Arts of Europe


Le malheur adoucit les pierres (Suffering Softens Stones), 1948
Yves Tanguy (France, 1900–1955)
Oil on canvas
36 x 28 inches
Festival of Arts Purchase Fund 1949-9-1

Yves Tanguy had no formal training, but was inspired to pursue art after seeing metaphysical work by Giorgio de Chirico in the window of Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris. Responding to the eerie and dreamlike qualities of de Chirico's painting, Tanguy began conceiving his own mysterious pictorial worlds. In 1925 he met André Breton, leader of the surrealist group, and officially became a member. The surrealists sought to express in art their unconscious thoughts and desires. By the time of his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Surréaliste in 1927, Tanguy had developed a distinctive vocabulary of mutating biomorphic forms and vaporous landscapes. He focused on landscape perhaps more than any of his surrealist contemporaries and, although his style changed throughout his career in Europe and after his immigration to the United States in 1940, his interest in the genre persisted.

In Le malheur adoucit les pierres, Tanguy presents the imaginings of the unconscious mind through a remote and peculiar landscape inhabited by unidentifiable geometric and amorphous forms. With a predominantly gray palette, the artist created an environment of indeterminate depth, vaguely delineated by a soft horizon line. A shape with a humanlike aura confronts the viewer in the central foreground, as if displaying outstretched limbs. The form suggests a menacing gatekeeper barring entrance to the realm behind. Ominously pointed objects in the background intensify the atmosphere. The artist often generated his titles based on his research of subjects such as telepathy, clairvoyance, levitation, and other unexplainable spiritual phenomena. Although the title of this work cannot be construed literally, the artist evokes mental suffering and unconscious fears through the barren, seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape.

Text by Phoebe Wolfskill, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

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