The Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Surrealists


My husband for the first time since moving to Philadelphia expressed interest in seeing a specific exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – “The Surrealists”. I was thrilled at the suggestion and we enlisted a couple, some friends from New York, to accompany us on this wonderful excursion. I’ve picked out some of my favorites that I found particularly compelling to share, such as the Miro piece above. Surrealism seems to be one of those genres that you either love or could do without. If you love it like I do, check out the masterpieces below.


“Carnival de Venice” (1946) by Enrico Donati (1909-2008), an American born in Italy, transported me to a liquid ship gliding serenely over a still lake. I absolutely love the composition of the piece and the way it moves across the canvass – like a magical circus on water.


I was reminded of my lessons on sacred geometry while viewing Spanish-born Pablo Ruiz y Picasso’s (1881-1973) “Head of a Woman” created in 1937. The eye within the pyramid reflects sacred spiritual symbology and the use of shapes seems to be a type of cubism possibly influenced by African design aesthetic.


American Leon Kelly’s (1901-1982) “Primordial Landscape”, completed between 1939-1940, consists of so many provocative shapes that almost any creature can be seen or imagined living within the mass of colors. Are we viewing a jumbled collection of body parts, animals, or beings from another realm?


Another painting by Picasso, “Bullfight” (1934), feels dramatic and urgent from the use of repetitive lines and bold color – particularly reds that evoke an energy of passion. The frame is as eye-catching as the painting and the pairing of the two just divinely compliments one another.


My favorite painter Joan Miro (1893-1983), born in Spain, made several appearances in this exhibit. This particular work above he called, “Person in the Presence of Nature” (1935). Miro’s use of primary colors is always refreshing and harkens back to the simplicity of childhood and Crayola boxes. Here nature seems almost unapproachable with an array of bizarre creatures that seem to watch guard over the landscape.


One of the youngest artists to be labeled by the classification “surrealist”, American Charles Seliger (1926-2009) was only 18 when he created his masterful work, “Orator” (1945). The yellow coloring almost gives the piece a kind of glow and the white/brown contrasts add a seducing depth to the piece.


Leon Kelly makes another appearance in this exhibit with his “Ancient Bird and Mummified Bird” (1945). The gauziness of the color application adds rich texture to the creatures lending itself to a mummified appearance indeed. There is an almost dream-like quality to the composition which draws in its viewer.


“Fair Weather” (1939) was painted by one of the period’s most well-known artists, Man Ray (1890-1976). This piece can be seen as somewhat of a self-portrait. Andre Breton once called Man Ray, “the man with the magic lantern head” because of his photography skills. We see this figure at the left of the composition.

So what is “surrealism”? Oxford Dictionaries defines it as:

A 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Launched in 1924 by a manifesto of André Breton and having a strong political content, the movement grew out of symbolism and Dada and was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud. In the visual arts its most notable exponents were André Masson, Jean Arp, Joan Miró, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Luis Buñuel.

(Source: last viewed Apr. 1, 2014.)

“The Surrealists” was exhibited from November 3, 2013 to March 2, 2014 at the Perleman Building. To check out the latest exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, visit

Photography by Ajua Hawkins.

Copyright 2014 Ajua Hawkins

10 Replies to “The Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Surrealists”

  1. OOOWWW!!! I love the surrealists. I think my favorite is the famous Salvador Dali and Man Ray. My father took me to an exhibit when I was in grade school and I got lost in surrealism. But public school being what it is my interest was not nurtured at all. My parents well, they had to work. Anyway, I love this post and your photos are always a joy.

    1. Awww!! That puts a huge smile on my face!! I love surrealism too. Just love it. I am so happy that these pics brought some delightful memories to your mind. That’s a beautiful thing. Love to you!

  2. this made me nostalgic for my art history days – i was hooked by surrealism and the manifesto. how i wished i could have been around during that time. (well – maybe i was! lol) thank you. aleya

    1. You’re welcome love. Yes, these pictures can take you back in time for sure. Just love getting lost in them. Wishing you a peaceful now!

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