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The Lives of the Surrealists

Desmond Morris


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


No other art movement in history has contained two artists as different as Magritte and Miró. This is because Surrealism was not in origin an art movement, but a philosophical strategy. It was a way of life – a rebellion against the establishment that had given the world the hideous slaughter of the First World War. Instead of trying to analyse the work of the Surrealists, bestselling author and Surrealist artist Desmond Morris concentrates on them as people – as remarkable individuals. What were their personalities, their predilections, their character strengths and flaws? Did they enjoy a social life or were they loners? Were they bold eccentrics or timid recluses?

Drawing on the author’s personal knowledge of the Surrealists, this book captures their life histories, idiosyncrasies and often-complex love lives, vividly illustrated with images of the artists and their works. The arts of Surrealism were both spectacular and international, shaped by the darkest, most irrational workings of the unconscious. Shocking, witty and always entertaining, Morris's tales illuminate the striking variation in approaches to the Surrealist philosophy, both in the artists’ work and in their lives.


'A delight ... Morris writes with a pleasingly conversational tone and a dry humour and affection that undercuts the more preposterous behaviour described here … Juicy little nuggets litter the book'
The Times

'Gossipy, waspish, biased, score-settling and very entertaining'
Literary Review

'Uproariously funny … [Morris’s] anecdotes are all told with a dry but good-natured humour … these figures make for highly entertaining company'
The Spectator

'An exceptionally lively, crisply written, independent-minded survey of one of the most bizarre groups of misfits who ever lived'
Mail on Sunday

'A carnival of wackiness'
Big Issue

'A compelling compendium of all the major players … page-turning … The book strikes the right balance between recognizing the artistic achievements of the milieu, as well as their colourful personal lives'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 24.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 272 pp

Publication date: 26 August 2021

ISBN: 9780500296370

Contents List

Eileen Agar
Jean (Hans) Arp
Francis Bacon
Hans Bellmer
Victor Brauner
André Breton
Alexander Calder
Leonora Carrington
Giorgio de Chirico
Salvador Dalí
Paul Delvaux
Marcel Duchamp
Max Ernst
Leonor Fini
Wilhelm Freddie
Alberto Giacometti
Arshile Gorky
Wifredo Lam
Conroy Maddox
René Magritte
André Masson
Roberto Matta
Edouard Mesens
Joan Miró
Meret Oppenheim
Wolfgang Paalen
Roland Penrose
Pablo Picasso
Man Ray
Yves Tanguy
Dorothea Tanning
Major Surrealist Group Exhibitions

About the Author

Desmond Morris is one of the last surviving Surrealists. His first solo exhibition was held in 1948 and in 1950 he shared his first London show with Joan Miró. He has since completed over 2,500 Surrealist paintings, and eight books have been published about his work. He has also written several books, one of which – The Naked Ape – ranks among the top 100 bestsellers of all time, with over 12 million copies sold.