A movement in literature and painting, succeeding Daadaism and founded in Paris in 1924, with the aim of achieving effects of "super"-realism through the juxtaposition and combination of verbal images and physical objects ordinarily considered incongruous. The Freudian concept of the unconscious plays an important role in theoretical surrealism, it being claimed as the origin of the arrangements of incongruities which produce these effects. André Breton, leader and most representative poet of the movement, in his Manifeste du surréalisme (Surrealist Manifesto; 1924), defines surrealism as "pure psychological automatism . . . thought's dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations." Later, however, some surrealists claimed to be able to control the operations of the unconscious in the production of particular effects and the selection and combination of particular elements in their work.
Unique among 20th-century revolutionary movements in art and literature, surrealism centered its particular revolution in its subjectmatter, making use of extremely conventional style and technique. In poetry, it is a descendant of Symbolism with its emphasis on isolated images and individual associations. Literary forerunners claimed by the surrealists themselves include the writers of the Gothic Novel; the Marquis de Sade; S. T. Coleridge (in his poem Kubla Khan and in his theories of Imagination); Lewis Carroll; Lautreamont; Rimbaud; Alfred Jarry; Guillaume Apollinaire; and Franz Kafka. Early literary leaders of surrealism and spokesmen for the entire movement were Breton, Louis Aragon (who later abandoned surrealism for conventional fiction in the tradition of Balzac), Tristan Tzara, Philippe Soupault, Georges Hugnet, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dali. Later the following, some of whom show in their work rather an affinity with, than an exact conformity to, the principles of surrealism, were also included among outstanding representatives of the movement: David Gascoyne, Hugh Sykes Davies, and Dylan Thomas (Eng.); Henry Miller and Charles Henri Ford (Am.); Federico Garcia Lorca and Anaïs Nin (Span.); St.-J. Perse and Paul Eluard (Fr.); Ivan Goll (Swiss).
In painting, surrealism had as its forerunners various examples of fantastic, double-image, and trompe-l'oeil (Fr., "deceive-the-eye") art throughout the ages. Giorgio di Chirico was the first important painter of surrealism proper, but Salvador Dali became the most famous, supplanting Chirico as leader. Other surrealist painters include René Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, and Frida Kahlo. In addition, the surrealists claimed affinities with their work in the painting or sculpture of the following, although the artists named were known chiefly for their experiments in new forms: Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, Francis Picabia, Hans Arp, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, André Masson, and Pavel Tchelitchew. It was customary for surrealist poets to paint pictures and for surrealist painters to write poems, the difference in content being so slight that an effective interchange was possible.
Surrealism in the first years after its founding claimed that it was a representative of Communism in art, but it was vigorously disavowed by the Communist leaders. The movement gained relatively few disciples in the U.S., but the publicized exploits of Dali in New York brought surrealism to the attention of a portion of the American general public, which came to find amusement in the superficially comic incongruities of surrealist work. The methods of surrealism came to be used with modification in American advertising, especially fashion advertising and window display in retail shops.