Influential among the Parisian Surrealists, André Masson experimented with a range of styles that included Cubism and Symbolism. A prolific printmaker, he completed eight hundred prints during his career, mostly employing lithography and etching techniques. He was introduced to printmaking through the Surrealist writers with whom he began collaborating in the early 1920s, and nearly half of his prints appeared in illustrated books.
After recovering from the traumatic ordeal of trench warfare during World War I, Masson returned to Paris in 1920 and moved into a studio adjoining Joan Miró’s on the rue Blomet. Masson’s studio became a gathering place for young avant-garde writers and artists. By 1924 he had emerged on the Parisian art scene with an exhibition at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon, from which André Breton, the charismatic leader of the Surrealists, purchased a painting. A self-described anarchist, Masson uncharacteristically accepted Breton’s invitation to join the Surrealist group, although his relationship with them was stormy.
Kahnweiler was the first to publish books pairing Surrealist artists and poets and, during the 1920s and early 1930s, he issued five books with illustrations by Masson and texts by such literary figures as Michel Leiris, Louis Aragon, and Georges Bataille. The volume C’est les bottes de 7 lieues, one of Masson’s first “automatist” print projects, reflects his process of initially marking a plate with random gestures and then teasing out fragments of recognizable images. Robert Desnos, a friend of Masson’s and a fellow Parisian Surrealist, executed the poems for this publication while in a trancelike state.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 99.