The Surrealists and A L'Etoile scellée

cut and folded paper in the shape of two hands*

One of the founders of Surrealism, André Breton (1896–1966), had roles as an advisor to three Parisian galleries: La galerie Surréaliste (16, rue Jacques Callot, 1926–28), La galerie Gradiva (31, rue de Seine, 1937–1938), and A L'Etoile scellée (11, rue du Pré-aux-Clercs, 1952–56).

The name of the third gallery, A L'Etoile scellée, can be translated as "At the Sealed Star" and was suggested by René Alleau. This appealed to the interest in alchemy that Breton shared with other Surrealists. As the gallery name could be read phonetically as Ah les toiles c'est laid ("Ah the canvases are rude"), it also appealed to their love of word games. The gallery seems to have been financed by Sophie Babet, who closed it abruptly in June 1956.

The first two group shows held at the gallery, in December 1952 and February 1953, included Surrealists ErnstTanguy, Brauner, Lam, Paalen, Man Ray, and Toyen. There was a further surrealist group show in April–May 1954 of work by Dominguez, Labisse, and Magritte, and in July 1954 the gallery was involved in the Pinturas surrealistas exhibition shown at the Galeria de Lima. There were one-person shows for the surrealists Toyen (1953 and 1955), Man Ray (1956), and Meret Oppenheim(1956). Some of the artists provided images for the short-lived surrealist magazine Medium: communication surréaliste, published in an edition of three thousand by Eric Losfeld: Hantai (November 1953 issue), Paalen (February 1954), Svanberg (May 1954), and Lam (January 1955).

paper cut in the form of a mothBut the bulk of the shows were by younger or less well-known artists, and those associated with tachisme (championed by Charles Estienne, who was also an advisor to the gallery), art brut/primitivism, or eroticism. Breton gave the first Paris show to Slavko Kopac, who had introduced himself by leaving a painting outside Breton's front door. Realism, championed by communists, was not represented by any of the artists. The inclusion of abstract artists in the gallery's program was not popular with many surrealists. And Man-Ray pointedly subtitled his show "non-abstractions."

The Frick Art Reference Library has eleven of the gallery's catalogues. Some are small single sheets with distinctive folding and cut-outs: Toyen (1953), in the shape of two connected hands (see above); Kopac (1953), in the form of a bird; and the Galeria di Lima show, in the shape of a moth, perhaps also made by Kopac.

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