Sarane Alexandrian: French art historian, poet and right-hand man to André Breton

Sarane Alexandrian was a French art historian and poet, author of more than 50 books, the majority of which focused on the Surrealist movement. He was widely recognised as the right-hand man at the side of André Breton, the father of surrealism, for a brief period during the late 1940s.

Alexandrian was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1927. His father, Vartan Alexandrian, was of Armenian origin and served as stomatologist to King Faisal I, the pan-Arabist leader. At the age of six, and following a period of illness, he was sent to Paris to stay with his maternal grandmother, Sandrine Colin.

At the outbreak of war, in September 1939, Colin moved to Peyrat-le-Château, near Limoges, together with her grandson. Alexandrian's initiation to Dada and surrealism came in the summer of 1943 when, aged 16, he met Raoul Hausmann, one of the key figures in the Berlin Dada group, who was staying in the same village as a refugee. On meeting Hausmann and hearing about his colleagues, he recalled that:

"I was completely astounded. So, here were writers who did not look for the approval of the crowd but instead acted as intrepid agitators, fighting against prejudice, defying the usual audience and throwing their books like rather dangerous paper bombs to create panic in conventional society."

Like many young men of his age during wartime, Alexandrian worked together with members of the Resistance to collect supplies parachuted into the region by the Allies. This same period saw the first publications of his poems: a sonnet, "Esprit pur", appeared on the letters page of the local weekly newspaper when he was just 14. Shortly afterwards, a patriotic piece titled "Cri du coeur d'un jeune Oriental" was printed in the magazine Unir, edited by Robert Giraud. Giraud went on to publish several more pieces by Alexandrian in his 1945 group anthology Couronne de vent, as well as articles by him on Paul Eluard and Hausmann in Unir.

Inspired by the earlier meeting with Hausmann, Alexandrian wrote to Breton in March 1947. Breton replied just two days later and suggested meeting at the Sorbonne for a conference on surrealism and politics, organised by Tristan Tzara, the one-time Dadaist. It turned out to be a stormy event, during which Breton criticised Tzara for supporting Stalinism. Alexandrian defended Breton's position versus Tzara, which led to an immediate mutual admiration, to such an extent that he soon took up the role of secretary general of the Surrealist movement.

A disagreement within the movement, during October 1948, saw the departure of Victor Brauner and Roberto Matta, and resulted subsequently in Alexandrian himself leaving the formal group. He, Brauner and Matta set up a counter group, Contre-groupe H – named after Rimbaud's poem of the same name – and contributed to the short-lived magazine N.E.O.N.

Surrealism, however, was to remain important for the rest of his life. Away from the constraints of Breton's group, Alexandrian was able to concentrate on writing about the personalities and ideas of that world which meant so much to him, without having to be involved in the day-to-day politics of the movement. So, for example, his monographs on Dali (1969), André Breton par lui-même (André Breton in his Own Words, 1971), Max Ernst (1971), Hans Bellmer (1972) and Victor Brauner (2004) were biographies of subjects whom he had still counted as his friends, even after his departure.

His most significant writing project was probably Les Terres Fortunées du Songe (The Rich Lands of the Dream, 1980), which included 18 drawings by Jacques Hérold. Whilst owing a debt to surrealism, it is an unclassifiable work, combining elements of myth, science fiction and fantasy to tell the story of a future utopian world.

The autobiographical book, L'Aventure en Soi (The Adventure within Oneself), was published in 1990. A reviewer of this work wrote enthusiastically: " ... it is also a book of love; the love of life; above all love of reading, of art, of poetry and of course the love of women."

In 1995 Alexandrian founded Supérieur Inconnu, a literary magazine based on the declared principles of "complete non-conformism" and still dedicated, for the most part, to surrealism. The periodical continued until 2001 and was revived under the same title by Alexandrian in 2005, as an irregular publication.

A comprehensive biography, Sarane Alexandrian ou le Grand Défi de L'imaginaire (Sarane Alexandrian or the Great Challenge of the Imaginary) by Christophe Dauphin, was published in 2006. Dauphin observes of Alexandrian's remarkable creativity:

"Alexandrian has always worked towards the awakening and liberation of man, taking inspiration from living poetry, dreams, magical thinking or sexual magic: that is to say the whole of life."

His last work, Les Peintures Surrealistes (Surrealist Painters), has recently been published in French and English.

Marcus Williamson

Sarane Alexandrian, art historian, writer, philosopher: born Baghdad, Iraq 15 June 1927; married 1959 Madeleine Novarina (died 1991); died Ivry-sur-Seine, France 11 September 2009.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering