Surrealism Art: Seven Famous Surrealist Artists And Their Most Iconic Paintings

Published August 1, 2021
Updated November 8, 2023

A historical overview of the Surrealist movement and a fascinating look at the most influential surrealism art in history.

Founded by Andre Breton in the early 1920s and emphatically explained in his Manifestoes of Surrealism, Surrealism is often considered both a cultural and revolutionary art movement. The form dedicated itself to depicting the subconscious and as such many critics regard Surrealism art as a substantial divergence from traditional art movements.

By stripping ordinary objects of their normal function, Surrealist artists aimed to expose psychological truth and as a result, created abstract images in order to evoke empathy from the viewer.

Highly individualized, the movement relied heavily on the element of the unexpected, an idea that borrowed from various Dadaist techniques and eventually came to represent the alienation many experienced in the wake of a war-stricken world. These seven iconic surrealist paintings have become not only iconic in the field of surrealism, but in art as a whole:

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali's Persistence Of Memory Surrealist Painting

Undoubtedly the most famous Surrealist painting in history, The Persistence of Memory is Salvador Dali’s iconic ode to time. The dripping clocks in The Persistence of Memory reflect the inner workings of Dali’s subconscious and convey a simple (albeit complexly delivered) message: time as we know it is meaningless.

Metamorphosis Of Narcissus, Salvador Dali

Salvador Dalis Metamorphosis Of Narcissus Surrealism Art

Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus depicts the tale of Greek figure Narcissus, the egotistical man who pined for his reflection in a pool of water. In this painting, Narcissus is seen sitting in a pool with two other Narcissus-like figures hidden in the landscape.

Iconic Surrealism Art: The Son of Man, Rene Magritte

Surrealist Art The Son Of Man Painting

Rene Magritte painted The Son of Man as a self-portrait with the hope of conveying important messages about the individual. In regard to the painting, Magritte stated that:

“Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”

This Is Not a Pipe, Rene Magritte

Magrittes This Is Not A Pipe

In order to highlight Magritte’s belief that art was not reality but a mere representation of it, Magritte painted the well-known and philosophically provocative “This Is Not a Pipe” portrait.

In the work, Magritte did in fact paint a pipe however sought to relay to the viewer that the pipe wasn’t actually a pipe but rather an image of the real thing. Magritte’s painting holds true to the surrealist style as it strips signs and symbols of their original meaning and would become one of the most iconic surrealist paintings.

Iconic Surrealist Paintings: The Red Tower, Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico The Red Tower Painting

Even though he worked as a painter prior to Surrealism’s inception, the works of Greek painter Giorgio de Chirico’s had a great and lasting influence on the surrealist movement.

In fact, Surrealism’s most salient proponents like Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, and Yves Tanguy all acknowledged Chirico’s impact on their own work, particularly regarding Chirico’s use of color and composition to reflect brooding moods. The Red Tower was his first painting and became one of the most iconic surrealist paintings.

The Elephant Celebes, Max Ernst

The Elephant Celebes By Max Ernst

This 1921 surrealist painting is among the most famous of Ernst’s earlier works and heavily mimics the style of Giorgio de Chirico.

The Most Iconic Surrealist Paintings: Reply to Red, Yves Tanguy

Famous Surrealist Art Reply To Red

Yves Tanguy’s paintings exemplify more nonrepresentational surrealism and show vast, abstract landscapes yet utilize a minimal amount of colors.

Enjoy our article on these famous surrealist artists and their most famous surrealism art? Be sure to check out classic paintings with a Sesame Street twist and splendid photos of Salvador Dali.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "Surrealism Art: Seven Famous Surrealist Artists And Their Most Iconic Paintings.", August 1, 2021, Accessed May 18, 2024.