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André Masson was born on January 4, 1896, in Balagny-sur-Oise, France. He studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Masson settled in Paris in 1920. Two years later he met D. H. Kahnweiler, who served as his principal dealer until 1931. His first solo show was held at Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon in Paris in 1924. That same year Masson met André Breton and joined the Surrealist group, with which he was affiliated until 1928. During his first Surrealist period, Masson made automatic drawings and paintings and experimented with sand paintings. At this time he began to explore violent and erotic themes and was influenced by Analytical Cubism. He illustrated books and his works were reproduced regularly in the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste. In 1925 he participated in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in Paris. Two years later he met Alberto Giacometti and executed his first sculpture.
After breaking with the Surrealists, Masson worked in various idioms: progressing from violent and erotic themes interpreted with increasingly abstract forms, to more figurative landscapes and massacre subjects and, finally, when he lived in Spain from 1934 to 1936, Spanish subjects. In 1933 the artist designed sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes. Thereafter he frequently designed for the theater, the opera, and the ballet. Masson returned to Paris in 1936, and the following year reconciled with the Surrealists. In 1941 he fled German occupied France for America, where be settled in New Preston, Connecticut. His first major museum exhibition took place at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1941. During his sojourn in America, Masson showed frequently with artists in exile, for example at the opening exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim’s museum-gallery Art of This Century in New York, and delivered lectures on modern art. In 1943 he made his final break with André Breton and with official Surrealism.
The artist returned to France in 1945. In the following years he painted landscapes as well as abstract works and continued to explore the violent and erotic imagery of his early years. Plaisir de peindre, a volume of Masson's collected writings, was published in 1950. In 1965, at the request of André Malraux and Jean-Louis Barrault, he decorated the ceiling of the Odéon, Théàtre de France, in Paris. In 1976 the Museum of Modem Art in New York held a major Masson retrospective. Masson died on October 27, 1987, in Paris.