The anonymous career of a Belgian surrealist

Strategies of Fame: The Anonymous Career of a Belgian Surrealist 
Author: An Paenhuysen  Published: August 2005

Abstract (E): This article examines the often tenuous relationship between art and fame in the history of the Belgian surrealist avant-garde. The surrealist code of behaviour, and certainly the Belgian one, debunked fame and public recognition. Yet, the Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte has become a star in both high and popular culture. He is even the only internationally known Belgian avant-gardist at all, thereby implicitly dissociated from the rest of the Belgian surrealist group. This paper seeks to place Magritte as international icon of avant-gardism in the 'local' Belgian context. The surrealist E.L.T. Mesens plays an important part in this success story. The focus is on the juggling of the avant-garde between the roles of artist, revolutionary, entrepreneur and art dealer.



“Le rendez-vous de chasse“, Bruxelles, 1934.
 

[Sitting from left to right: Irène Hamoir, Marthe Beauvoisin, Georgette Magritte. Standing from left to right: E.L.T. Mesens, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, André Souris, Paul Nougé]

The portrait photographs and paintings that depict the Belgian surrealist group, are always composed and arranged in accordance to the conventions of the genre. These figurative depictions do not seem to reveal the avant-garde status of the protagonists. Quite the contrary, the pictures are mostly mere variations on a traditional, stereotypical family portrait. No new innovative techniques are used to picture the surrealist revolutionaries. Everyone wears his best Sunday clothes, the composition is ordinary and the depicted body language of the surrealists reveals a passive smiling person, free from obvious emotions. The hand gestures are restricted. At first sight, there is nothing surreal or extreme about the pictures. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the picture is not without purpose. This underlying purpose reflects the wants, thoughts and ideals of the Belgian surrealists. The composition, the fashioning, the gaze and the background - all has its share in expressing the meaning that the surrealist group portrait wants to convey.

An example of this may be found in the group portrait Drop of water , painted by the Belgian surrealist female artist Jane Graverol in the 1960s. The figures are shown in a very recognizable, realistic way. The reasons for which the people were brought together here do not offer much difficulty of interpretation. The elderly, mostly grey-haired men belong to the first surrealists of the interwar period. Only two youngsters in the front, seen from the back, and Jane Graverol herself belong to the post-war neo-avant-garde. The surrealists are clearly represented as a group. It seems to be a solid circle of friends who treat one another graciously and kindly. No one person seems to be the centre of attention and the leadership of a particular person is not obvious. The formal composition, moreover, underlines this group identity. The circle emphasizes a closed and even secretive entity, as if it had been looked at through a spy-hole. A sort of secretive society seems to be suggested with this scene. However, the Drop of water indicates as well that there can be a sea of other people around it who support the surrealistic project. The two unidentifiable figures in the background suggest a broader audience and constituency.

The Belgian surrealists never cast themselves as bohemian artists. As for the Drop of water by Graverol, they look as if they are attending an official reception. This impression is reinforced by the dapper clothing, which implies confidence, prosperity and control. The Parisian surrealists too followed this very respectable, elegant dress code.[1] The surrealists clearly did not view themselves as cheap revolutionaries. It may be as well that they are disguised as secret agents who use their subterfuge to infiltrate without detection into bourgeois reality, that they intend to form a 'counterculture' within bourgeois culture.

The self-display and the dress code of the Belgian surrealists refer through their theatrical form to the method of work used to carry out the surrealist revolution. In the first place there is the strong group identity that is used as a strategy in validating the project. The subversive action was to be carried out by teamwork. Secondly, the revolution was supposed to be carried out anonymously. The Belgian surrealists liked to call themselves 'accomplices'. Patrick Waldberg named them afterwards the 'Society of Mystery'. The strategy of anonymity did not allow public recognition. The anonymous tactic was instead a way to intervene in the bourgeois world without being corrupted by her rules and laws. An artistic career was rejected. Work, Name and Art had to lose their capital letters.

Take for example the person on the right of the picture Drop of water. It is indeed René Magritte. A lot of the poetic titles and even the subject matter of René Magritte's paintings were the result of creative collaboration, invented on discussion evenings together with his friends. He himself led a very typical life in a traditional middle-class household with a conventional interior that would not easily be distinguished from any of his neighbours' homes. His suits were standardized, his wife wore a necklace with a cross, and his dog was a toy keeshond.[2] While André Breton was the most significant figure, the anchor of the Parisian surrealist group, Magritte did not form the centre around which the Belgian surrealists revolved. Yet, Magritte is the only Belgian surrealist artist of the discussed group portrait who is still widely known today. He is even the only internationally known Belgian avant-gardist at all, thereby implicitly dissociated from the rest of the Belgian surrealist group. Together with Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, he belongs to the most renowned painters, represented in every museum. Unquestionably, Magritte has now become a star in both high and popular culture.

This rise of Magritte's fame, however, contradicts the forementioned rule of anonymity. After all, the surrealist code of behaviour, and certainly the Belgian one, belittled fame and public recognition. This essay seeks to spot the Belgian avant-garde in the interwar period and to place Magritte as international icon of avant-gardism in this 'local' context. How does Magritte's fame fit into the picture of Brussels surrealist group's discipline and secretive society? This essay will explore the often tenuous relationship between art and fame in the history of the Belgian surrealist avant-garde. The focus is on the transposition of the avant-garde between the roles of artist, revolutionary, entrepreneur, fundraiser and art dealer. Magritte will not play the leading part in this success story of Belgian surrealism alone. There is Edouard Léon Théodore Mesens as well - the man with the fine, brilliantine combed black hair at the back in the group picture by Graverol, who, although he took an active part in the success of Magritte, is sadly forgotten himself.

A matter of chance 
In a letter to the Belgian avant-gardist Michel Seuphor in 1956, the (former) dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck reacted against an article of Seuphor about the origins of Dadaism. Seuphor had stated that Dadaism started with the founding of Cabaret Voltaire on 8 th of February 1916 and that Huelsenbeck only arrived in Zurich on the 26 th . By this statement, Huelsenbeck saw his position threatened as the founding father of Dadaism, and he blamed the 'constant lies and falsifications' of Tristan Tzara for this confusion. Huelsenbeck had contributed to the finding of the name 'Dada' - which was due, he argued, to the discovery of him and Hugo Ball in the French dictionary before the 17 th of February - a symbolic meaning. 'One may be in doubt,' Huelsenbeck wrote to Seuphor, 'whether a name makes a movement but I think it did in our case because only after we had found the symbol we became aware of "Dadaism". It is important too, as I always stated that the finding of the word was a matter of chance and not the invention of one person, considering the rather mysterious fact that chance played such an important part in our concept of art.' [3] Huelsenbeck added that he would have appreciated it if Seuphor had not accentuated his radical, communist sympathies during the founding years of dada.[4]

Letters like the one from Huelsenbeck to Seuphor seem to be an excellent source for finding out the strategies, the pragmatism, the manipulations, the sometimes not very noble, but earthly pettiness of the motives of the avant-gardists. The hidden agenda, which does not appear in the revolutionary language of manifests and magazines, often comes to the surface in letters. Letters repeatedly 'desecrate' the avant-garde artist instead of confirming the myth of avant-garde artistry. Whilst talking about surrealism and fame, it is necessary to refer to this correspondence of surrealists. The urge for fame was not manifestly promoted. On the contrary, the surrealists were extremely critical of fame. To analyse the strategies of fame, applied by the surrealists, would be to write the history of anti-surrealism.

