From Dada to Surrealism



In the 1930s, the artists Marcel Janco and M. H. Maxy showed a growing tendency to distance themselves from radical new tendencies. Janco broke with the provocative Dada movement and returned to a figurative and expressionist style. Maxy gave up Integralism, a combination of modern “isms”, for a style closely related to Socialist Realism.

A second wave of the Romanian avant-garde was centred around Unu(One), a new magazine produced by Saşa Pană (Alexandru Binder). Victor Brauner contributed regularly, and gradually abandoned Dada and Constructivism for Surrealism.

Marcel Janco

Marcel Janco (Bucharest, 24 May 1895 – Ein Hod, 21 April 1984)

Marcel Janco is regarded as one of Romania’s foremost avant-garde artists. He was a co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, and editor of the leading Romanian avant-garde magazine, Contimporanul.

He left Romania to study in Zurich. As one of the earliest Dadaists, he participated in many exhibitions and performances from 1916 onward. On returning to Bucharest in 1921, he became very influential in the development of the avant-garde in his native country. In the 1930s, life became difficult for Jews in Romania. It was in this period that Janco first visited Palestine. In May 1939 Janco had his last exhibition in Romania. When his brother-in-law was tortured to death during the January 1941 pogrom in Bucharest, Janco emigrated to Palestine with his family. There he founded the artists’ colony Ein Hod in 1953. In 1983, a year before his death, the Janco Dada Museum opened in Ein Hod.

Café concert, 1925-1927 In the second half of the 1920s, Janco adopted an Expressionist style. The non-illusionist use of color and the visible brushstrokes made viewers quite aware that they were looking at a painting rather than a real scene.

Looking into the Universe, 1931 This nighttime cityscape, in which buildings are contorted and space is distorted by a giant invisible hand, is significant for Janco’s turn to Expressionism. Cubism was replaced by a free distortion that reveals the difference between what the painter had seen and the final work.

M. H. Maxy

M.H. Maxy (Brăila, 26 October 1895 – Bucharest, 19 June 1971)

Maxy is the pseudonym of Maximilian Herman. Maxy studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest. In 1922, he became a pupil of Arthur Segal in Berlin, where he discovered the avant-garde in all its diversity. In 1923 Maxy returned to Romania. As well as contributing to the magazine Contimporanul, he established a new movement in 1925 with the avant-garde magazine Integral. He also designed sets for a number of theatres. In 1928 Maxy opened the Studio of Decorative Art. In the 1930s his social consciousness had a growing influence on his paintings: for instance, he often depicted workers.

After 1941, race laws made it impossible for Maxy to exhibit his work. He became an instructor at the Jewish School of Arts, teaching Jewish students who had been expelled from official Romanian art academies. In Communist Romania, Maxy was the director of the National Art Museum in Bucharest from 1949 until his death in 1971.

Self Portrait, 1932 M.H. Maxy also experimented with creating a new type of portrait. Rejecting the canon of the genre, he painted his head as an undetermined imaginary landscape, purposely contrasting the two.

St. George Place in Crotches, 1935 St. George Square is located in the old center of Bucharest, not far from the Jewish quarter. Everything seems apparently quiet in this nighttime cityscape, but at a closer look the atmosphere is definitely unsettling, and intriguing.

Victor Brauner

Victor Brauner (Piatra-Neamţ, 15 June 1903 – Paris, 12 March 1966)

Victor Brauner was a major representative of Surrealism. He was born in the East Carpathians. After an anti-Semitic peasants’ revolt in 1907, the family emigrated. In 1919, five years after returning to Bucharest, they were granted Romanian citizenship. That same year, Brauner enrolled at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest.

In 1924 he had his first solo exhibition in Bucharest and took part in First International Art Exhibition of Contimporanul. In 1930, Brauner met André Breton in Paris and discovered Surrealism, which became his new source of inspiration. In 1935, financial troubles compelled him to return to Bucharest. But shocked by a law requiring all Jews to re-apply for citizenship, he left again in 1938, making France his permanent home. After the Second World War, Brauner’s reputation grew rapidly, and he exhibited regularly in New York, London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Composition, 1930-1935 On several occasions, Victor Brauner asserted that all his painting was “autobiographical.” In this sense, the fantastic animals, such as the dragons, may be interpreted as symbolic representations of his deep-down, personal fears.

Composition with Portrait, 1930-1935 Worried by the threatening political events in Europe, Brauner decided to reduce the dimensions of his creations and created the “suitcase paintings,” small enough to be put in a piece of luggage to travel with in case of an emergency. The model’s face is mingled with the naked body of a sitter without respecting anatomy and scale.