MA History of Art

The Surrealist Century: Mediums, Madness, Magic and the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)

Professor Gavin Parkinson

Marcel Duhamel, 'Our Colleague Benjamin Péret Insulting a Priest' (photograph 1926) i Marcel Duhamel, 'Our Colleague Benjamin Péret Insulting a Priest' (photograph 1926)

This course explores the history and theory of one of the most diverse, controversial and influential cultural formations of the twentieth century across 1919-70 and its subsequent critical reception up to the centenary year of the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). While typically positioned in an art historical chronology that places it between Cubism and abstract expressionism, Surrealism has achieved problematic status, prompting debate up to the present day as to the nature of both modernism and postmodernism.

The course is structured in a chronological and thematic manner which maps the trajectory of the Surrealist group in France from its origins in the First World War to its dispersal to the Americas at the beginning of the Second World War and return to France thereafter, allowing close attention to be paid to the central theoretical questions and themes addressed by the Surrealists: the interpretation of nature in writing and painting; the Surrealists’ development of ‘automatism’ from mediumism and its creation of ‘dream’ symbolism in its art; the deployment of photography in the movement; eroticism, fetishism and gender in the Surrealist object; postcolonalism, ‘primitivism’ and politics; Surrealism and film; the role of journals within the movement; the activities and legacy of Surrealism in the United States; the Surrealists’ responses to madness; the function of magic and question of ‘magic art’ from the 1940s through the 1950s; and the revival of Surrealism internationally in the 1960s through its exhibitions, protest against the Algerian War and attack on Pop art.

We will examine the art, writings and activities of Hilma af Klint, Louis Aragon, Hans Arp, Hans Bellmer, André Breton, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Ted Joans, Wifredo Lam, René Magritte, Baya Mahieddine, André Masson, Matta, Lee Miller, Joan Miró, Meret Oppenheim, Wolfgang Paalen, Benjamin Péret, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, Tristan Tzara, Remedios Varo and Unica Zürn, among others.

Course leader: Professor Gavin Parkinson

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Please note: whilst many Special Options will include site visits within the UK and further afield, these are subject to confirmation.

Option Full MA History of Art

Special Options 2024/25

You can choose up to three Special Options, tailoring personal statements in relation to each Special Option.

Our Special Options change from year to year as we seek to refresh and expand our offer.

We aim to confirm these at least twelve months in advance, and will always contact applicants immediately in rare instances where changes have to be made. In 2024/5 we are especially pleased to include new or returning Special Options, including Art and Empire in the Indian Ocean World, c.1800–1900, Architectural Legacies of Empire at Home and Abroad, c.1620- c.1920, Violent Materials: Art and War in the Early Modern World, ca. 1500–1800, Court and Commerce: Arts of Islam and the Great Mongol State, 1206-1368 and The Surrealist Century: Mediums, Madness, Magic and the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).