In the second place, the letter from Huelsenbeck reveals the paradoxical aspect of the aspiration for fame amidst the avant-garde. On the one hand there is the importance that seems to be attached on giving the 'right' history of the avant-garde. In his letter Huelsenbeck pointed to the fact that historians in the future might take such texts as the one from Seuphor literally. Besides, there seems to be the urge to shed more light on his own, significant avant-garde position in this true history. Yet, it must be said that the status of the pure avant-gardist was not supposed to affect the current comfortable situation of the (former) avant-gardist. Therefore, some aspects, although essential aspects, had to be, if not falsified, at least kept silent. On the other hand Huelsenbeck emphasized in the letter that the naming of the avant-garde movement Dada was 'a matter of chance' and not 'the invention of one person'. The self was of no importance in the theory of the avant-garde and had actually to be set aside. Dada was not to be used to further one man's career. This paradoxical attitude towards fame is not only a phenomenon of avant-gardists of an advanced age who start to worry about reputation and money. Those sorrows of fame occupied the avant-gardists already in the 1920s and 1930s.

The addressee of Huelsenbecks letter was Michel Seuphor, a Belgian avant-garde artist who broke through internationally and spent most of his life in Paris . Seuphor knew how to combine several artistic activities: he was a writer, a poet and a painter. Also Seuphor was proud of his 'pure' avant-garde status, he apparently believed himself to have obtained during his life, and detested fame. His books were all published in bibliophile editions. In 1939 he stood a good chance to win the Prix Goncourt. The outbreak of the war however made his editor withdraw, and afterwards Seuphor considered this a stroke of luck. 'No doubt,' he argued, ' I would have come to a pitiful end if I had been absorbed by the establishment.'[5] The artist had to stay anonymous.[6] In his later writings and interviews there is nonetheless a certain bitterness one notices about the lack of recognition that he got for those different aspects of his avant-gardism. In fact, Seuphor earned his reputation primarily as a privileged eyewitness to the international avant-garde happening in the interwar period - memories he wrote down in several historical studies and monographs after the Second World War when the cult of the historical avant-garde first began.

A comparable figure is E.L.T. Mesens, a Belgian avant-gardist who stayed a convinced surrealist until the end of his life. 'Me, I stay, he wrote in a letter in 1960, 'proudly surrealist.'[7] Also Mesens broke through internationally. From the end of the 1930s he stayed in London and was a musician, a poet, a painter, but known finally not because of these several artistic activities, but as the art dealer of the surrealist avant-garde, and more specifically the propagandist of Magritte. Thus, Mesens was mainly considered as an art dealer who constantly occupied himself with the promotion of surrealism in an elitist society world. Still, this did not prevent him from identifying himself completely with surrealism and the surrealistic lifestyle. According to Mesens, surrealism was 'a universal attitude to life - not an "art style": I am not a painter but a surrealist can be said'. Mesens was also frightened to be absorbed by the establishment, but lacked the recognition. In 1967 he tried to obtain a prize for 'fin de carrière'. 'I have never received any subsidy,' he wrote to the Belgian art historian Emile Langui, 'the honours in the form of decorations are unacceptable for me because of moral and philosophical reasons: the academies frighten me [...], but the Prix de fin de carrière, which was obtained by Delvaux and Magritte...: after all, except for my work as a poet and an artist, I worked enormously and benevolently for the Belgian art abroad.'[8]

Art without an artist 
Glorification and fame did not belong amongst the ambitions of the avant-garde in the beginning of the 1920s. The avant-garde opposed the long-established conventions, and rejected the materialism of the capitalist system with its striving after wealth and fame. Academies and museums were, if not to be burnt, at least to be avoided.[9] The ambition was not to achieve public and artistic success, as much as to accomplish a revolution in society. For the Belgian avant-garde, which only took its start after the First World War, 'community art' was the keyword in the formulation of ideals. It was a concept that had different meanings and only vague explications, and it was used by a variety of artistic movements. Yet, the common feature of 'community art' was its opposition. It was directed against the individualism and decadence of the former generation of impressionists. Not the artistic self, but the 'community' was to be the origin, the medium and purpose of this avant-garde art.

The expressionist movement, around the Brussels gallery and magazine Sélection, used to associate the concept of 'community art' with premodern times like the Middle Ages - when collaboration eliminated the individual for the sake of a common faith - and with contemporary, so-called 'primitive' cultures, who considered art as a ritual act and never as a game 'for the glory or as means of enrichment'. In the abstract art of the Antwerp movement around Jozef Peeters, 'community art' was set in opposition to the cult of the individual. In his declaration of 1922 on the founding of an 'artistic council', inspired by the German Worker Council for Art and the November group, Peeters wanted the 'art products' to be anonymous, in order to nullify the work of art dealers and journalists.[10] This would, according to him, finish off the cult of the artist. In this way only the work of art was left behind as a common good for society. His target was art without an artist.[11] For the Brussels constructivists of 7 Arts, the machine was the symbol of the new society. Designed by an 'anonymous artist', the engineer, operated by the worker and based on principles of pure utility and logic, the machine was the expression of democracy where the collective prevailed over the individual. Also the anonymous architecture was highly appreciated. Thus, articles in the magazine 7 Arts were not signed. Paintings were situated next to furniture. And the works of art got abstract titles such as 'opus' and 'construction'.

The strive for fame was as a negative feature often attributed by the Belgian avant-gardists to Parisian artists. It was frequently used as a tactic to differentiate them from the dominating 'Capital of Art'. It was even seen as a typical difference between the Latinate and the Northern. The abstract painter Peeters thought of French cubists as artists who were totally entangled in the art world of deals. In his opinion this was a typically Latin phenomenon. The Belgian artist Franz Masereel - famous for his woodcuts - lived in post-war Paris , but disliked both the lack of interest of the Parisian artists for society and their collaboration with a kind of art dealing that purposefully confused market value with quality. So in 1926 the expressionists of Sélection organized an interview about the influence and quality of Parisian painting. The overwhelming success of the French school could, according to the participants of the interview, be attributed to the well functioning art dealing. The well-organized art trade attracted the wealthy patrons and offered the artist the opportunity to get rich. However, this art business was also the cause of a commercialization that had a baleful influence on art production. Hasty and slovenly work, overproduction, snobbery and inflated egos were the consequences . Sélection reiterated that obvious the attraction of Paris , with its artistic reputation and cultural expansion, could end in a disaster for the artist.

It should not be overlooked that several Belgian avant-gardists were themselves hoping to benefit from recognition in the art market. Although he found the commercial orientation distasteful, he tried hard himself to organize both a commercial and critical system for his new aesthetics. An alternative circuit of galleries was set up in Brussels and Antwerp . Especially the expressionist painters, represented in the Brussels galleries/magazines Sélection and Le Centaure , were commercially promoted and could profit from the system they actually criticized.[12] A sort of international 'network' of connections was constructed.[13] The Belgian avant-garde maintained an intensive correspondence with the international avant-garde and tried in this way to infiltrate international magazines, exhibitions and the market. Paris with its mythical status was of course the goal for a lot of Belgian artists in search of glamour. The ultimate accolade was to have one's own exhibition in Paris . Berlin , as the location of Herwarth Waldens' gallery Der Sturm, was also highly prised.

The paradoxical attitude of the Belgian avant-garde towards public success is most manifest in the case of the 'dadaïst' Paul Joostens.[14] In his opinion, museums smelled like cemeteries, and art dealers and critics were a bunch of filthy crooks. In his diary he reproached the latter. 'Merde pour l'art' was a favourite statement of Joostens. He wanted to destroy his artwork, but lacked the courage to do so. With his art he did not seek personal pleasure. It was anti-art. But still, his dream was to be a 'dadaist-capitalist'. He wrote desperate letters to the same critics he ridiculed, in which he begged for attention and money. He even tried to become a member of a Catholic artistic group by convincing it of his 'neocatholicism' and in the late thirties he went so far as to pretend his work was the result of race, tradition and territory.[15] Joostens disliked surrealism not only because the surrealists prophesized the advent of a heavenly U.S.S.R., but mostly because one had to be a millionaire to be a surrealist. The surrealists pretended to be outside of society, which was only possible, according to Joostens, if one had the money to do so. And where, Joostens asked himself, did the surrealists get the money from?[16]

Striking surrealism 
Unlike Joostens , the Belgian surrealists were not fulltime artists, but 'worked' in daily life to survive. Paul Nougé was a chemist in a Brussels laboratory, Jean Scutenaire worked at the bar and from 1941 onwards at the civil service. Achille Chavée and Fernand Dumont were also lawyers. In the 1930s Magritte worked in publicity and Mesens was a secretary in a Brussels cultural center. Private and public life was in this way more separate for most of the Belgian surrealists permitting them 'to take time off' from the surrealist occupation.[17] Of course, the daily job also allowed the surrealists to infiltrate into daily life. Nougé compared the Brussels surrealist group with a mite that feeds itself with other mites and then inject his opponents with a poisonous liquid.

