Author: Sandra Kisters
The Romanian-Jewish artist Victor Brauner is little known in the Netherlands. The recently acquired Le déserteur is the first painting by Brauner in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection. The museum does, though, have a few publications in its bibliophile collection with illustrations by the artist. Between 1921 and 1923 Brauner studied at the art academy in Bucharest, but soon rebelled against the prevailing academicism. He left the academy and concentrated on illustrating collections of poems by friends such as Ilarie Voronca, with whom he founded the Dadaist magazine 75HP in 1924. In 1928 he was one of the brains behind the Surrealist magazine UNU, in which he published his drawings and paintings until 1932.
During his first visit to Paris around 1925 he became acquainted with his fellow countryman Constantin Brancusi. When Brauner moved to Paris in 1930, Yves Tanguy and Alberto Giacometti, who lived in the same building in Rue du Moulin Vert, introduced him to fellow Surrealists. Brauner’s first solo exhibition was staged in Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1934. Breton wrote the foreword for the catalogue. Brauner again spent time in Bucharest between 1935 and 1938 before returning to Paris. During the war years, like many other Surrealists, he fled to the South of France, to the area around Marseille. His post-war work is dominated by symbolism inspired by Tarot cards, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mexican codices. Notwithstanding his participation in Le surréalisme en 1947 in Galerie Maeght, the first major group exhibition of work by the Surrealists staged in Paris after the Second World War, Breton threw him out of the group in November 1948 because of a difference of opinion about the artist Roberto Matta. They were reconciled in 1959.
Le déserteur was made in the year Brauner became a member of the circle around Breton. The absurd figures in the desolate landscape are very like the grotesque figures in Jheronimus Bosch’s oeuvre. However the link between Bosch and the Surrealists had already been made by Alfred H. Barr Jr at the famous exhibition, Fantastic Art. Dada, Surrealism, in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1936-37), which also included work by Brauner. His image as an artist and visionary was self-made thanks to the Manifeste de la Picto-Poésie he published in the only issue of 75 HP in which he described himself as a visionary or magician. He lived up to that image when the gruesome self-portrait with a plucked eye that he made in 1931 became reality. In 1938 he lost his left eye when he intervened in a fight between Oscar Domínguez and Esteban Francés. Le déserteur by Brauner is an important acquisition for the museum because of the link with Bosch’s oeuvre, and because of Brauner’s position in the Paris Surrealist group.