Dada in Paris

After the signature of the Armistice between Allied forces and Germany that took place on November 11,  1918, in the town of Rethondes, 100 miles north of Paris, Paris, which had never been occupied by the German army, returned to a normal way of life. The only difference was the overwhelming presence of foreign troups that visited Paris. Also, because of the victory there was a very positive sprit of joy, celebration and renewed faith in the future that contrasted with the gloom and pessimism of the war years. People were eager to enjoy themselves and, in particular, the presence of English, Canadian and American troups introduced a new passion for everything English to the great sorrow of "traditional Frenchmen", like Marcel Proust that were longing for a return to past, not for a new uncharted era.  Traditional French "apéritif" of the afternoon,. usually a sweet wine, was soon replaced by the drinks of the "happy hour": in particular whisky, gin, tonic, seltzer, etc.  Black US soldiers had discovered a new form of personal freedom while integrated in the French army, they had learned French and many of them decided to stay in France rather than return to a segregated US (cf. Josephine Baker's song : "J'ai deux amours"). Thus many black shows started in Paris, in particular in the area that was fast becoming the main place for artists and intellectuals: Montparnasse. Under the terms of the Traité de Versailles, Germany was supposed to pay much compensation to France for the damages caused to the northern provinces by the German war machine. Immediately that produced an economic boom that will be so strong that it will cushion in France the consequences of the American crash of 1929. Because the US Senate refused to approve the Ligue des Nations suggested by the US President Wilson, it was established in Geneva and Europe, again felt that it was the center of the western civilization. A new civilization of leisure started to appear in Paris that soon was nicknamed "city of pleasure" where life was good. Women have been in charge of many stores and factories while the men were at the front. They have earned a new place in the productive society as secretary, factory employees; they have a new financial independence and they have "new look" desire for fashion better adapted to their now casual life style (Coco Chanel); they also constitute an large pool for modeling (pictures, painting) since t is not impossible for woman to live single life outside of the traditional family unit. French society is changing dramatically with the arrival of cars, planes and highly mechanized factories.  Many foreign intellectuals and artists come to Paris in search of fame and patronage and soon Paris, its new "American" cafés with fancy cocktails and large terrasses extensions on the sidewalks, its glittering night-clubs, its exotic dance halls, its hedonist everyday life,  becomes more than ever a bustling art center and a magnet for a new artistic generation rich of dreams and  hope (Calder, Chagall, Miro, Charchoune, Giacometti, Soulages, Foujita, Brancusi).  That period was aptly called "The banquet years" for its seemingly endless parties.

Since 1909, the main avant-garde poet, writer, and intellectual had been Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). He was born Guillaume Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky  and is believed to be the illegitimate son of Polish demi-mondaine Angelica de Kostrowitzky, and a  Swiss-Italian aristocrat, Francesco Flugi d'Aspermont. He  received a French education at the Collège Saint-Charles in Monaco. 1900 Apollinaire moved to Paris for Exposition Universelle and settled there. While working in a bank, he wrote poetry and articles for the well established trendy magazine of the time. In 1903 he created his own magazine called ironically Le Festin d'Esope, since he had no money to buy food, he had to feed himself with "words" just like the greek philosopher. Very early, he met writers and painters that were part of the bohemian sub-culture of Montmartre (Le Bateau-lavoir) and he became the friend of  Pablo Picasso, André Derain, playwright Alfred Jarry, and the painter Marie Laurencin, who was his lover. Because he had been raised as a tri-lingual speaker  (French, German, Italian) in 1901-02 he accepted a position of  tutor in the Rhineland where he found the time to write and edited where he edited his first published book of poetry. When he came back he resumed his social life and became truly interested in the post-impressionist painting and the development of cubism that he adopted and adapted to literature. He brought Picasso and Braque together, and was always involved in the world of modern painting; for example he helped organize the cubist room 41 at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911.  His first prose work, L'Enchanteur pourrissant,  was published in 1909 with woodcuts by André Derain (the favorite French avant-garde painter of De Zayas), it was the first direct collaboration with the art merchant Henry Kahnweiler who will progressively dominate   dominate the market of Dada and Surrealism painting for most of the XXth-Century with galeries in Paris (Louise Leiris)  and New York (Isselbacher). With the publication of Alcools in 1913 Apollinaire was recognized as a highly original voice in contemporary poetry. Le Bestiaire was published in 1911 with woodcuts by Raoul Dufy, and was later set to music by Francis Poulenc, a disciple of Satie, the Dada composer. By then Cubism was the recognized leading artistic movement and Apollinaire wrote The Cubist Painters, "which explored the theory of cubism and analyzed psychologically the chief cubists and their works. According to Apollinaire, art is not a mirror held up to nature, so cubism is basically conceptual rather than perceptual. By means of the mind, one can know the essential transcendental reality that subsists "beyond the scope of nature." Ten days after the appearance of the book, Apollinaire deserted cubism for Orphism. The concept was also invented by him and described "the art of painting new structures out of elements that have not been borrowed from the visual sphere but have been created entirely by the artist himself, and have been endowed by him with the fullness of reality." Among Orphicist artist were Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, and, in a way, Francis Picabia.