Although group identity was an important factor in the validation of the surrealist project, there was no such thing as 'Belgian' surrealism. In the 1964 groups portrait Goutte d'eau by Graverol Brussels, Walloon and the neo- surrealist avant-garde are shown together in a harmonic symbiosis. Yet, both Brussels and Walloon surrealists distinguished themselves in the interwar period as distinct groups. Group portraits of this period only depict them separately. The surrealist group Rupture was created on the 19th of March 1934 in a small city in the Walloon Provinces. The key figure of this Rupture was Achille Chavée. Fernand Dumont, André Lorent, Marcel Parfondry and Albert Ludé 'flocked to the cause'. They used the strategies of group photograph, magazine and manifestoes to portray themselves as a solid, surrealist group. 'The more I think about it,' Dumont wrote to Chavée in 1935, 'the more it seems indispensable to open the magazine with a collective manifest in which we situate our position and relate it to surrealism and dialectical materialism.'[18] After Chavées departure with the International Brigades to Spain in 1936, the group became less active and, finally, the Stalinist indications of Chavée led in 1939 to a schism with the foundation of a new group: Groupe Surrealiste de Hainaut.

The Brussels group had its origins in the mid 1920s. The magazine Correspondance , first published in 1925, can be called its first surrealist manifestation. It was the work of Paul Nougé and his accomplices Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte. Mesens, influenced through his friendship with Tristan Tzara, and Magritte were at that time still occupied by the more dada orientated Oesophage and Marie . With an Adieu à Marie in 1926, they approached the surrealist group of Nougé. Later on, the poet-writer Jean Scutenaire and the two musicians Paul Hooreman and André Souris joined the Brussels group. Contact with the Parisian group was already established when André Breton and Paul Eluard travelled to Brussels in 1925 and approved Correspondance as a surrealist magazine.[19] Correspondance was not meant as a magazine as such. It was more a sort of pamphlet, numbered from one to twenty-three, and each of them in a different colour. This colourful pamphlet was not commercialized, but only numbered 100 copies, and was sent free to friends and the interested public. It did not contain 'original' material either. Correpondance was based on the concept of rewriting great literature. Texts by Aragon, Conrad, Eluard, Proust, Gide and Paulhan were reinterpreted, put into another context and in this way recontextualised.

Nougé did not only compare the Brussels surrealists with mites, but also with parasites, whose favourite place was in old paper and books. Not only did the surrealists appropriate pre-existing books, they also constructed their own (pre)history by selecting some figures from history, invariably anti-heroes, who could figure as the precursors of interwar surrealism. In this way, an antithesis was established in opposition to the official history. Those precursors of surrealism, who were often anti-rationalist and personally 'scandalous' figures, were chosen because of their lifestyle, their eroticism, their anti-clericalism and anti-aestheticism. Favourites were the autodidacts, who were too 'naive' or too 'primitive' to belong to the official approach. To this proto-surrealist tradition belonged 'heroes' like Sigmund Freud, Charles Baudelaire, Comte de Lautréamont, Hieronymous Bosch and Facteur Cheval. Also, artists from the conventional paradigm, who were not recognized at first sight to fit the alternative prospectus, could be appropriated by the existence of a latent surrealist presence.[20]

The Brussels surrealists also came up with some of their own heroes. In a special edition of the Brussels magazine Variétés, entitled Surrealism in 1929, the painting The Ascension of Prince Baudouin by the Belgian artist Louis de Laetre, a 'naive' painter from the nineteenth century, was depicted. This painting shows prince Baudouin, above his gravestone, flying into the air supported by a throng of angels. This De Laetre had designed some strange objects during his lifetime, like a flying machine that never flew. In 1929 Mesens sent to Breton a picture of The Outrage of a Belgian Woman by the eccentric, megalomaniac Belgian nineteenth century painter Antoine Wiertz. The cruel scene shows a woman, in plain panic and hysteria, firing a pistol into the face of a military assailant. 'Of particularly interest,' Mesens wrote to Breton, 'for a surrealist publication in Belgium.'[21] The surrealists from the Walloon Provinces always photographed themselves around the bust of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, who was also praised by the French group. Rimbaud's poems contributed to this glorification, but more important it was Rimbaud's life that inspired devotion. Rimbaud had given up poetry at the age of nineteen to travel around the world and died as a coffee exporter at the age of thirty-seven. The voluntary sacrifice of such a genius was an act the surrealists admired the most.

The surrealists turned against the concept of the 'genius'. Surrealism was universal and present in each person. Therefore, the surrealists considered themselves as merely the receivers of a myriad of echoes, as nothing more than modest recording apparatus. 'We don't have any talent,' stated the First Surrealist Manifesto. Challenging the notion of genius, the practice of anonymity belonged to the basic principles of surrealism. But it was Brussels surrealism that drew the most extreme consequences from this rule. In the first place they used the tactic of depersonalization in their surrealist writings, paintings, photographs, mind games and music. 'Commonplaces' - famous texts, popular music, and daily objects - were divorced from their context and 'reused'. But above all, they refused to score public success. Unlike the Parisian surrealists, no Bureau de Recherches surréalistes to attract visitors and give publicity to the movement was formed. Also the Parisian Galerie surréaliste of 1926 and the Galerie Gradiva of 1937 had no following in Belgium . Marcel Mariën, a young surrealist of the post-war neo-avant-garde, considered himself important, because he could convince the surrealist pioneers to publish their texts. Except for Magritte, according to Mariën, nobody did a lot in the interwar period. Scutenaire did not show anything, Nougé refused to publish. [22] As for the magazine Correspondance , it refused public recognition and, in any case, the rewritten texts were unreadable.

The reader would not be spared. Flaws of the pen were not revised by the Brussels surrealists, and literary 'correctness' was to be avoided. This was also the moral code of the poet-writer Scutenaire who did not want to be recognized as a 'man of letters'. Using the method of plagiarism, he led 'in a poetical manner enterprises against literature'.[23] Mallarmés elegant phrase 'La chair est triste, hélas, et j'ai lu tous les livres' was in this way transformed to 'La chair est ce qu'elle est et sans fin sont les livres'.[24] A name meant nothing to Scutenaire. 'What is my name?' he provoked, 'What is a signature? Belongs everything and everyone not to everybody?'[25] His books Boulevard Jacqmain and La Cuve infernale were published under the name of his wife Irène Hamoir (depicted as well in the group portrait Goutte d'eau ). This falsification of identity was an impressive act to Brussels surrealism and kept secret till after the death of Hamoir and Scutenaire.[26] However, it was not a 'falsification' in the opinion of the Brussels surrealists. Hamoir made comments, she criticized and corrected Scutenaires texts and was in this way the archetypal representative of Brussels surrealism. Scutenaire and Hamoir were so pleased with their transposition of identities, that when they wrote their memories of Belgian surrealism in 1982, they referred to themselves as 'She' and 'He' and refused to call figures or documents by name.[27]

