Tanguy, the son of a retired navy captain, was born January 5, 1900, at the Ministry of Naval Affairs on Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. His parents were both of Breton origin. After his father’s death in 1908, his mother moved back to her native Locronan, Finistère, and he ended up spending much of his youth living with various relatives.
Style and legacy
Tanguy’s paintings have a unique, immediately recognizable style of nonrepresentational surrealism. They show vast, abstract landscapes, mostly in a tightly limited palette of colors, only occasionally showing flashes of contrasting color accents. Typically, these alien landscapes are populated with various abstract shapes, sometimes angular and sharp as shards of glass, sometimes with an intriguingly organic look to them, like giant amoebae suddenly turned to stone.
According to Nathalia Brodskaïa, Mama, Papa is Wounded! (1927) is one of Tanguy’s most impressive paintings. Brodskaïa writes that the painting reflects his debt to Giorgio de Chirico – falling shadows and a classical torso – and conjures up a sense of doom: the horizon, the emptiness of the plain, the solitary plant, the smoke, the helplessness of the small figures. Tanguy said that it was an image he saw entirely in his imagination before starting to paint it. He also claimed he took the title of this and other works from psychiatric textbooks:
“I remember spending a whole afternoon with … André Breton,” he said, “leafing through books on psychiatry in the search for statements of patients which could be used as titles for paintings.” Jennifer Mundy, however, discovered that the title of this painting and several others were taken from a book about paranormal phenomena, Traite de metaphysique (1922) by Dr Charles Richet.
Tanguy’s style was an important influence on several younger painters, such as Roberto Matta, Wolfgang Paalen, and Esteban Francés, who adopted a Surrealist style in the 1930s. Later, Tanguy’s paintings (and, less directly, those of de Chirico) influenced the style of the 1980 French animated movie Le Roi et l’oiseau, by Paul Grimault and Prévert. Tanguy’s works also influenced the science fiction cover art of illustrator Richard Powers.