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From Duchamp to Dalí: Unforgettable books on surrealist art and artists

Posted on 18 Mar 2023

Delve into the lives and work of Surrealism’s major figures, including René Magritte, Frida Kahlo, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Leonora Carrington.

Leonora Carrington. And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur. Featured in The British Surrealists.

1. Surrealists in New York

Charles Darwent’s Surrealists in New York is an absorbing group biography revealing how exiles from war-torn France brought Surrealism to America, helping to shift the centre of the art world from Paris to New York and spark the movement that became Abstract Expressionism.

2. The Lives of the Surrealists

Shocking, witty and always entertaining, The Lives of the Surrealists is a biographical survey of the principal Surrealists by one of the last surviving members of the movement, bestselling author and artist Desmond Morris.

3. The British Surrealists

Fêted for their idiosyncratic and imaginative works, the surrealists marked a pivotal moment in the history of modern art in Britain. Many banded together to form the British Surrealist Group, while others carved their own, independent paths. Desmond Morris’s The British Surrealists tells this extraordinary story.

4. Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement

Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement stands as the most comprehensive treatment of the lives, ideas, and art works of the remarkable group of women who were an essential part of the Surrealist movement, including Leonora Carrington, Léonor Fini, Frida Kahlo and Dorothea Tanning.

5. The Militant Muse

The Militant Muse documents what it meant to be young, ambitious and female in the context of an avant-garde movement defined by celebrated men. Focusing on the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Whitney Chadwick charts five intense, far-reaching female friendships among the Surrealists to show how Surrealism, female friendship and the experiences of war, loss and trauma shaped individual women’s transitions from beloved muses to mature artists.

6. Surrealism (Art Essentials)

Taking the reader on a narrative journey through the history of Surrealism, Surrealism (Art Essentials) is a digestible introduction to the movement’s key figures, their works and where to find them.

7. Dalí (World of Art)

Salvador Dalí was, and remains, among the most universally recognizable artists of the twentieth century. What accounts for this popularity? His excellence as an artist? Or his genius as a self-publicist? In Dalí (World of Art), partly based on interviews with the artist, Dawn Ades considers the Dalí phenomenon.

8. Miró (World of Art)

Among the great 20th-century masters, the surrealist painter Joan Miró stands out for the atmosphere of wit and spontaneity that pervades his work. In Miró (World of Art), the artist’s work is explored by Roland Penrose, Miró’s friend for almost five decades.

9. The Duchamp Dictionary

The Duchamp Dictionary takes art lovers on a tour through Marcel Duchamp’s life and work in more than 200 alphabetical entries – from alchemy and anatomy to Warhol and windows, via the Bicycle Wheel, chess and the fourth dimension.

10. Man Ray (Photofile)

One of the most famous artists of the 20th century, a dadaist and pioneer of Surrealism, Man Ray became involved with photography in 1914, and in 1921 created the ‘rayograph’ by exposing objects placed on to photosensitive material. Man Ray (Photofile) collects together the best of his experimental work as well as portraits of some of the most important figures in modern art including Brancusi, Breton, Giacometti and Max Ernst.

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Author Interviews

Amy Dempsey's guide to surrealism

There's more to this movement than melted clocks and bowler hats. We sat down with 'Surrealism' author Amy Dempsey to discuss one of the most popular art movements of the 20th century.

The turbulent life of Frida Kahlo: Chronic pain and boundless creativity

A life-changing accident, an axe-wielding assassin, a tempestuous relationship and more. Discover the remarkable story of Frida Kahlo, whose life and work were shaped by physical and emotional suffering.