Not only names, but also the label 'surrealism' had to be wiped out. 'Exegetes, to see clearly, strike the word surrealism,' Paul Nougé declared.[28] After all, Nougé was the theorist of the Brussels surrealist group. It was he who set up the rule of anonymity. Like Scutenaire, Nougé was opposed to the creation of a 'work', but Nougé was even more extreme in executing this 'anti-work'. He did not want to end up in the 'strange gallery of fossils of history'.[29] So, in 1924, he burnt all his young work, leaving his life's work to amount to only a couple of sketches, loose fragments and a handful of letters. In his opinion, the achievement of public success demanded corruption, which Nougé was not willing to give in to. 'We consider public opinion to be negligible,' he wrote in a letter of 1932.[30] He pretended he could not care less about the criticism of surrealism as literary, snobbish, failed or dead. 'At the right moment,' Nougé explained, 'we will give sufficient information so that we can allow ourselves the silence and the contempt when we prefer.'[31] For the exposition Surrealism just after the Second World War, Nougé's fear of the corruption by the public would find an echo in Breton's 1942 Third Surrealist Manifesto of Not : 'Every great idea is perhaps subject to being seriously altered the instant that it enters into contact with the mass of humanity, where it is made to come to terms with minds of a completely different stature than that of the mind it came from originally.'[32]

What action then did Nougé propose when he wanted to avoid the public? In an interview of the Parisian surrealists in 1929 about the choice between collective or individual surrealist activity, Nougé suggested that the figures whose names were becoming too well known had to renounce their fame. Only by this selfless act could a genuine freedom be obtained. According to Nougé, appropriate examples of this were thieves, murderers and those individuals operating in illegal political parties who waited for a moment of terror to come. It was about secret spiritual preparations, either of isolated individuals or of organized political parties. Yet, in clear opposition to the Parisian group of the 1920s, Nougé did not want to become a member or a 'fellow traveller' of any official political party. Neither did he want to make propaganda for surrealism in the way several political parties did.[33]

In 1934 the Brussels surrealists - Magritte, Mesens, Nougé, Souris , Scutenaire - published a manifesto 'L'action immédiate' in which they - actually, primarily Nougé - formulated proposals for action outside the communist party. One of the possibilities was to influence people by suspecting them to unknown events and by introducing them to unexpected concepts. In this way the limits of accepted thought could be expanded and they would become aware of the 'evidence' that ' everything is always possible'.[34] Even more violent action - invariably unspecified - was considered effective to influence even the most indifferent people. This subversive action had to be put into operation secretly and anonymously. 'Anonymity,' it was emphasized, 'was a new working instrument at the disposal of those who think of the coming of the world revolution as a vital obligation.'[35]

Surrealist star 
Nougé's strategy was not appreciated by every member of the Brussels surrealist group. Mesens for example, did not entirely agree. According to him secret and anonymous action carried the risk of ending in passive inactivity. The latter's disagreement with Nougé became obvious by 1934 with the foundation of a surrealist group in the Walloon provinces. Mesens was very enthusiastic about it and wanted to create a stable 'Belgian' surrealist group. The Belgian surrealists had to take this opportunity to accomplish a strong, united front. In 1934, Fernand Dumont reported his encounter with Mesens in Brussels to Achille Chavée: 'He [Mesens] thinks that the politics of abstention, of restrictions and stubborn silence, fashioned by Nougé, leads to nothing. I think he is right and I believe I have already confessed to you my disillusionment in seeing that basically we were dealing with isolated people.'[36] In 1935 Mesens intensified the connections between Brussels and Walloon surrealism by organizing an international surrealist exhibition in the founding place of Walloon surrealism, La Louvière . And 'Le Couteau dans le Plaie' was the first manifesto signed by both Walloon and Brussels surrealists. Mesens considered himself to be of vital importance to the Belgian avant-garde. The Belgian surrealist group, 'you know it,' he wrote to Breton in April 1937, 'doesn't do anything , absolutely anything without me. All those people sleep the most provincial sleep.'[37]

It was definitely true that Mesens played a central role in the 'public relations' of the Brussels surrealist movement and, as such, took over the leading position of Nougé in the 1930s. In fact, Mesens was the 'entrepreneur' of the Brussels surrealists. First of all, he had the looks. Contrary to his Belgian surrealist friends - all very unexceptional and common looking men - Mesens surprised: he was outrageous in clothing and lifestyle. He was the dandy of Brussels surrealism. He partied a lot, drank too much and spent hours in front of the mirror trying to look like the movie star Maurice Chevalier.[38] His great example was Paul-Gustave van Hecke, a central figure of Flemish expressionism, not as a painter, poet or writer, but as an organizer and maecenas - and the husband of the fashion designer Norine. In Van Hecke's early fiction the characters smoked expensive cigars, drank champagne and had powdered noses. In his manifesto 'Fashion' from 1922, he ranted against the long, black coat as a symbol of male Flemish backwardness.[39]

Mesens admired Van Hecke's wit and charisma. But Van Hecke did not just teach Mesens how to strike appearances. Together with his friend André De Ridder, Van Hecke possessed the most successful avant-garde business in Belgium . It is not without reason that Flemish expressionism was already institutionalized in the 1920s. Van Hecke's propaganda machine consisted of a gallery, a magazine and a publishing house. Mesens did not feel committed to Flemish expressionism however, and the purposes and the functioning of Van Hecke's gallery alone would be the sole source of inspiration for him. At the beginning of the 1920s, Mesens was a very enthusiastic young man, who was not scared to offer - although without success - his contribution to Aventure from Marcel Arland, the Italian magazine Il Pianoforte and The Sackbutt in London . He became involved in avant-garde magazines such as Ça Ira and 391, and acquired experience in the galleries Manteau and La Vierge Poupine. In 1927, he then became the manager of Van Hecke's new gallery L'Epoque and organised the promotion of Van Hecke's magazine Variétés . In the early 1930s, Mesens became the secretary of the Brussels modern cultural centre Palais des Beaux Arts. In short, Mesens had by the 1920's received a training 'in a way complicated trade full of secrets and science'.[40]

Mesens did not merely acquire expertise in art dealing but, furthermore, established a network of important international contacts. More than any other Brussels surrealist, Mesens was orientated towards Paris . It had been Erik Satie who first took him there in 1921 for the first time and introduced him to the dada movement. In the summer of 1923 he started corresponding with Tristan Tzara and a year later he met Francis Picabia, after which he was invited to participate in 391 .[41] He sent a poem and some of the aphorisms of Magritte.[42] In the meantime he met Hans Arp, René Crevel, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Marcel Arland. After his friendship with Tzara had declined, Mesens started to approach the surrealist circle and a new correspondence was set up with Paul Eluard. This relationship with Eluard was so intense that it took on the features of a love affair. Eluard even thought in 1934 about moving to Brussels .[43] As for Breton, Mesens kept him informed about the (in)activity of Belgian surrealism and even carried on business with him. In 1937 Mesens offered Breton a few of Magritte's paintings for next to nothing: 'I do it to help you with your enterprise [gallery Gradiva], and for the sake of friendship.'[44]

As for the 'visibility' of Belgian surrealism in Paris , it was especially Mesens and Magritte who featured. When Man Ray made the photo collage Surrealist chessboard in 1934, only the portraits of Mesens and Magritte were included as representatives of the Belgian surrealist group. Obviously, within the Belgian surrealist group, Mesens was the 'oiled pivot', as Scutenaire described him, 'where everything revolved around, an irritating hornet, in short, troublesome but indispensable'.[45] As much as Mesens believed enthusiastically in the working power of the surrealist project, he was also equally convinced that the art of Magritte was going to play a significant part in it too. He believed this to such an extent that Magritte even had to warn him not to have inflated expectations: 'I, for my part, even on moments of the most beautiful promises, always restrain myself.'[46] Mesens' role in the development of Magritte to a star both in high and popular culture, was not insignificant. During the economic crisis of the 1930s, when many Brussels art galleries crashed, he bought the entire stock of more than 150 works of Magritte, to protect it from devaluation. It was Mesens too who introduced Magritte to the international art world - in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition of London - and the same year in the Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art of New York.

