History of Art and Film Seminar Series: Cosmic Magic: Talismans and Ciphers in the Objects of Victor Brauner, 1940-1946

Posted by jcm22 at Oct 18, 2018 04:50 PM |
12 December 2018 - Unable to flee Vichy France, the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner hid, alone, in the Alps. Atkin examines the research into magic Brauner here conducted and the protective talismans he created in the context of Surrealism’s broader shift towards the occult.

Date: 12 December 2018
Time: 4pm - 6pm
Location: Ken Edwards Fifth Floor SR 527

ContactDr Samuel Raybone


Speaker: Dr Will Atkin

During the Second World War the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner found himself trapped in Vichy France. After several failed attempts to obtain a visa and passage out of the country, he eventually went into hiding in the mountains of Les Hautes-Alpes. Living in fear for his life, and in almost total isolation, Brauner applied himself to months of serious research into magic: principally into protective talismans, which could guarantee his safety. This paper will explore underlying themes of magic that already existed in Brauner’s work during the 1930s, and which subsequently came to inform his wartime objects, created between 1942 and 1945. It will go on to map out his wartime researches, and the significance of historical figures such as the Renaissance scholar-magicians Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus, and the German Romantic poet Novalis, who all formed important points of reference in Brauner's practice of magic, steering it towards cosmic themes. Although Brauner was officially attached to the surrealist group during this period, his wartime oeuvre represents a more or less clean break with the psychoanalytical and revolutionary paradigms of pre-war surrealist discourse. On this point, this paper will consider Brauner’s researches of the early-mid 1940s within the wider context of the reorientation of the group’s interests, shifting towards magic and the occult as it entered the post-war era.

This seminar presents material from a book project entitled Surrealist Sorcery: the Magical Objects of the International Surrealist Movement (under contract with Bloomsbury, to appear 2020).


Dr Will Atkin (william.atkin@nottingham.ac.uk) was awarded his PhD by the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2017 for his thesis, Theories and Practices of Magic in Surrealist Discourse on the Object, 1929-1976. He now lectures on nineteenth- and twentieth-century art history at the University of Nottingham.

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