Victor Brauner and the Surrealist Interest in the Occult

  • Camelia Darie

Student thesis: Phd


My research on Victor Brauner's work in the first two decades of his affiliation with the Surrealist group in Paris re-establishes the role played by the Romanian Jewish artist in the definition of automatic Surrealist procedures of painting and mixed-technique objects that relied upon a new and unconventional understanding of the occult.In the three chapters of this study of Victor Brauner's work in the 1930s and early 1940s, I analyse key notions, such as the fantastic, animal magnetism, and the occult practices of art making in a Surrealist context. The fantastic is discussed in the first chapter of the thesis from a literary perspective with political connotations in Surrealism, which resulted from a debate engaged in nineteenth-century French literature on the issue of the marvellous versus the fantastic. Due to the Surrealists' interest in the fantastic a new category emerged, the fantastic art, which is examined in this first chapter in connection with Brauner's artworks in the 1930s. The incursion into the fantastic, with focus on the premonition of the painter's left eye loss in his artworks of the 1930s is completed with an approach to spiritualism that had a revival at the time. The second chapter of the thesis investigates the doctrine of animal magnetism and the state of magnetic somnambulism in eighteenth-century scholarship and shows how this experimentation had influenced the development of a new branch of the science, metapsychics or psychical research at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth one. I take into account and demonstrate that these outdated and modern domains of enquiry into the unknown and beyond reality were appealing to Surrealists, in particular to Brauner, due to their research into unconscious processes of the mind. I argue that through the attainment of a condition similar to the one of the somnambulist in sessions of magnetic sleep, the Surrealists aimed to generate automatic procedures of painting and object making. In the third chapter of the thesis I discuss Victor Brauner's technique of drawing with a candle, or le cirage, as an automatic procedure of art developed in connection with the occult. This final part of the thesis makes also manifest the association of Brauner's artworks in the early 1940s with practices of the occult in the near and centuries before past.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMark Crinson (Supervisor)


  • Victor Brauner, Surrealism, Surrealist, Occult, AndrĂ© Breton, Paris, France, Bucharest, Romania, 1930s, 1940s
  • Fantastic, Marvellous, Spiritualism, Animal Magnetism, Magnetic Somnambulism, Psychical Research, metapsychics, Richet, Salvador DalĂ­, Yves Tanguy, Roger Caillois, German Romanticism, Novalis, Fichte, Bogdan Petriceicu-Hasdeu, Julia Hasdeu

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