André Masson

André Masson

1896 - 1987

Biography

Balagny-sur-Thérain, 1896 – Paris, 1987

Even by the age of 10, André Masson was a frequent visitor to art galleries, especially the Musée Royal des Beaux -Arts in Brussels, where at a young age he became influenced by many of the old masters. His prodigious talents were recognized in his acceptance, although under age, at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in the same city. Masson’s exceptional draftsmanship led to his being befriended, mentored and encouraged by Paul Signac and Paul Baudouin despite even though he was only in his early teens. Masson’s meteoric rise in the artistic community was however interrupted in 1916, when he was sent to fight at the Somme. Wounded severely the next year, he spent the rest of the war in and out of both medical and mental hospitals. When Masson reemerged onto the art scene Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler encouraged his Cubism, but the individualized feel and iconography of his works prompted André Breton, on seeing his work in Kahweiler’s gallery, to ask him to join the Surrealists. Masson experimented repeatedly with automatic drawing, and created many automatic portraits of his colleagues. His automatic works and poetry-inspired paintings were a major influence on Joan Miró, whose studio neighbored his own. In the 1930s, during his estrangement from the Surrealist group, Masson produced more illustrative, illusionistic works that explored Surreal themes in an expressionistic manner more removed from automatism. His experiences in the war, in hospital and later as a witness to the Spanish Civil War resulted in Masson’s subject matter being significantly darker than most other Surrealists. Masson fled to the United States during the Second World War but returned to his native soil as soon as it was finished. In the 1940s and 50s Masson also became interested in Zen art, attempting to portray the essence of the object depicted in a spontaneous, abstract manner. Gradually, from the 1970s onwards, disability impeded his artistic output. Masson’s influence was most keenly felt in the United States in the work of avant-garde artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey.