January 22, 2004

Two of my favorite painters are Victor Brauner and Yves Tanguy. I had never heard of either until the first time I saw and was completely enchanted by a painting of his in a Museum of Modern Art. I saw Tanguy's painting "Fear" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1960s. I saw Brauner's "Snake Dancer" at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in the 1980s. I was interested to learn that they were roommates for a while, but then in no mood to think coincidences were cool after reading this:
That year he moved to Paris, lived briefly with Tanguy, and painted a number of works featuring distorted human figures with mutilated eyes. Some of these paintings, dated as early as 1931, proved gruesomely prophetic when he lost his own eye in a scuffle in 1938.
Here's a better description of the incident (from an article, linked today at Arts & Letters Daily, that is really about the new Paul Auster novel):
On 28 August, 1938, the Romanian painter, Victor Brauner, lost his left eye when he was struck by a glass thrown by fellow surrealist Oscar Dominguez. Such violence was not uncommon at parties attended by the surrealist group, but what distinguished this episode was the fact that it seemed to fulfil a prophecy, begun seven years before when Brauner painted the first of a series of canvases (Self-Portrait with a Plucked Eye), in which he was depicted as having suffered various injuries, all affecting the left eye.

In one, Brauner’s eye has disappeared; in another, it seems to have melted and is running down his cheek; in yet another, the eyeball has shattered in its socket. The surrealists made much of the incident, claiming it proved the magical, premonitory power of art and, though Brauner himself played it down, he is best-known, even now, as the painter who foresaw his own partial blinding.

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