Mesens' successful promoting of Magritte's work seems at first sight difficult to reconcile with the Brussels surrealist group ethos. The strict surrealist 'moral' code tended to provoke disagreement, alienation and even rejection. In October 1939, for example, the Groupe Surréalist en Hainaut of Chavée and Dumont attacked Mesens commercial activity and accused him of selling surrealist painting to the rich bourgeois.[47] According to them, the essence of an authentic surrealist was ambiguous. These accusers themselves, ironically, were being blamed by other participants of the former group Rupture for 'the mania for publishing everything under the sun' and for weighting each evening the importance of their books.[48] Strangely enough, Mesens too displayed a strong aversion to fame. Approving Breton's rejection of his dearest friend Eluard, he denigrated Eluard's role in the resistance during the Second World War as 'heroism of the facade'.[49] At the end of the 1930's, Scutenaire, pressurised by his wife to write more accessibly, was criticized by Mesens for his candidature for the Prix de la Pleiade and his collaboration with the anthology revealingly titled L'Eternelle .[50] And in 1940 even Magritte was being renounced by Mesens for his 'petit bourgeois mentality' to which Breton answered: 'I do not want the track of surrealism to be covered with dead bodies.'[51]

The history of anti-surrealism 
In 1951 Mesens again wrote a letter to Breton, declaring that he was fed up with his surrealist friends and announcing that he had given up the London Gallery and wanted to return to the continent. He felt like writing the 'History of Anti-Surrealism' - 'a beautiful story full of human trickery of good models in the style of 'royal anarchist', 'religious automatic painters', 'national-feudal avant-garde artists, etc.... You know them, they were OUR FRIENDS'.[52]

The business-side of the art market must have clashed regularly with the aspirations of Mesens. Undoubtedly, he got to know another side of his avant-garde friends that might better have been left in the dark. In a letter from 1947 to Van Hecke, Mesens expressed his doubts about the art trade: 'My small slave labour in the sales for snobs and ambitious or greedy speculators starts to "weigh me down a little" and people from all sides seem to play dirty tricks on me.'[53] To sell beauty and truth on the commercial, capitalist market would not have been an easy job for a surrealist, especially when it was done out of friendship and conviction. Van Hecke knew well what Mesens was talking about. He shared the same worries. In the 1940's he participated in the cult of the historical avant-garde and was writing the history of Flemish expressionism. His own role in those 'heroic years', however, was being questioned. Van Hecke was not only suspected of opportunism, but was accused of having precipitated, by his restrictive system of gallery contracts, the unproductiveness of the Flemish expressionist painters in the late 1920s. Those accusations were tough for Van Hecke, considering the fact that he had 'ruined' himself 'for the benefit of his friends' art'. He was caught between the urge to tell the truth about his petitions for money in the 1920s, and the wish not to harm their fame and glory. 'Everything was done for the sake of the most unselfish friendship,' Van Hecke wrote desperately, 'and who will still believe that now?'[54]

Van Hecke also had to defend Mesens against insulting gossips. Philip Laski, who in 1961 organized an exposition of Magritte in the small gallery Obelisk, apparently depicted Mesens as a profiteer in the catalogue. A furious letter to Laski was written by Van Hecke, passionately defending Mesens' sincerity. Mesens himself did not bother and only asked Van Hecke to forward this correspondence to Magritte. This letter often refused to listen when it concerned his interests, his publicity or his success.[55] Actually, Mesens implied that Magritte tended to forget the role Mesens had played for former's career in the 1930s. Magritte on the other hand thought that Mesens exaggerated his own contribution far too much and neglected the reciprocal benefit - the possession of Magritte's artwork had definitely not done Mesens' career any harm.

Mesens saw no contradiction between his commercial activity and the wide surrealist ethos. As for his dealing in the art market, it only spoke of his surrealist 'belief'. Being an 'entrepreneur-surrealist' did not place him in the 'history of anti-surrealism'. In 1937, in a letter to Breton, he explained why this was indeed the case. In his opinion, if his surrealist friends had themselves incurred a similar level of sacrifice as his own, the landscape would have been totally different. The Belgian surrealist magazines, the manifestoes, and many editions of their dedicated publishing house Nicolas Flamel had almost entirely been sponsored by Mesens. Even when times were 'bad', moreover, Mesens never failed to support Magritte. By his own account, he had organized at least five expositions for Magritte in Brussels and had paid the transport costs for the movement of artworks to foreign galleries. All those 'sacrifices' had been done, whilst Belgian friends - no names were mentioned - earned a lot more money than Mesens did, only to give themselves comfort, which was not intrinsically a very surrealist attitude.[56]

Thus Mesens believed he had sacrificed himself for the sake of surrealism, exemplified best in the figure of Magritte. Both Mesens and Magritte were convinced that an attitude of anti-opportunism was necessary for a surrealist, which also seems to be a good starting point for a liaison between art dealer and painter.[57] The relationship between Mesens and Magritte was nevertheless not without its problems. Magritte could act in a rather furtive way with art dealers. In the 1920s he had a contract with Van Hecke and the gallery Le Centaure, but he knew to by-pass its strict rules, by secretly selling paintings to other art dealers. Such intrigue sometimes had bizarre consequences. On an exposition in New York in 1954, two versions of Die Traumdeutung, created in the late 1920s, turned up; one had been sold to Van Hecke-Le Centaure, the other one to a Parisian art dealer.[58] In 1938, after a lot of negotiations a contract between Mesens and Magritte was established but only sustained for a short time. Mesens was furious with Magritte who took no concern over the price a painting was sold for. Magritte's wife made the negotiations even more complicated, but finally Magritte agreed to forward every painting that was produced to Mesens, who would set the price, which would then be equally split. Each month Magritte would receive 2500 Belgian francs, so he would be able to live a conventional life.

The correspondence from Magritte to Mesens seems to have concerned financial and commercial matters in particular, a feature which sometimes annoyed Mesens. In 1938, when discussions on the contract were ongoing, Mesens wrote that his English friends were shocked by the fact that Magritte's letters were constantly focused on matters of money and private interests, and never on what was of primary importance: revolution. Neither could Mesens appreciate the rumours Magritte had circulated about Mesens, such as the story that Mesens had kept most of the money for himself from wall paintings that Magritte created for the English collector Edward James.[59] In the 1940s things were not getting any better. Mesens was disgusted by Magritte making duplicates of his successful paintings for the petit bourgeois. In 1940, Nougé and Mesens seem to have disengaged with Magritte.[60] After the Second World War, the pseudo-impressionist 'Renoir-period' of Magritte did not please Mesens either and he refused to sign the manifesto 'Le surrealisme en plein soleil', which wanted to lead surrealism into another, more optimistic direction. Magritte's egocentrism in relation to his first solo exhibition in Paris soured their relation in such a way that Magritte wrote in 1949: 'I also wish that one day, a friendly relationship with you will not be completely impossible.'[61]

In the 1950s Magritte's fame started to grow internationally. Thanks to Mesens' enterprise, his 'word paintings' were shown on an exposition 'Word vs Image' in the Sidney Janis Gallery of New York. In the same year, 1954, the first important retrospective exhibition of Magritte's artwork was held in Brussels . Again, it was Mesens who organized, selected and promoted the works. Yet more complaints about Magritte poured in: 'Magritte,' Mesens wrote, 'does not tolerate any critique: he's a totalitarian.'[62] But gradually, the promotion of Magritte became unnecessary anymore. Instead, Magritte had to be saved from himself - when he thought about accepting the title of baron[63] -, and protected from critical speculation. What ostensibly might still be justified as an act of surrealism - exhibitions in commercial galleries to provoke scandal[64] - could no longer be done without regard to the consequences; his 'word paintings' were sold to stars of capitalist commercial art such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

