masson, Emblematic View of Toledo , 1936


Emblematic View of Toledo is an example of Surrealist art produced by Andre Masson in 1936. This work of art is an example of Masson’s use of bright colors to portray ideas of metamorphosis, power, and struggle.  This work deals with much of the same themes as other pieces of Masson’s work such as the human body, portraying Masson’s obsession with life and death, but also has many more features.  These additional views let us into Andre Masson’s life from a different angle.

There is much historical importance linking the style of painting seen in this work and the images it depicts.  Masson was looking heavily at El’ Greco’s View of Toledo.  The most obvious link of images is the city of Toledo that was used by Greco, of Greek descent, in the sixteenth century during the Spanish inquisition.  Greco worked in this city for over forty years and it was very beloved by him.  In his Mannerist work, he portrays the city just before a lightning storm in an apocalyptic fashion.  This was during very religious times and was painted in a way that linked the heavens and the earth.  Masson brings back this Toledo setting in his composition of dreamlike images in Emblematic View of Toledo.  The human form is contorted, long, and tense portraying anxiety like Greco had done centuries ago to his human forms.  The Minotaur, a symbol in Greek mythology, and the lion are introduced to represent the man’s power and his animalistic qualities.  Through a historical lens, it is evident that Greco is returning to a more master-like style while portraying a Surrealist thought of mind.

This work is much more complex with multiple figures rather than one central object.  Although Emblematic View of Toledo is divided into block-like sections, the piece still flows from one entity to another via the bright colors that stream through the background and give us no sense of location.  There is a human bent over as if to inspect the geometric floating item just in front of him, a bull and a lion, and the city of Toledo just below the human.  The bull is stretched out as if being prepared for a slaughter, and the lion’s teeth are bared with waves paint streaming around the head showing aggressive movement toward the human.  There is no real fear in the humans posture, and all the items although visually connected do not seem to affect each other directly.  This imagery is almost as if someone has taken four completely different dreams and thrown them together on a canvas without them interacting with one another.  There seems to be no physical connection between these entities but rather a more dream-like wash of random items together.  There is no meaning but to be confusing and cause the viewer to contemplate possible solutions to this complicated problem.

Color and brushstroke are the main reasons why the composition has what appears to be a flow of energy.  The human is muscularly large and has potentially a lot of power although he is very gentle in this picture.  The calmness of the human is evident in the muscles that are tan and stone like for the majority of the body but show the possibility of strength with the red highlights.  In addition, the posture shows a human that is slouched or is depressed with sagging shoulders.  The finger he points at the slaughtered cow is another form of energy due to the spraying of red lines coming from his finger.  The cow is a grayish color indicating death but has color along vital organs that indicate life.  The cow leaks into the city, which is vibrant with a multitude of colors.  The coloration in the city deals with the spiritual meaning behind the city of Toledo.  Greco painted this work to show the connection between the heavens and Earth.  Masson is achieving this same quality by incorporating an already establish, famous work. The bull is a necessity of life and is placed above the city for the nourishment it gives the city. The movement of the head is obvious from the force lines and it is obvious the deadly effects this might have on whatever the lion is attacking.  The red lines bending around the face indicate movement and the claws are a red blur.  Although the set up of these items has been described, the colors and brushstroke that show this movement of energy are key to understanding the meaning behind this painting.

Post World War One, I believe there was a definite connection between the feelings this work portrays and the feelings of the people.  Anxiety encompassed nations.  They were faced with destroyed cities, injured veterans, a loss of infrastructure, and a international feud coming to a close.  There were many people who turned to religion to find help and others who turned to negative ways.  Either way the anxiety, man’s struggle, or the heavenly power that are shown in the painting were also being experienced around this time.

Location in many works is key to understanding the work itself.  Usually the background of a painting gives clues to location, but this piece is slightly different.  This work is essentially a dream and can convey it’s message without having a setting.  The images are set in place to deliver the point, and it can be interpreted universally in many locations without having a definite meaning.  The emotion felt after viewing this is something introspective of yourself and it does not apply to one nation or people.

All in all, Masson’s Emblematic View of Toledo is a work that conveys a message and uses an old image to evoke that message.  He refers back to El’ Greco’s work and without this extra knowledge it would have been hard to interpret.  Once the link was found uniting the two artists spread centuries apart and from different areas it was much easier to understand.  The imagination of a surrealist artist took these old icons and converted them to something the people would be able to understand and evoke their emotions through.

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