Mort d'Acteon (Death of Actaeon)

André Masson

Balagny-sur-Thérain, France, 1896 - Paris, France, 1987
  • Date: 
  • Technique: 
    Watercolour and ink on paper
  • Dimensions: 
    61 x 48 cm
  • Category: 
    Work on paper, Drawing
  • Entry date: 
  • Register number: 
  • Long-term loan of private collection, Paris, 2012

According to Sonia, granddaughter of André Masson, the painter travelled to London a few months before his death, saying he wanted to visit the National Gallery, where he spent a long period gazing at the painting Diana and Actaeon (1556–59) by Titian. Mythological subjects were a persistent theme in the work of the Surrealist painters. Ever interested in the extraordinary and the miraculous, they usually recreated these motifs in the light of Freudian theories. In addition, myths seem to have fulfilled a therapeutic function. As Roger Caillois, a friend of Masson’s, wrote in his essay Le Mythe et l’homme (Myth and Man), “they fulfil an emotional need and they are there to help us resolve our own internal conflicts, which the individual could not control other than through an act condemned by society and even by himself.” Masson also emphasised this belief when he stated that for him, the meaning of mythology lies in providing relief for man “at times when he is lacking, which represents more or less his entire life.” Whatever the reason, in keeping with the content of the legendary Surrealist magazine Acéphale, from a very young age Masson was attracted to this type of narrative, creating his first mythological scenes during his time in Spain. More than once, he interpreted the fictitious story of the handsome hunter Actaeon recounted by Ovid in his Metamorphosis. As punishment for having seen Diana naked, he is devoured by his own dogs after a dramatic chase. In this specific piece, dated 1936, an enormous bloodstain serves as the backdrop to the protagonist’s terrible death, a premonition of the events which would soon devastate Spain during the Civil War.

Paloma Esteban Leal