One great rule 
'One great rule,' Mesens taught his pupil George Melly in 1948, 'is never to buy a work of art which one does not like for one reason or another. It is true also that the great names do not always sell with the greatest speed but it is good to stick to them.'[65] And Mesens was right, he was so right that in 1962, with the opening of a retrospective of Magritte's artwork in Belgium , a bank note was published with Magritte's portrait on. An alleged text of Magritte denounced the commercialization of the mystery; his paintings were sold as a piece of land, as jewels and fur coats. The bank note was the satire of the young surrealist Marcel Mariën, who wanted to denounce the working on command, the making of duplicates and the fads of rich artists, who suddenly bought sports cars. Magritte did not appreciate the joke. Moreover, the sudden success had not made Magritte a happier man, as Scutenaire declared after Magritte's death in 1967. Magritte felt as if he had made a mistake; he had created enough paintings to throw down the 'Chinese throne', but all he got was a lot of money in his pocket.[66]

And Mesens? Was he happy about the success? Certainly, Mesens too did not like Magritte buying a sports car. In a tribute to Kurt Schwitters in September 1958, he deplored the aspiration to fame and glory of the contemporary modern artist: 'Not one week goes by but the Art-gossip column of one or another literary French paper informs us that some known artist has acquired a Rolls-Royce, that another has been buying his fifth high-speed racing car, that a third is proprietor of one or two castles which used to belong to old aristocratic families, or that a fourth has added to his already well filled stables some specially remarkable and expensive race-horse!' To Mesens' astonishment it was no longer the mundane-academical-portrait-painting which got the interest of capitalists looking for a good investment, but the figurative or non-figurative ultras. Kurt Schwitters appeared to him then as a far removed romantic personage, belonging to the legend of the 'disinterested, careless, ever poor and idealistic exponent of something which had no material value or counterpart in the world in which he lived'.[67]

By accentuating the 'pure' avant-garde status of Schwitters, Mesens also wanted to spotlight his own 'purity'. As mentioned above, this claim for 'purity' was a favourite strategy, also applied by Seuphor and Huelsenbeck in the 1950s and 1960s, to ensure the avant-garde artist of a place in the canonization of avant-garde history. On the one hand, the surrealists turned against the idea of the artist as a 'genius'. On the other hand the notion of 'purity' just as well reinforced the cultural and social distinction of the avant-gardist. First, it was opposed to the neo-avant-garde artist of the postwar period who had decided to rebel against the materialism of Western society by directly focusing on the public. By bringing art and life together, the social and cultural distinction between artist and mass public had to vanish. The neo-avant-garde got in return an excessive amount of attention by the mass media, not because of their revolutionary content, but because of their entertainment value. Second, their own 'pure' avant-garde status was set against the compromised position of some fellow artists. After the construction of an alternative paradigm of history by the surrealists during the interwar period, it was now necessary to construct a 'history of anti-surrealism', which involved the own friends.

 


Le café La Fleur (55 rue des Alexiens 1000 Bruxelles) March 1953. From left to right: Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans, Gérard Van Bruaene, Irène Hamoir,  Georgette Magritte, E.L.T. Mesens, Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte and Paul Colinet.
 

Nonetheless, the 1964 group portrait Goutte d'eau by Jane Graverol (different photo above from 1953) displayed the old friends together in an almost symbiotic community. Was it keeping up appearances? André Souris on the last row of the picture was already 'excommunicated' by the Brussels surrealists in 1936, Marcel Lecomte 'retired' from Brussels surrealism in the 1920s and Camille Goemans did the same in the 1930s. Mariën and Magritte quarrelled and also the relation between Mariën and Scutenaire was also unstable. Marc Eemans recognized himself in the unidentifiable figure at the back of Graverol's picture, characteristic, according to Eemans, of the elitist attitude the Brussels surrealists adopted towards him.[68] It appears that there was no longer a strong group identity in the 1960s to validate the surrealistic project. Breton, though, was touched by Graverol's Goutte d'eau. He appreciated, as he wrote to Graverol, the poetic title and the depiction of the Brussels surrealists in harmony without losing their individuality. Breton even underlined the 'historical value' of Graverol's group portrait.[69] However, the historical value of Goutte d'eau, to which Breton pointed, suited more the canonization than the anti-canonization of the surrealist.

Ironically, despite his objections to Nougé's rule of anonymity, Mesens had a successful anonymous career and was not absorbed by the official line. He had an important position in the art world, but was and remains uncelebrated. In this way, Mesens applied the moral code of Brussels surrealism, as did Nougé and Scutenaire. Nevertheless, even Nougé, the die-hard of Brussels surrealism, ultimately was unable to resist the publication of his work in the postwar period.[70] Yet, the restricted publication and the lost actuality of his prose and aphorisms did not further Nougé's fame. In the end, Magritte is the only Belgian surrealist who remains recognized. What was the secret of his fame? With regard to Magritte's artwork, the method of anonymity clashed with the reality of the art market. A basic need for money forced him to consider concessions. The method of anonymity furthermore seemed to be a tactic par excellence to achieve fame. After all, nothing is so mysterious as anonymity. Apparently, it is not self-promotion, visibility or glamour that matters, but the element of mystery that is one of the most important criterion to achieving eternal fame. Besides, fame is also a question of being there at the right time and the right place. The golden years of the 1960s with it's claim for 'all power to the imagination' had a stimulating effect on the commercialization of the mystery. And, last but not least, a good art dealer can prove an effective promoter too.

Notes
[1]Kirsten Strom, Making History. Surrealism and the invention of a Political Culture , Lanham , New York and Oxford , 2002, 2-4.

[2] José Vovelle, Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, 71.

[3] Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, Richard Huelsenbeck, 910082.

[4] Huelsenbeck did not want his statement in En avant Dada - 'Dada is the germanic form of Bolshevism' - to be accentuated: 'I cannot denie that I did so, but considering the great danger to make such statement (I was falsely accused of communism in this country [United States] and nearly got into serious trouble) it would have been good if you had said that I left the radical side of Dada for a long time, much earlier than many, [...] but that Tzara still today is an active member of the Communist Party.' On Huelsenbecks inclination to selfmystification: Hubert van den Berg, 'From a New Art to a New Life. Avant-garde Utopianism in Dada'. Paper presented at the seminar Ismer og Avantgarder organized by the Center for Modernismeforskning of Aalborg Universitet, 25-26 November 2002 (in publication).

[5]'Ongetwijfeld zou het zielig met me afgelopen zijn als ik was ingehaald door het establishment.' Pascal Verbeken, 'Leven en werk van Michel Seuphor. "De avant-garde ligt ver achter ons"', De Standaard, 3 December 1998.

[6] Michel Seuphor, Un renouveau de la peinture en Belgique flamande , Paris, 1932, 47; Pascal Cornet, 'Twee uren in de eeuwigheid', De Standaard , 4 May 1996.

[7] 'Moi, je reste, en 1960, fièrement SURREALISTE.' Letter from Mesens to Roland Penrose, 27 July 1960. Brussels, private archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[8] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Emile Langui in 1967: 'Je n'ai jamais reçu aucun subside; les honneurs sous forme de décorations sont inacceptables pour moi pour des raisons morales et philosophiques ; les Académies me font peur (...) mais le Prix de fin de carrière qu'ont obtenu Delvaux et Magritte... : après tout, outre mon oeuvre de poète et d'artiste plastique, j'ai fait énormément et bénévolement pour l'Art belge à l'étranger.' Brussels, private archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[9] Of course the futurists were the most manifest opponents of museums and academies. Also the artistic genius was rejected. See for example the manifesto 'Poids, mesures et prix du génie artistique' of B. Corra en E. Settimelli, reedited in Giovanni Lista, ed, Futurisme. Manifestes. documents. Proclamations. L'age d'homme , Lausanne, 1973, 357.

[10] Joan Weinstein , The end of expressionism. Art and the november revolution in Germany, 1918-19 , Chicago and Londen, 1990.

[11] Jozef Peeters, 'Kunstenaarsraden', Vlaamsche Arbeid , 12, 1922, 423-428.

[12]Not only was the Belgian expressionist artwork more 'realistic' than that of the abstract and the surrealist movement, and therefor more accesible for the public, expressionist art was also promoted as being authentically 'flemish', and was favoured by the government. Virginie Devillez, Kunst aan de orde. Kunst en politiek in België 1918-1945 , Gent, 2003.

