealists. Having been introduced to André Breton, he came into contact with like-minded individuals with whom discourse was possible, aiding artistic development. By 1927, his technical skill and visual language had evidently matured and his first solo exhibition was held at the Galerie Surrealiste in Paris. With his finances stabilizing, he married Jeanette Ducroq later that year.
He was becoming one of the leading members of the Surrealist movement by the late 1920s. He participated in a group exhibition with Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Jean Arp, and Pablo Picasso in 1928 at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. He showcased a series of paintings displaying unusual geological formations that he had spotted on his earlier journey through Africa. At this point, Breton offered Tanguy a contract to produce 12 paintings a year in return for a fixed income. Unfortunately, with comfort came complacency, and by the end of the term, he had painted only eight pieces.
He exhibited constantly in solo and group shows through the 1930s, with his work
traveling to galleries across Europe and North America. Meanwhile, he embraced the liberal bohemian lifestyle of the rising artist, eventually leading to the dissolution of his marriage.
Yves Tanguy's Movement to America
Tanguy met artist and poet Kay Sage in 1938. Though his divorce had not yet been finalized, he began an association with her despite a rebuke from the Surrealist group, especially Breton’s, who resented her wealth and talent. Even though he felt threatened by her creative faculties, he pursued the relationship and married her two years later. When the Second World War broke out, Sage moved back to her hometown of New York and began proceedings to help the Surrealists immigrate to America, starting with Tanguy, who had been deemed ineligible for army service. She organized his first solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse’s gallery in New York, a month after his arrival. In 1941, the couple began converting an old farmhouse in Connecticut into a home and studio and moved there permanently towards the end of the war.
Yves Tanguy's Death and Legacy
Tanguy suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage ten days after his 55th birthday and died in Woodbury in Connecticut. Unable to reconcile with the death of her husband, Kay Sage took her own life in 1963.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective of his work eight months after his death. Although he never achieved the same critical and commercial success in America as he had in Europe, he was known as “a painter’s painter.” Entirely self-taught, he was the quintessential Surrealist painter, who directly influenced artists such as Wolfgang Paalen, Roberto Matta, and Esteban Francés. A film, “Esquisse Tanguy,” was made about him in 1982. You can buy Yves Tanguy's artworks online
Yves Tanguy's Museums/Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, US
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, Rennes, France
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain