Surrealist women represent a lost chapter in art history. Apart from Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, and other famous male surrealists, many prominent female artists have practiced surrealism behind the scenes. Kay Sage was a surrealist painter and therefore perhaps one of the most famous, but not famous. She had a wonderful life, helped many European artists escape to the United States during World War II, and had an impressive art collection that she later offered to several art institutions.
Kei's life story has something glorious, dramatic and mythical in it. She was born in 1898 to the prestigious family of the daughter of businessman and state senator Henry Manning Sage in New York. Her mother, Anna Wheeler Sage, was an eccentric, cosmopolitan woman who left the States after her divorce and took little Kay with her to travel around Europe. Life on the road helped Kay develop artistic talent and an unquestionable sense of freedom. From an early age, she spoke many languages and, adopting her mother's bohemian taste, developed an artistic temperament in herself. She had a restless mind seeking refuge in artistic endeavors. She started painting and writing poetry while she was in school. However, her decisive career began in Rome. She studied painting at the Scuola Libera Delle Belle Arti and joined the Venticinque Della Campagna Romana, a frivolous bohemian group of landscape painters who took excursions outside the city to paint. In this carefree state of mind, she met, fell in love, and later married the Italian prince Ranieri di San Faustino.
Although the marriage was initially happy, it ultimately forced her to neglect her life preferences and creativity in order to follow royal customs. She was too bohemian and independent to compromise with the pretentious circle and responsibilities of a prince. Her chance encounters and friendships with the American poet Ezra Pound and the German sculptor Heinz Henges were the catalyst for her life decisions. In 1935 she left the prince, moved to Paris and devoted herself exclusively to her art.
When André Breton and Yves Tanguy visited the Parisian Salon of the Independents in 1938, Kay's paintings caught their attention and admiration. They had never heard this name before, and did not even know if she was a man or a woman. And this ignorance was auspicious, as her gender would later become somewhat of a limiting element in the appreciation of her work by art critics of the time, which were dominated by men.
Her eventual meeting with surrealist artists was the beginning of a wonderful friendship, or not always so beautiful. She was in her forties, attractive, wealthy and independent, probably intimidating to them. Andre Breton's slight contempt for women artists, plus his socialist idealism, did not allow him to come to terms with Kay's artistic ambitions and royal past. The fact that she painted as a man no longer mattered. He never recognized her as a surrealist. Yves Tanguy, on the other hand, fell in love with her - absolutely and irreversibly.
Her interactions with surrealists in the late 30s changed the creative idiom, leading her to a new artistic identity. She even forgot about her previous art education, claiming later that she was self-taught. Despite Breton's disapproval, Kay has always considered herself a surrealist painter.
When World War II broke out, she helped most of the surrealist artists in her circle escape from Europe to New York. Using her connections and acquaintances, she founded the Society for the Preservation of European Culture, an organization through which she brought European artists to the United States, organized exhibitions and promoted surrealist artists. At the same time, she helped many artists and their families financially survive in the States, including André Breton.
The interpretation of dreams by Sigmund Freud had a huge impact on the art of the first half of the twentieth century. The idea of repressed unconscious drives that move under our perception of reality, leaving imperceptible but important traces on its surface, was one of the most important dynamics that shaped Western artistic practice at the time. Freudian theories laid the foundation for several currents, and among them was Surrealism.
Surrealist artists and poets, in dark and terrible dreams, explored the mysterious wastelands of the mind and discussed repressed instincts and unconscious desires. And the times were really tough. Before and after World War II, European artists had to deal with the irreparable trauma and anxiety of war, social inequality, poverty and threatening technology, as well as the emigration of many of them.
Yves Tanguy was already considered an outstanding surrealist before following Kay to the States, where they finally got married and settled in Connecticut. Kay bought an old colonial estate and turned the area around it into a landscape reminiscent of Tanguy's paintings.
Willow's art brought a weight of anxiety and a supernatural sense of innocence, his vast deserts and strange unidentified creatures personifying his sense of alienation and his rejection of reality.
Kay with admiration and readiness stood next to the mysterious and restless mind and art of her husband, the mysterious landscapes of his thoughts. Her most productive years were associated with their meeting and their life together. Eve was her strange attractor: a fatal and creative force at the same time.
There is an interesting change of theme in her paintings after meeting with the surrealists and Tanguy. Undoubtedly, there is influence from the vast landscapes of Willow. But there is also a kind of despair that didn't exist before. Of course, at that time there was a great war, too much destruction and fear, which affected her state of mind.
Her paintings instantly became poetic and deep, like landscapes for plays by Samuel Beckett or dystopian science fiction - sad cartographs of a strange world. She was deeply inspired by the gloomy landscapes and mysterious compositions of Giorgio de Chirico. The first painting she ever bought was a painting by de Chirico, and his works will remain a reference point for her throughout her life.
In Kay's images, everything seems motionless and sluggish, like a walk through a post-apocalyptic landscape or a foreboding. There are mysterious scaffoldings and unusual buildings that draw attention to architectural paradoxes. Serene anxiety and feeling as if walking towards a nightmare, but not reaching it. There are peaceful seas and ghostly shipwrecks, lunar landscapes and obscure humanoid figures, all in bright light. The doom is not obvious. Looking at them is like having a disturbing dream. This is deeper than pure melancholy or somber apathy, rather a subtle sense of vulnerability and risk.
Kay had a restless temperament and mind, and she was always on the move. However, her paintings showed immobility, or rather, intolerable inertia. Her perpetual movement of life, when she looks at her work, seems to hide a desire for immobility. As if she wanted to rest but couldn't find her harbor.Her life was a wandering, endless search that stopped in front of Yves Tanguy.
Eve was betrayed, but unbearable. Their meeting in Paris sparked a scandal, given his ex-wife and the romance he had with collector Peggy Guggenheim before meeting Kay. Despite the artistic dinners and parties that Kay constantly organized, the Willow settlement in the rural Connecticut forests was somewhat lonely and unbearable for him. He cut down on his drawing time and started drinking more, eventually getting drunk regularly and becoming aggressive. He insulted and humiliated Kay in front of their friends. There is evidence of his violence towards her, his outrageous behavior and her silent obedience.
Unfortunately, Kay, a woman so independent and unstoppable about her passions and inclinations, has not escaped these inner patriarchal habits. She divorced the prince because her art was cursed during their marriage, but could not leave Tanguy, despite the fact that he treated her that way. She considered him the love of her life and her main inspiration. It can be assumed that all this tension he created between them was incredibly inspiring and exciting for both of them.
He died of alcoholism in 1955, falling out of bed and hitting his head. He was only fifty-five years old. After his death, Kay had no tomorrow. The first time she tried to commit suicide with an overdose of pills, she failed. So she devoted herself to painting and preserving the heritage of Yves Tanguy. She wrote and published his catalog "Reason" and continued to paint until she almost lost her sight. She then mainly focused on her poetry, which was similar but also different from her painting. Sad, ridiculous and quiet.
Kay has been writing since she was young. If the titles of her paintings sounded like poetry, then they could describe images that she never created. There are empty rooms with more than one colored door, blackbirds, ivory towers, and bloody aprons. There are purely surreal images, sometimes harsher or noisier than her paintings. There is also a color in her poems that is more intense or expressive than in her paintings. And sometimes, surprisingly, there is humor in it.
Some of her poems are mysterious, dark and enigmatic. Others are playful, light and humorous, taking on the mischievous experimental mood of surreal literature. In her autobiography, she speaks of writing as a form of exhibitionism, more brutal than painting. However, there is not even a hint of obvious cruelty in her work. In fact, her poetry retains the elegance and mystery of her painting, while expressing the incurable loneliness and boredom. The cruelty she experiences while writing is rather an inert process of exploring her constant sense of powerlessness (perhaps due to her own gender).
The most common motive in her work is the egg. Its symbolic meaning is obvious given Kay's problems with loneliness, alienation, and captivity in a world she did not understand. Her egg cell exists in a precious but fragile shell, demonstrating a dungeon of life and creativity that can hatch or be humiliated and destroyed by predators. Constantly feeling like a stranger in her surroundings, which was strange for such a cosmopolitan woman, Kay called her autobiography "The Chinese Egg."
In the last years of her life, she almost completely lost her sight and could no longer paint. Kay decided to commit suicide, and this was her second attempt. This time, she would not allow herself to fail. On January 8, 1963, she shot herself in the heart.
In her suicide note, she wrote:.
Continuing the theme of women artists, read about how Berthe Morisot, a longtime friend of Edouard Manet, blurred the boundaries between male and female art, but remained an underestimated founder of Impressionism.
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