Surrealism was, without a doubt, one of the most imaginative, fascinating and subversive movements to emerge within cultural history.
Emerging from the ‘year zero’ nihilism brought about by the First World War, Surrealism endeavoured to embrace radicalism and absurdity within everyday life to create artwork that not only challenged preconceived notions of the artistic ideals, but sought to display on canvas phantasmagorical imagery drawing heavily from the mundane objects of everyday life. If you are a fan of Surrealism, and the likes of Breton, Dali, Duchamp and Miro, you might want to take a trip to the following destinations, to really get a feel for what inspired these artists and their out of this world art.
Any Surrealist tour of the world must begin in the birthplace of its founding father, Andre Breton, with the little town of Tinchebray in the Orne region of Normandy. Situated deep within the Norman countryside about an hour’s drive away from Caen, Tinchebray is as picturesque a town as you are likely to find within all of France. The town is filled with beautiful Romanesque architecture – most notably the Churches of Saint-Remi and Saint-Marie – as well as a wonderfully bijou chocolate factory in the grounds of an old abbey. Tinchebray is certainly worth a visit if you want to see where Breton spent his formative years.
Hotel de Berulle
15 Rue de Grenelle, Paris
If you walk along the Rue de Grenelle in Paris to find Number 15, you will find by far and away the most important building of the Surrealist movement: the Hotel de Berulle. It was here in 1924 where Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault established the Bureau of Surrealist Research, and first published the Surrealist Manifesto. It was here where Breton, Aragon and Soupault met with writers such as Antonin Artaud, Rene Crevel and Paul Elouard to discuss Surrealist ideas, and to publish their in-house magazine: La Révolution surréaliste. The hotel itself remains in beautiful condition today, and is comfortably worth visiting if you get the chance.
Figueres in Catalonia is very much the town of Salvador Dali. Coupling not only as the artist’s birthplace but as an enduring homage to Surrealism, Figueres bears the unmistakable mark of Dali throughout the entire area. Throughout the town, one can expect to see statues and memorials with surrealist influences, as well as plenty of traditional Gothic architecture. The town’s centrepiece comes in the form of the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, a renovated 19th century castle converted in 1965 into the world’s foremost collection of Dali’s drawings, sculptures and paintings. A definite port of call for any Dali lover.
If Figueres is where Dali is most commemorated, it is at the Portlligat Museum-House where his work is most explained. This ex-fisherman’s house, where Dali and his wife Gala lived from 1930 to Gala’s death in 1982, provided Dali with his primary point of reference to which he is said to have drawn the greatest inspiration for his work; the Portlligat Bay. The house itself is labyrinthine and very Dali-esque, with its winding corridors and individually misshapen windows, and yet remains an essential, fascinating visit for any lover of Dali or of Surrealism in general.
If you want to visit an authentic intellectual commune with a place not just in Surrealist history but also of world history, then Erongaricuaro (meaning ‘a place of waiting’ in the native Purepecha language) is a definite go-to destination. This secluded Mexican town is steeped in counterculture, with a long tradition of serving as an escape for artists and writers the world over. It was here where Breton lived with Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the mid-30s, following Trotsky’s enforced exile from the Soviet Union. Today it remains abuzz with a thriving restaurant and street food culture, as well as a stunning main plaza full of bars with Latin music and very reasonably priced alcohol.
Un Chien Andalou – Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s 1929 masterpiece – is without a doubt the greatest and most influential example of Surrealist experimental cinema. The film, despite only lasting 21 minutes, came to embody the tangential, unsettling and subversive ideals of Surrealism, with the iconic ‘eyeball-slicing’ scene going down as one of the most iconic opening scenes in cinema history. The film, for the most part, is set in the wonderful French coastal city of Le Havre, whose rustic shopfronts and rolling hills serve as the perfect neutral landscape for Buñuel’s Surrealist dreamscape. Le Havre’s inherent tranquillity was loved by Dali and Buñuel and would be loved by any fan of Surrealism.
Marcel Duchamp’s childhood house
Much like Breton, Marcel Duchamp – a pioneer of Surrealism and the so-called ‘plastic arts’ – was born into an ostensibly quaint, rural environment abundant with natural charm. The Duchamp family home in Blainville-Crevon, which remains open to the public to this day, is a stunning countryside mansion surrounded by much of the scenery Duchamp studied in his earliest works. The entire area is a vast, verdant retreat only a half an hour from Rouen, and still features some excellent examples of Norman and Angevin architecture, coupled with its Duchamp connection and beautiful location – a hidden gem of rural France.
The Cabaret Voltaire is, by some stretch, one of the most improbable and extraordinary cultural centres to have emerged in the 20th century. The nightclub – which remains functional to this day as a nightclub – became a refuge during the First World War for all of Europe’s fleeing intellectuals, whose radical ideals gave way to the emergence of Dadaism, the anarchist movement to which Surrealism owes total homage. Cabaret Voltaire still plays host to bohemians, anarchists and free-thinkers, and has done so continually from 1916 onwards, giving a platform for experimental cinema, theatre and music. It will remain one of the most original and iconic nights-out you are able to find.
Residencia de Estudiantes
The Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid is arguably the birthplace of Spanish Surrealism and Spain’s ‘Silver Age’, serving as an at-the-time nigh-on unprecedented environment for the cultivation and promotion of Spain’s brightest and best thinkers in the early 20th century. It was at the Residencia where the young Salvador Dali first met Luis Buñuel, and where the two began to foment their ideas on the future of art and culture, drawing considerable influence from the Surrealist Manifesto published in Paris in 1924. The Residencia remains to this day one of the most prominent cultural centres in Madrid, with over 3000 scholars, artists and intellectuals still taking up residency there for short spaces of time every year. Comfortably still worth a visit if you find yourself in Madrid.
Joan Miro’s studio
Despite being almost indelibly tied to the culture of Barcelona, the great Surrealist Joan Miro had a great affinity for the isle of Mallorca, and following the Nazi air raids of 1940, relocated permanently from Barcelona to the island. There, he enlisted his friend, the Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert to design his own purpose-built studio in a suitably Surrealist style. This studio remains in Mallorca as the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro – a stunning totem to Surrealism containing some of Miro’s greatest works, and set within the rustic Balearic heartlands. This studio is a must-visit for Miro fans, and serves as the more abstract flipside to Dali’s hometown of Figueres.