His personal love affairs with Louise de Coligny, Madeleine Pagès, and  Jacqueline Kolb, whom he married in 1918, were as much sensational topics as Hollywood stars are now for tabloids. His large collection of African art, something not yet fashionable, was also a matter of public concern since he was calling his African sculpures the " The Crists of other beliefs". In 1911 he had been detained for a week on suspicion of stealing Leonardo's  Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum for publicity reasons. In 1914 the painter Giorgio de Chirico (who influenced Ernst) made two paintings in tribute to Apollinaire; in Portrait of Apollinaire as a Premonition the poet uses sunglasses - like all visionaries he is blind. Tired to be discredited as a "foreigner" by the popular press, in 1914 Apollinaire decided to become a French citizen. As the war was starting he enlisted in the infantry. He fought on the front in the apocalyptic Marne battle until 1916, when he received a head wound and was hospitalized for a while. During his convalescence in Paris he continued to arrange new art exhibits and published poetry. In 1916 he published Le Poète assassiné,  in 1917 he staged his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breast of Tiresias). In the "Foreword" of the play he used the word "surrealist", to describe the nature of the story. At the time the term did not attract special attention, however, in 1924, it will become used by Yvan Goll and, later, by André Breton, to label the new artistic movement that will follow Dada. In the play Apolliniare combined his own sexual obsessions with a sur-realist vision of the world in an historic and mythic prospective. The Breast of Tiresias was made into an opera (1947) by Francis Poulenc. In 1917, he gave a major speech called "Sur l'esprit nouveau" in which he summarized his idea for a new post war estheticism and issued a call to investigate new worlds of expression based on the new mechaninal means of expression (cinema, sound recording, etc.) now at the disposal of a new generation of artists. In 1918, a few months before his death he published the experimental poetry volume Calligrammes that offers stunning "graphic" poems that associate words and spatial form to create the poetic significance of the piece; this great creative experiment will be echoed in the typographic experiments of Dada all over the world. By the time of his death, Apollinaire was in working contact with Tzara, Ernst, Stieglitz, Duchamp, Picabia, etc.  On November 9, 1918 Apollinaire died of influenza in the great epidemic of that year. Immediately, André Breton, Tristan Tzara, Paul Éluard, and Louis Aragon and other French poets of the younger generation recognized his as a extraordinary intellectual innovator and visionary and were eagers to be perceived as his intellectual heirs on the path of a new modernist definition of art.

André Breton (1896-1966): French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders  in December 1924 of the Freudian Surrealist movement with Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Michel Leiris, Antonin Artaud, Bataille, etc. He was later (1929) joined by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali,  among others.  Breton  cofounded with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault the review Littérature in 1918 with the help of the traditionalist French Poet Paul Valéry. MD by training he specialized in psychoanalysis and was posted during wartime in a MASH unit on the eastern front where the fight was the most ferocious (Bar-le-Duc). During that time he was able to observe the psychological damages caused by battle fatigue and battle trauma. Before the war he had met Sigmund Freud in Vienna , during the war very important for his literary work was his meetings with Apollinaire. He was in early contact with Tzara in Zurich in 1917 and 1918 and when Tzara came to Paris he offered to him to be the editor-in-chief of Litterature. Tzara accepted and Littérature became the first official Dada journal in Paris. The editorial membership of the jornal with the help of Picabia became the nucleus of the Paris Dadaist group; Personal conflict with Tzara led Breton to abandon the Dadaist movement and to seek another intellectual venture. It turned out to be Surrealism and his first MANIFESTE DU SURRÉALISME was published in 1924. Influenced by psychoanalytical theories Breton defined Surrealism as a dictation of the unconscious realms and gave great importance to play of words, signification of dream and chance encounters of opposite realities in the everyday world. After 1927 he gave priority to the social action of art and excluded many early surrealists from the movement.

Louis Aragon ( 1897-  1982). Illegitimate son of an upper class Paris family, Aragon is given a false identity and a false place of birth (Madrid). Exempted from military service during the war for reasons of poor health, in 1916 he starts to study medicine.  At the university he meets Breton and he is  attracted to literature and poetry. In 1917 Aragon wrote his first book Alcide ou De l'Esthétique du saugrenu. Apollinaire reads the piece and asks him to do the review of his new play Les Mammelles de Tirésias. Aragon is required to serve his country during war time. He is placed in the same medical unit as Breton. In 1918 he is told the truth about his birth and who his real parents are. He requests his transfer to a fighting unit at the front. Three times he is believed dead; he will lead several heroic rescue missions and will be decorated for his actions. He continues his relationship with Breton and the publishing house of Gallimard. In 1918 he co-found Littérature. After the Armistice he stays with the French army that occupies Germany (Sarre), while Breton and Soupault are editing Littérature. He is demobilized in 1919 and returns to Paris to complete his medical studies. He will publish the second most important Dada/pré-surréalist text of that period:  "Une vague de rêves". He will receive his diploma in December 1920. From January 1920 (Tzara arrives in Paris) to October 1922 Aragon will be one of the most active Paris Dadaist. In december 1920, he and Breton decide to become members of the Communist Party that has just been created. They both want to introduce "fresh air" in French literature.