[13] In the abstract avant-garde magazine Het Overzicht from Jozef Peeters and Fernand Berckelaers (alias Seuphor) a column about this 'network' was published.

[14] Although Paul Joostens did not belong 'officialy' to any dadaïst movement, he shaped a sort of dada of his own. Jan Cools, Er werd een lijkje geborgen. Over Paul Joostens , Gent, 1984.

[15] Antwerpen, Archief en Museum voor het Vlaamse Cultuurleven (AMVC), Paul Joostens, J4453/B.

[16] Antwerpen, AMVC, Paul Joostens, Journal Z, 1935, ML6166.

[17] 'Puisqu'il en est temps encore, permettez-nous de prendre congé. Sans doute reviendrons-nous - ailleurs.' Paul Nougé, Histoire de ne pas rire , Brussels, 1956.

[18] 'Plus j'y pense, plus il me paraît indispensable d'ouvrir le cahier par un manifeste collectif dans le quel il s'agit de situer notre position, de la justifier et de la rattacher au surréalisme et au matérialisme dialectique.' Letter from Fernand Demoustier [pseudonym of Fernand Dumont] to Achille Chavée, 20 June 1935. Brussel, Archief voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Achille Chavée, 4298.

[19] In August 1925 Correspondance signed together with the French surrealists the manifesto ' La Révolution d'abord et toujours'. Gérard Durozoi, Histoire du mouvement surréaliste , Paris, 1997, 132.

[20]Strom, Making History , 55-71.

[21] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to André Breton, 7 April 1929. Paris, Bibliothèque Litéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT c. 1178.

[22] Cit. in: Olivier Smolders, Paul Nougé. Ecriture et caractère. Et l'école de la ruse , Brussel, 1995, 117.

[23] Louis Scutenaire, 'Le Cygne d'étang', Phantomas , 115-117, 1972, 18: 'Je ne fais jamais un travail d'écrivain mais conduis poétiquement des entreprises anti-littéraires, usant, par exemple du collage, du plagiat, contre l'invention facile, contre l'inspiration à bon compte.'

[24] Catherine Daems, 'Scutenaire - Hamoir et la littérature', Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, Irène, Scut, Magritte and C°. " Ce qui est attirant est beau ", Brussels, 1996, 131.

[25] 'Qu'est-ce que mon nom ? Qu'est-ce qu'une signature ? Le monde et tout le monde ne sont-ils donc à tout le monde ?' Louis Scutenaire, 'Le Cygne d'étang', Phantomas , 115-117, 1972, 19.

[26] The correspondance between Scutenaire and Hamoir is revealing in this aspect. While Hamoir worked in the Netherlands , Scutenaire informed her in his letters about the progress of his work. (Daems, 'Scutenaire - Hamoir et la littérature', 131.)

[27]René Magritte en het surrealisme in België , Brussels, 1982.

[28] 'Exegètes, pour y voir claire, rayez le mot surréalisme.' Nougé, Histoire de ne pas rire , 6.

[29]Louis Aragon and André Breton, 'A suivre. Petite contribution au dossier de certains intellectuels a tendances révolutionnaires', Variétés, June 1929, I-XXXII.

[30] 'Nous tenons pour assez négligeable l'opinion publique.' Letter from Paul Nougé to Pierre Fontaine, 15 April 1932. Marcel Mariën, ed, Lettres Surréalistes (1924-1940), Brussels, 1973, 104-105.

[31] 'Nous savons en temps opportun donner des précisions suffisantes pour pouvoir nous permettre le silence et le mépris quand bon nous semble.' Letter from Nougé to Fontaine, 15 April 1932. Mariën, Lettres Surréalistes (1924-1940), Brussels, 1973, 104-105.

[32] 'Toute grande idée est sujette à gravement s'altérer de l'instant où elle entre en contact avce la masse humaine, où elle est amenée à se composer avec des esprits d'une tout autre mesure que celui dont elle est issue.' André Breton, 'Prolégomènes à un troisième manifeste du surréalisme ou non (1942)', Breton, Manifestes du surréalisme, Saint-Amand, 1967, 161-162.

[33] 'Nous tenons nullement à faire de la propagande à la manière des partis politiques.' Letter from Nougé to Fontaine, 15 April 1932. Mariën, Lettres Surréalistes (1924-1940) , 104-105.

[34] 'Elles ['les tâches immédiates'] visent d'abord à toucher les hommes d'une manière qui nous semble souhaitable : les mêler à des événements inconnus, leur faire entendre des paroles insoupçonnées, rompre les limites de leur pensée - pour qu'ils soient enfin capables de concevoir cette évidence  : tout est toujours possible.' 'L'action immédiate', Documents 34 , 1, June 1934, 33.

[35] 'L'anonymat est un instrument de travail nouveau à la disposition de ceux qui pensent à l'avènement de la révolution mondiale comme à une oblgation vitale.' 'L'action immédiate', 3.

[36] 'E.L.T. Mesens, - qui sous des dehors 'bruxellois' est le plus charmant garçon du monde -est très partisan d'organiser en Belgique un vaste groupement des sympathisants surréalistes. Il estime que la politique d'abstention, de restrictions et de silence obstiné mise à la mode par Nougé ne peut mener à rien. Je pense qu'il a raison et je crois déjà t'avoir confié ma déception de voir qu'au fond on avait affaire à des isolés.' Letter from Fernand Demoustier to Achille Chavée, 2 okt 1934. Brussels, Archief voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Achille Chavée, 4285.

[37] 'Je suis si occupé qu'il me n'est pas possible de conduire ce groupe belge qui, tu le sais, sans moi ne fait rien , absolument rien. Tous ces gens dorment du sommeil le plus provincial.'Letter from Mesens to André Breton, 21 April 1937. And in a letter to Breton in August 1936: 'Ici, il fait archi-misérable. Bruxelles est assez désert ... Mes amis n' ont rien abdiqué de leur provincialisme.' Paris, Bibliothèque Litéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT 1196 and 1192.

[38] George Melly, Don't tell Sybill, An intimate memoir of ELT Mesens , London, 1997 and Strange encounters, E.L.T. Mesens talks to George Melly, Broadcasting Tuesday, 29 February 1970 (Brussels, Archief voor Hedendaagse Kunst, E.L.T. Mesens, D .N.). Scutenaire described Mesens as 'un oiseau des îles, il va nu-tête, les cheveux bien lissés, rasé de frais, manucuré. Sa cravate est de tissu et de nuances que l'on rencontre guère, sa veste est d'une coupe et d'une étoffe rares, son gilet et son pantalon aussi, quoique différents par les tons, les chaussettes sont inattendies; quant aux manteaux !' (cited in Christiane Geurts-Krauss, E.L.T. Mesens. L'alchimiste méconnu du surréalisme. Du dandy dadaïste au marchand visionnaire , Brussels, 1998, 68.)

[39] Van Hecke himself ordered Mesens to bring him a blue marine shirt and a plastic cigaret case from London Letter from Van Hecke to Mesens, 29 June 1937 and 30 April 1946. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 920094, box 4, folder 6 and box 5, folder 11.

[40] Letter from ELT Mesens to George Melly, 20 March 1948. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 920094, box 6 , folder 4.

[41]Dada Terminus, Tristan Tzara - ELT Mesens, correspondance choisie 1923-1926, ed. Stéphane Massonet, Brussels, 1997.

[42]391 , 19, 1924.

[43] Letter from Paul Eluard to E.L.T. Mesens, 14 September 1934 : 'J'aimerais rester à Bruxelles.' Brussels, privat archive, E.L.T Mesens.

