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Nine Manuscripts By French Writer André Breton at Sotheby's Paris
André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme. Poisson soluble. Poisson soluble II (7 cahiers d’écriture automatique). Estimated at €300 000-500 000. © Sotheby's Images.

PARIS, FRANCE.-Sotheby’s announced the sale in Paris on May 20, 2008 of an exceptional collection of nine manuscripts by the French writer André Breton. The group, which is being sold by the family of Breton’s first wife, Simone Collinet, has until now never come to the market.

The most remarkable document in the collection is without doubt the only known autograph manuscript of the Manifeste du surréalisme, which was written in 1924 and which defines “once and for all” the Surrealists’ credo. The 21-page paper, which is richly marked and annotated, was originally meant as an introduction to the publication of automatic texts by Breton under the title Poisson soluble. However, in the course of his writing, Breton expanded on his ideas and developed a theory of greater ambition; one which reconciles - from a Freudian background - literature and life, through a new type of language, stimulated by dreams, imagination, insanity, chance, license, or fear.

Breton writes: « Il s’agissait de remonter aux sources de l’imagination poétique, et, qui plus est, de s’y tenir. C’est ce que je ne prétends pas avoir fait. Il faut prendre beaucoup sur soi pour vouloir s’établir dans ces régions reculées où tout a d’abord l’air de se passer si mal (…) Toujours est-il qu’une flèche indique maintenant la direction de ces pays et que l’atteinte du but véritable ne depend plus que de l’endurance du voyageur »

The manifesto sees Breton pay an unforgettable tribute to his contemporaries « qui ont entendu la voix surréaliste, celle qui continue à prêcher à la veille de la mort et au-dessus des orages ». Estimated at €300 000-500 000, the manuscript was first exhibited to the public in 2002 when it featured in La Révolution Surréaliste at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

A second highlight of the collection is the definitive autograph version of Poisson soluble, perhaps the most important of Breton’s automatic writings. This document was published in 1924 by Simon Kra together with the Manifeste du surréalisme. Estimated at €200,000-300,000, the extensive 59 page manuscript brings together some 32 texts and is the result of four years of automatic writing between 1921 and 1924. As a key statement of the manifesto’s ideas, Poisson soluble was acclaimed and considered a fundamental work of the Surrealist movement, particularly by the writer Julien Gracq, who was deeply influenced by Breton’s work. Gracq states: « d’une légèreté contagieuse, par la présence d’une nature miniaturisée, toute de douceur et de délicatesse, une nature déjà en marche vers l’homme, où est partout présente la femme naturellement fée ». In a letter to Jean Gaulmier, dated January 21, 1958, Breton explains the origin of Poisson soluble : « Ces 32 textes (…) ont presque tous pris naissance dans des cahiers d’écolier à couverture illustrée en couleurs, comme on en trouvait encore alors, au cours de séances à plusieurs ou à deux (généralement Robert Desnos et moi) s’appliquant simultanément à la même tâche. Ceci avait presque toujours lieu à Paris dans mon atelier, 42 rue Fontaine ».

Seven further notebooks will also be included in the sale and these were given to Simone Collinet by Breton. These notebooks range in estimate between €20,000-80,000 and they give important textual differences with the definitive version and throw precious light on the methods chosen by the Surrealists in practicing automatic writing.

Marguerite Bonnet, a specialist in Breton’s work and the publisher of the notebooks under the title Poisson soluble II, states : « L’écriture si régulière de Breton est parfois déformée par la rapidité de la notation. Certaines pages ne portent aucune rature. Il arrive qu’un ‘raté’ se produise dès la phrase de départ et qu’elle soit remplacée par une autre, totalement différente ; il arrive aussi que le texte soit abandonné au bout de quelques lignes, parfois au cours d’un mot » The notebooks include 12 poetry collages, composed of strips of printed matter cut out from newspapers. Only one of these poetry collages by Breton has been made public in the past (from the collection of Pierre Naville).

André Breton and Simone Collinet, nee Kahn, met in May 1920 in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. They married the following year and settled on Rue Fontaine in September 1921. Their Rue Fontaine apartment acquired immense fame, as it served not only as a showcase for Breton’s work, but as the Surrealists’ meeting point and their general headquarters. Simone Collinet was involved in the very first automatic writing sessions, together with Breton, Desnos, Crevel and Péret. She was Breton’s wife and companion during the years of Dada’s evolution into Surrealism.

The auction will be conducted by Cyrille Cohen, Vice-President of Sotheby’s France, who was the auctioneer at the celebrated André Breton, 42 rue Fontaine sale at Calmels Cohen in 2003.

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