(Emil Nicolae, Victor Brauner și însoțitorii [Victor Brauner and His Fellow-travelers], Ed. Hasefer, Bucharest, 2013.)

The volume consists of twenty shorter texts that explore Victor Brauner’s universe in terms of biography, spiritual kinship and artistic analogy. The author succeeds in retracing elements of biography that go beyond the simple factual level, and finding the instants where “facts” often result in works of art, anecdotes worth remembering, and germs of stories that have never been written. The strategy of the book is to present Brauner in his relation to others: how they saw him, how Brauner saw them, how they interacted, how they “met”, often in spiritual ways only, through their shared interests and aspirations.

Combining French and Romanian sources – monographs, memoirs, letters –, files from the Brauner archive in Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris, but also pieces of information collected while attending exhibitions and conferences linked to the international avant-garde and to Brauner himself, Emil Nicolae addresses first of all the Romanian readers through his book, but often highlights pieces of information that are quite valuable also for non-speakers of Romanian.

Let us make an inventory of Nicolae’s main sources. One of the most frequently cited author is, of course, Sarane Alexandrian, the author of the first monograph on Brauner’s work, and also a close friend and disciple of the painter. Besides Alexandrian’s monographical works, references to his autobiography, L’aventure en soi are included. Exchanges of letters between Brauner and friends (present in the Brauner archives and/or published in Romanian periodicals), but also indirect references to the painter from other avant-garde authors are included (letters of Stephan Roll, B. Fondane, F. Brunea-Fox, Geo Bogza, memoirs of Sașa Pană etc.). The publications of the Gellu Naum Foundation from Bucharest (namely the Athanor series that publish materials of documentary value and also analytical texts concerning Romanian surrealism) are also cited besides interviews with Gellu Naum, close friend of Brauner, because of their documentary value.

Nicolae’s volume discusses the major, well-known themes of Brauner’s life and preoccupations – the invention of “pictopoetry” in 1924; his interest for the occult; his accident of 1938 when he lost one eye; his presence at the Villa Air Bel in Marseille in the company of other well-known surrealists during WWII; his exclusion from the group due to the Matta–Gorky affair etc. However, there are included into the volume also some interesting facts and connections that were less present so far in the international reference books concerning the artist.

It was not very well known for example that Brauner played a (marginal) role in a movie (Rapt, 1934) in the company of Jacques Hérold, with the help of Benjamin Fondane, who worked as a script writer at the time. Few facts have been known so far also about the life of Brauner’s first wife, Margit, after they had separated in 1938/1939. The connection with Anton Prinner (neighbour and fellow artist of Brauner in Paris, also coming from Eastern Europe) was not emphasized in such a manner either. Nicolae presents us also the role played by Brauner’s father-in-law in the foreign “distribution” of the Romanian avant-garde – Leopold Kosch being the translator of texts of the Romanian avant-garde texts that appeared in Der Sturm in 1930.

Anecdotes concerning Geo Bogza, C. Brancusi, Pablo Picasso and Oscar Dominguez show the density of the artistic network around Brauner well beyond surrealist art, diving deeper into the psychology of the characters.

An unexpectedly lengthy satirical account (signed by an author called Mihail Neamțu, originally published in 1947 in Contemporanul) about the 1947 International Surrealist Exhibition held at Galerie Maeght in Paris is also reproduced in the volume. As Nicolae points out, the text is most probably based on the criticism of the exhibition in the French communist press. The article named Brauner in a negative context – this meant also that at the time the painter was not welcome any more in Romania, at least for a few decades. It meant also an indirect warning for the Bucharest surrealists (Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum etc.), who had published a collective text, Le sable nocturne, in the catalogue of the exhibition.

Brauner saw himself as a “lunar” character as opposed to Picasso – a “solar” person. However, the network of his friends and acquaintances place him at the crossroads of several currents of thinking and art; also in the core of historical events and specific life patterns. Historically, he could have shared the destiny of several of his friends, but he did not; he became the author of his own life in many, often tragical, but definitely profound ways. Emil Nicolae’s new book on Brauner (which is the third for him on the topic) offers a valid introduction into the inventory of these issues.

Balázs Imre József