Philippe Soupault (1897-1990).  Born in a bourgeois family of  Paris he was attracted to literature and became a member of the group of young writers attached to Apollinaire, the so-called "cubist poets": Cendrars, Jacob, Reverdy.  In that entourage he also met  Breton and his friends: Frankel and Aragon; later he met Eluard and he was aware of Vaché who he had met at the première of Les Mammelles de Tirésias.  With Breton and Aragon he founded the journal Littérature .  While  Aragon was at the army, he and Breton edited Littérature  and co-wrote the first FRench text that can be considered as a "Dada" text -later considered "proto-surrealist" -- Les champs magnétiques. As Breton soon Soupault will became a friend of Picabia and will share Breton interest for Tzara in Zurich. In 1920 when Tzara comes to Paris, he will approve the take over of Littérature by Tzara. He will write two ore pieces with Breton "Vous m'oublierez", et "S'il vous plaît"; both texts will be introduced with a foreword  by Picabia (1920). Later he and Vaché will became less close to Breton, being replaced by two "older" figures, Picabia and Tzara; Vaché will kill himself and Soupault will devote his time to travel, writings and journalism. He will keep his frienship with Breton during the period 1921-1924, he will become a Breton Surréalist in 1924 and be an active surréalist and a prolific propagandist for the group,  He will be excluded from Surréalisme in 1926 with Bataille, Leiris, Vitrac, Artaud, etc. for "too much literature".


Paul Eluard (1895-1952) Paul Éluard came from a lower-middle-class background. He was born in Saint-Denis, Paris, the son of a bookkeeper, whose wife helped out with the household bills by dressmaking. Éluard became interested in poetry in a Swiss sanatorium, where he was sent at the age of 16 for treatment of tuberculosis. When he returned to France, he joined the army and was badly injured by gas. His first noteworthy volume of poetry, LE DEVOIR ET L'INQUIÉTUDE, appeared in 1917. Éluard was involved with the Dada Movement, meeting Tristan Tzara, André Breton, and other member of surrealist and Dadaist circles. Like Breton, Aragon, Péret, Soupault and other intellectuals, Éluard had emerged from the war disgusted and rejected commonly accepted laws and morality, offering instead radical nihilism. Appearing in 1921was his statements in verse that prepared the surrealist theories (1924)and activities , LES NÉCESSITÉS DE LA VIE ET LA CONSÉQUENCE DES RÊVES.  In 1924 Éluard mysteriously disappeared. Rumours of his death were widely circulated and finally accepted as true. After seven months he appeared and explained that he had been on a journey from Marseilles to Tahiti, Indonesia, and Ceylon. The journey was later connected with the loss of his wife Gala to the surrealist artist Salvador Dali. His reputation as a poet was established with the publication of CAPITALE DE LA DOULEUR (1926).

Eluard died of a heart condition on November 18, 1952 in Charenton-le-Pont.

Pierre Albert-Birot  (1876-1967). Editor of the magazine Sic (Paris 1917) with cubists and Dadaist tendencies. Collaborated at several dadaist publications. Poet, writer and typographical genius.





Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (Montpellier, 1884-1975 Saint-Jeannet). French writer and painter trained in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Académie Julian. He exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. His early works were influenced by the Nabis, but most are lost. In 1909 he met Raymond Duchamp-Villon, through whom he became acquainted with the Puteaux group, which included artists such as Léger, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes and others. Two years later he met Picabia. From 1913 he painted very little, but in 1920 he began to produce mechanomorphic paintings like Picabia’s. Often these were painted on the back of earlier works, such as the Great Musician (1920), which was owned by André Breton and had a Nabi-style work of 1905 on the back. After World War I he collaborated with Picabia on the Dada journal 391 and soon became an important figure in Parisian Dada. He also contributed to several other Dada reviews, such as Dada, Mécano and Proverbe, and wrote various Dada plays. His Dada masterpiece, L’Empereur du Chine, was written in 1916 and Le Serin muet was performed at the first Dada soirée in February 1920.



Charchoune  - Reverdy - Vaché



1920 Paul Chadourne, T. Tzara, Philippe Soupault, Serge Charchoune, Man Ray (picture) Paul Eluard, Jacques Rigaut, Mick Soupault, Georges Ribemond-Dessaignes


1919    Breton, René Hislum, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard.







More  (Dadaists in Paris)


1920 Louis Aragon, Théodore Fraenkel, Paul Eluard, Clément Pansaers, Emmanuel Fay; Paul Dermée, Philippe Soupault, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes; Tzara, Céline Arnaud, Picabia, Breton.






DADAISTS 1921 Jean Crotti, ?, André Breton, Jacques Rigault,  Paul Eluard, Ribemont-Dessaignes, Benjamin Péret, Théodore Fraenkel

Louis Aragon, Tristan Tzara, Philippe  Soupault.

DADA   Soirée    Salle Gaveau, Paris May 16th, 1920




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