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Peindre c'est la vie, la vraie vie, MA VIE
(Painting is life, real life, MY LIFE) - Epitaph on Victor Brauner's tombstone
In June 1903, Victor Brauner was born the third of six children of a Jewish sawmill manager in Pietra Neamt, Romania. Due to peasant uprisings, the family left for Hamburg in 1907 and subsequently Vienna in 1912. By 1914, with the outbreak of war, they returned to Romania, settling in Bucharest. While still at a religious school in the eastern provinces, Brauner started to paint in 1917. He was called up for compulsory work service the following year, but by 1919 he had registered at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. His non-conformist ideas were roundly rejected and thus his academic career was brief.
As the post-war situation stabilised, Brauner became very involved in the local publishing world, illustrating and writing for several publications as well as starting his own revue, Punct, with some of his friends in 1924. That same year he had his first one-man show at the Artists' Union in Bucharest. In 1925 he went to Paris for the first time. Returning to Bucharest in 1927, he did two years of military service in the infantry. As Fascism began to take hold in 1930, he married Margit Kosch and moved to Paris where he fraternized with other artists like Brancusi and Tanguy.
Officially becoming a Surrealist in 1932, Brauner painted several oddly prescient paintings in 1931, most notably a self-portrait with an eye gouged out. (In 1938, he lost his left eye while trying to restrain a friend who was involved in a brawl.) He participated in the Salon des Surindépendants in 1933, meeting André Breton, and had his first one-man exhibit at the Galerie Pierre in 1934. Lack of funds forced him back to Bucharest from 1935 to 1937 where he very briefly joined the Communist Party. The decaying political situation caused him to work in very small "suitcase-sized" formats. In 1938, he returned to Paris where he was introduced to Jacqueline Abraham and subsequently divorced his wife in 1939.
After the German invasion, he left Paris in 1940 for the Pyrenees, often visiting other exiled surrealists in Marseilles and vainly attempting to get a visa to the United States. By 1941, when he had surgery for a stomach ulcer, Brauner had managed to obtain forged documents identifying him as an Alsatian. He spent much of his recuperation period writing cryptic poetry and finally succeeded in reuniting with Jacqueline to spend the rest of the war in Rousset where he developed his wax painting technique. They returned to Paris in constrained circumstances in 1945 and were finally married the following year.
In spring 1946, Brauner had another show at Galerie Pierre in Paris, followed in short order by exhibits in London and New York. He went to Switzerland for an extended stay in 1948 for his health. It was here that he discovered the writings on schizophrenia of M-A. Sèchehaye which had a great impact on his painting. His refusal to support the expulsion of Matta from the Surrealists caused his own ejection from the group the same year.
Spending time in the south of France in 1953, he met Picasso and began working in ceramics at Vallauris. In the late 1950s, he spent a great deal of time in Normandy as his reputation spread across Europe and America, where his work was the subject of several major solo museum exhibitions. Brauner was selected to represent France at the Biennale in Venice in 1966, the year he died.