cover image The Lives of the Surrealists

The Lives of the Surrealists

Desmond Morris. Thames & Hudson, $39.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-500-02136-1

Morris (The Naked Ape), the last surviving member of the first-generation Surrealists, offers an intimate tour of the personal lives of the artists in his inner circle. The motley assortment ranges from textbook staples (Salvador Dalí) to those on the movement’s margins (Alexander Calder). Morris’s emphatic focus is not on their art but their lives. Writing as a personal friend and acquaintance of many of the Surrealists, he divulges their working habits (Alberto Giacometti was a night owl who regularly went to bed at 7 a.m.), personality quirks (Leonor Fini spent hours studying corpses), and sexual conquests with a disarming familiarity (each entry begins with a list of sexual partners). The movement’s founder and fulcrum, Andre Breton, is cast as something of an unlikable, controlling bully who at one point or another expelled nearly all of the Surrealists from the movement, occasionally with unintentionally humorous theatricality. Morris concedes, however, that the movement “would have been much the poorer without him.” Each of these 32 short biographical entries is thoughtfully accompanied by a lesser-known work of art by each artist, along with photographs of the artists as they appeared in their most active years. Alternatively funny, ribald, and at times genuinely moving, Morris’s fittingly off-kilter tribute to the Surrealist movement itself and the eclectic men and women who carried its torch is a true joy. illus. (May)