Yves Tanguy

gigatos | March 13, 2022


Yves Tanguy (Paris, January 5, 1900 – Woodbury (Connecticut), January 15, 1955) was a French painter. Almost all of his paintings belong to Surrealism.

Tanguy was born in Paris, his parents were of Breton descent. At the age of 18, he joined the French merchant fleet as a sailor. From age 20 to 22, he served as a conscript in the French infantry. After completing his military service, he led a nomadic life, constantly changing jobs. His life took a drastic turn when in 1924, by chance, he saw a painting by the Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico hanging. Tanguy, who until then had never held a brush, instantly fell in love with painting and immediately began to paint himself.

Tanguy did not attend any training but was a self-taught artist who was able to master a high level of oil painting within a year. In 1925 he participated in an exhibition and not much later he joined the Surrealist Society, a club to which other painters such as Salvador Dali, Joan MirĂ³ and Max Ernst belonged. Tanguy also got a contract with the famous critic and art dealer AndrĂ© Breton. Tanguy received a fixed salary if he produced 12 paintings a year, these paintings would then go to Breton who then sold them.

Unfortunately, Tanguy did not manage to reach the minimum of 12 paintings. This was mainly due to Tanguy”s small apartment in which only one painting could dry at a time. This was because Tanguy used the glazing technique, a technique in which the paint, which was applied layer by layer, had to dry first. Moreover, Tanguy was known as an obsessive perfectionist who was totally absorbed in the details of his paintings. When Tanguy had only finished 8 paintings by the end of the year, Breton broke off the contract. From then on, Tanguy refused to do any more commercial work and opted for a bohemian lifestyle.

In the 1930s, Surrealism began to decline in popularity, and Tanguy”s reputation as a painter waned. In 1938 he married the American artist Kay Sage. This was the reason for the Tanguy to emigrate to the United States, a country where surrealism was still popular. In the United States Tanguy experienced his most successful and productive period. During this time he also created his most famous works. Tanguy died in 1955 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Tanguy made almost stylistically identical paintings throughout his career. He had developed an entirely unique way of painting with which he differed substantially from the other surrealists. While the other surrealists chose to combine existing objects and very recognizable figures in strange ways, Tanguy chose completely abstract objects. Tanguy”s paintings, by the way, are not abstract, but rather a very figurative and extremely realistically painted representation of an abstract image.

A painting by Tanguy often consists of an enormously flat landscape, often a kind of desert, with the horizon being very blurred. This makes the landscape seem endless. For the landscape Tanguy uses only one kind of color, often gray and brown. Because of the many transitions from light to dark, he manages to create an enormous depth in the landscape. In the immense empty landscape are all kinds of strange objects, figures or abstract objects. The shapes of these objects vary from smooth and round to angular and elongated. By placing large objects in the foreground and smaller ones in the background, an enormous depth is again created. The figures often have bright colors that make them stand out against the background, often they also have extremely long shadows.

Any attempt to analyze the forms is doomed to failure because Tanguy made the objects emerge entirely from the subconscious of the mind. While making the sketch, he often drew the forms with his eyes closed, without thinking about them. There is therefore no other meaning behind them. Very occasionally, shapes can be recognized, such as a fishing pole or an amoeba, but this resemblance was, according to Tanguy, purely coincidental.


  1. Yves Tanguy
  2. Yves Tanguy
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