Echoes of the pen and brush

While browsing through books at a thrift shop a few weeks ago, I happened upon a slim edition on surrealist art. The book, entitled Surrealism: With 24 Illustrations,*  was a volume from the 1956 series “Movements in Modern Art” and, at first glance, I found it to be somewhat unremarkable. As far as my own taste in art goes, I typically prefer work from the realist and futurist movements, as well as Catholic and Byzantine iconography. What piqued my curiosity with regard to this thrift store finding, though, was not necessarily the content in this volume – which included works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall and others – but the lengthy, passionate inscription written across the first several pages of the book. Laden with compelling language and imagery, the dedication tells the story of a struggling and perhaps troubled artist who was implored by those around him to use his talent to exorcise his proverbial demons.

I wish I knew more about the person who wrote the dedication as well as the man to whom it was offered. It would be particularly nice to know if the inscription ultimately inspired great works, or if the challenges this individual faced were simply too much to overcome.

Below is my transcription of the inscription, along with scans of the original handwritten version and scans of plates from the book.

When you feel a raging violence engulfing you, Matthew – an uncontrollable, maddening compulsion to pulverize anything in sight – [all] of a sudden you’ll screech – a devastating, “primal scream” – perhaps only you will hear it – but it will release your mind from its cage – The release must be sought, though – you must run your life like fire – then come back and paint – paint with the furiousness of Van Gough – you have the great ability to paint – so do it !! How do you think the men in this book vented their agonies, their violence, their mad dreams? Paint, Matthew! Run!! And above all, Think!! But you must do all three! Don’t give into piggishness – overcome it!  – MEW

The Healer, René Magritte, 1937

The Polish Cavalier, Max Ernst, 1934

* Full citation:

Schmeller, Alfred. Surrealism: with 24 illustrations. Trans. Hilde Spiel. New York: Crown Publishers, 1956. Print.


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