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Share via Email Un Chien Andalou: still 'deeply shocking'. Look around you with an unbiased eye and, alas, you will see no painter of genius, and no novelist, poet, philosopher or composer who takes his or her place in that top tier without asking our permission. Picasso was driven around Cannes in his American car, but he seems to have seen nothing of the world on the far side of the windscreen. His paintings are like stills from an elegant newsreel filmed inside our heads, and we could reconstitute the whole of the last century from them, all its voyeurism, barbarism, scientific genius and self-disgust.
The ghost of Freud presides over the uterine fantasies that set the stage for the adult traumas to come, while insects incarnate the self-loathing of Kafka's Metamorphosis and its hero turned into a beetle. The soft watches belong to a realm where clock time is no longer valid and relativity rules in Einstein's self-warping continuum.
What monster would grow from this sleeping embryo? It may be the long eyelashes, but there is something feminine and almost coquettish about this little figure, and I see the painting as the 20th century's Mona Lisa, a psychoanalytic take on the mysterious Gioconda smile.
Put on a surrealism show and the crowds flock, quietly absorbing these strange and irrational images. It's as if people realise that reason and rationality no longer provide an adequate explanation for the world we live in. The lights may still be on, but a new Dark Age is drawing us towards its shadows, and we turn to the surrealists as our best guides to the underworld. The 20th century was a vast textbook of psychopathology, but it took the surrealists a long time to be critically accepted.
Surrealism as a whole remained beyond the critical pale until well into the s, and most of its great painters - Max Ernst, Magritte, Paul Delvaux - had to wait until their last years before they were accepted by the bowler-hatted bureaucrats of British art. They died loaded with honours, prizes and, worst of all, respectability. He alone remained faithful to the surrealists' first commandment: shock the bourgeoisie.