[44] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to André Breton, 12 July 1937: 'Ces prix sont faits de façon à te permettre de prélever sur ceux-ci au moins 33 % de bénéfice, libre à toi d'ailleurs d'en tirer ce que tu peux, mais je tiens à te signaler que les peintures à l'huile de Magritte que je t'ai confiées sont des oeuvres dont j'obtiens en Angleterre, des prix qui correspondent à francs belges: 6 à 7.000. - Il est évident que ces prix-là sont toujours plus favourables et voilà pourquoi tu t'expliqueras que je te fixe des prix 50 % moins cher que ceux que j'obtiens. Je le fait pour t'aider dns ton entreprise, et à titre purement amical. J'ai appris que ta galerie était fort belle et que tu connaissais un succès espéréré [sic].' Brussels, Archive Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, E.L.T. Mesens.

[45] Cited in 'E.L.T. Mesens', in Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque, ed, "Ce qui est attirant est beau". Irène, Scut, Magritte and Co , Brussels , 1996, 380.

[46] Letter from René Magritte to E.L.T. Mesens, June 1937: 'Pour ma part, même au moment des plus belles promesses, je me réserve toujours (...).' Los Angeles , Getty Research Library, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 9 , folder 11.

[47] Letter from Fernand Dumont, Louis van der Spiegele, Marcel Lefrancq to E.L.T. Mesens, 18 October 1939. Brussels , Privat Archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[48]'Tous les soirs, Chavée et Demoustier pesent le poids de leur livres et l'importance de leur oeuvre. L'atmosphère encourageante dont notre presence était exempte, devait être pour eux, cette atmosph ère d'admiration mutuelle et d'en ceux que nous leur refusions. [...]La valeur de Rupture provenait précisement du fait que chacun aplliquait a ses recherches personnelles ce 'Plus de conscience', que les resultats de tous se complétaient, guidaient les uns, renseignant les autres, nous formeraient tous mutuellement. [...] Nous nous fuitons de gens qui prennent toujrous soin de se reserver des portes d'entrée dans le monde bourgeois.' Letter from André Bovy to E.L.T. Mesens, 19 November 1939. Los Angeles , Getty Research Library, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 4 , folder 11.

[49] 'Rien ne me répugne plus que la course au succès public dans une époque où tous les publics ont perdu ma carte. [...] L'héroïsme de façade satisfait tout au plus les besoins des centrismes gouvernementaux, trop enchantés de pouvoir passer l'éponge.' Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, 18 November 1944. Brussels, private archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[50] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to René Magritte and Paul Nougé, 7 October 1946. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 13 , folder 3.

[51] 'Je ne veux pas que la voie du surréalisme soit encombrée de cadavres'. Letter from André Breton to E.L.T. Mesens, 30 April 1940. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 4 , folder 14.

[52] 'C'est une belle histoire, pleine de tricherie humanitaire de beaux modèles du genre " anarchiste royale ", " peintres automatique religieux ", " avant-gardistes national-féodaux " etc.... Tu les connais, ils furent nos amis.' Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to André Breton, 6 March 1951. Paris, Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT 1205. 

[53] 'Mon petit métier de forçat à la solde et de spéculateurs ambitieux ou avides commence à me peser un peu et les gens semblent de tous côtés, me réserver leurs tours de cochon.' Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, 26 March 1947. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 6 , folder 2.

[54] 'Zelfs in een roman à clef of in mijn 'mémoires' zouden zulke dingen zelfs moeilijk te zeggen zijn, zonder den schijn te hebben eer te willen halen uit daden die alleen door de vriendschap mogelijk werden gemaakt. Daar steekt juist het kruispunt: alles stond toen in het teken van de meest inbaatzuchtige vriendschap. En wie zal dit nu nog geloven!?' Letter from Paul-Gustave Van Hecke to Emile Langui, 26 October 1943. Brussels, Archief voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Emile Langui.

[55] Letter from Paul-Gustave van Hecke to Philip M. Laski, 27 October 1961 and letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Paul-Gustave van Hecke, 30 October 1961. Brussels, private archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[56] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to André Breton, 21 October 1937. Paris, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT. c 1197.

[57] Two lectures from Magritte and Mesens point to this. Mesens stated at the opening of the exposition 'Young Belgian Artists' in February 1937 in London: 'Notre attitude anti-opportuniste absolue, dont quelque faiblesses ne devaient cependant tarder à nous apparaître, eut l'énorme avantage de maintenir un certain nombre d'entre nous dans un état offensif permanent, à l'abri de toute séduction intellectualiste ou littéraire, et nous révéler, en cours de route ceux qui, cédant à des soucis trop personnels, devaient être rejetés dans les camps dont ils auraient mieux fait de ne jamais sortir.' (Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 12, folder 12) Magritte announced in ' La Ligne de Vie', a conference given on 20 November 1938, that 'il nous faut nous défendre de cette médiocre réalité façonnée par des siècles d'idôlatrie pour l'argent, les races, les patries, les dieux et j'ajouterai d'idôlatrie pour l'art'. (René Magritte, Ecrits complets , ed. André Blavier, Saint-Amand-Montrond, 2001, 103.)

[58] David Sylvester, Magritte , Antwerp , 1992, 156-157.

[59] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to René Magritte, 27 November 1938. Brussels, Privat Archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[60] 'Nougé et moi, nous avons complètement rompu avec Magritte.' Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Breton, 18 April 1940. Paris, Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, BRT. c. 1198.

[61]'Je souhaite aussi qu'un jour, des relations amicales ne soyent pas complètement impossibles avec toi.' Letter from René Magritte to E.L.T. Mesens, 24 June 1949. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 640097, box 9 , folder 12.

[62] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Robert Giron, 27 March 1954. 'Magritte ne tolère evidement aucune critique : c'est un totalitaire.' The answer of Giron, 30 March 1954: 'Je crois cependant qu'il est impossible de faire la rétrospective d'un peintre vivant tenir compte de ses désirs tout en essayant cependant de les corriger.' Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 7 , folder 3.

[63] In a letter from E.L.T. Mesens to Paul-Gustave van Hecke, 30 October 1961: 'Il y a un an ou deux, quand il était "menacé" de barronage! Si je ne lui avais pas fait éclater le ridicule devant les yeux.'

[64] In a letter to Roland Penrose , 27 July 1960, Mesens refused Magritte's participation in a exhibition in the London Institution of contemporary art : 'La seule manifestation qui puisse être utile à Magritte, à Londres, dans l'immédiat [...] c'est une simple exposition où l'on vend dans une galerie commerciale.' Penrose answered: 'Je te vois donc en 1960 te classifiant parmi les commis voyageurs du surréalisme qui se réfugient dans les chambres d'hôtel. En conséquence tristement je ne vois plus moyen de revenir aux jours d'action des interessées quand nous étions des surréalistes ensemble - et voilà tout.' Magritte justified in a letter of 1 th of August 1960 Mesens decision by stating that the London Institution of Contemporary Art is the defender of abstract art, so: 'C'est un peu, comme si dans une église catholique, on remplaçaient la messe de tous les jours, par deux ou trois messes noires. Une exposition surréaliste serait plus scandaleux dans un institut moins " à la page " que celui dont Penrose dirige l'activité, par exemple dans un musée d'antiquités,, patronné par des veuves de guerre.' Brussels, Private Archive, E.L.T. Mesens.

[65] Letter from E.L.T. Mesens to George Melly, 28 March 1948. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, E.L.T. Mesens, 940097, box 6 , folder 4.

[66] Sylvester, Magritte , 406-407.

[67] E.L.T. Mesens, Memories on K.S. (Kurt Schwitters), 16 September 1958. Brussels , private archive, E.LT. Mesens. Also published in Art New and Review , 10, 11 October 1958, 19.

[68] Marc. Eemans, De laatste surrealist , Antwerp, 1984, 44.

[69] 'L'intérêt historique d'une telle oeuvre ne sera pas surpassé de longtemps.' Letter from André Breton to Jane Graverol, 14 February 1966. Brussels, Archives et Musée de la Littérature française, Marcel Mariën, FSXLVII 11/20.

[70] In 1956 Histoire de ne pas rire was published. 
 
An Paenhuysen is Phd-student at the University of Leuven, Belgium. She is currently working on a book that examines the cultural criticism of the Belgian artistic avant-garde in the interwar period.
 
 


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