André Masson, “Lunatiques,” 1943

Lunatiques is one in a series of lithographs created to accompany the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre. They were created by Andre Masson, a French Surrealist painter and designer. Created in 1943, this particular lithograph features abstract, dark, and organic intertwining forms on an indigo background.  The piece features two forms. The first, on the left, is a clear feminine shape playing an instrument. The second, on the right is more abstract but seems to be more of a darker, evil figure. Although the second figure is evil, it is not attacking the feminine “good” figure. On the contrary, the “good” character seems to be serenading the dark character. This could possibly be a reference to evangelization.

André Masson, "Lunatiques," 1943. Lithograph, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection.

The piece is best described as abstract surrealism. Inspiration for this style could have been drawn from Matisse, who explored the idea of reducing forms down to their distinct lines and organic, curvy shapes. The line weights in Masson’s lithographs range from delicate and thin to heavy and thick. The weight changes are done gracefully with smooth transitions from light to dark. The graceful nature of the lines is reminiscent of calligraphy.

Andre Masson may have been influenced by several things: his early years in a French village, the years he spent at The Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, or his involvement as a solider in World War I and subsequent injury and time spent in an army hospital.  Masson became deeply affected by the irrational and surreal, which drew him into the surrealist movement. He wanted to be free of any control or inhibitions. When he would create his art he would often try to reduce his consciousness by fasting or using drugs. In this altered state of reality Masson dove into his subconscious and produced works that were very dark or erotic.

A year before this series of lithographs was created, the Nazis condemned his works as “degenerate” and Masson was forced to flee France. He arrived in the United States in 1942. It is said that when Masson arrived in New York City, police officers found drawings that were pornographic and customs officials ripped them up. These experiences, combined with Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy about existence and mortality may have influenced this series of lithographs.

Author Kathryn Clark is a senior enrolled in ART 3683: History of 20th Century Art.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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