It began as an intellectual literary movement which was an offshoot of French Communism. But a new exhibition will explore how Surrealism became a major influence in the commercial worlds including fashion, film and advertising, all of which its founder, Andre Breton, abhorred.
Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design will be the first to explore how artists such as Salvador Dali engaged with design and how figures from the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli to the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock were influenced by its aesthetic.
The show, which will open in March, is the next blockbuster in the Victoria and Albert Museum's series which investigates major movements of the 20th century,from art nouveau to modernism.
Announcing details yesterday, Ghislaine Wood, the curator, said: "Surrealism was responsible for some of the most visually intriguing objects of the 20th century. We hope to explore how Surrealism entered the world of design, creating a new visual language of modernity. It grabbed the popular imagination and is still tremendously powerful today."
Although it was part of the museum's series on the 20th century, it had not been planned as such, she said. Instead, it was prompted by the realisation of how much Surrealist material was already in the V&A collections but had never been displayed. Many items from these colllections will go on display for the first time, alongside iconic pieces such as Dali's Mae West Lips sofa and Lobster Telephone.
There will be Surrealist paintings by Dali, Max Ernst and René Magritte, whose work inspired a strain of 1930s advertising which will be included. And the curators have dug out items including the recently rediscovered bird cage from Schiaparelli's salon in Paris and pieces first seen in important early Surrealist exhibitions in 1936 and 1939.
One important British figure in the dissemination of Surrealism was Edward James, a wealthy British artist who became a patron of Magritte and Dali and transformed his home, Monkton House at West Dean, Sussex, into a Surrealist dream. The Dali sofa and telephone were made for him.
Miss Wood said the exhibition would show how a movement with a politically radical agenda became a phenomenon of widespread importance.
The commercialisation that artists such as Dali embraced created tensions within the original Surrealist group to the extent that when Joan Miro and Max Ernst produced stage designs for the Ballets Russes in 1926, Breton disrupted the first performance in protest.
Yet almost all the major artists associated with Surrealism produced works in other media and the exhibition will explore the relationship between Surrealist fine art and design.
The influence of Surrealism became so great that Breton suggested - unsuccessfully - that Surrealist objects should be given a logo so the group he had founded in 1924 maintained control.
Nearly 300 exhibits will be grouped in themes such as "the illusory interior" and "dreams".
The home and interiors became a very important motif representing the unconscious, which the Surrealists thought was so important. There was a related fascination with dreams, as in the memorable dream sequence devised by Dali for Hitchcock's film Spellbound.
Nature was another major inspiration for the Surrealists and they collected objects to use in their work, as in Eileen Agar's Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse made from materials scavenged from a Dorset beach.
The representation of the body was another recurring theme with the human form manipulated and changed, often in a highly erotic manner.
Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design runs from 29 March to 22 July 2007Reuse content