Kurt Seligmann, Seer of Surrealism

Seligmann as Magical Printmaker

As he gained acceptance into the surrealist circle in the early 1930s, Seligmann’s printmaking experiments attracted the attention of art critics Pierre Courthion and Anatole Jakovsky, who proposed collaboration. The resulting print series were well received, and confirmed Seligman’s talent for connecting graphic and literary languages.

When he came to New York in 1939, Seligmann lost little time in seeking out the means of continuing to make prints:

In Paris I could always count on finding a dependable printer and never took the trouble to print my own plates. When I realized that in this country I did not know my way about sufficiently well to find a reliable printer I wrote my printer in Paris. He very generously sent me all his “secrets.”

In 1940, Seligmann obtained a nineteenth-century press and had it installed in his studio on Bryant Park. The first American prints, Hérodias (1940), Pleine Marge (1942), and the Oedipus series (1944), display a new character and convey an assured and patient use of the etching medium; Seligmann sometimes worked plates again and again until he was satisfied. Key advice may have come from Stanley William Hayter, the head of the print shop Atelier 17 in Paris, which he successfully re-created in New York. Hayter showed with Seligmann in a 1941 exhibition at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and they posed together in a surrealist group photo taken at the home of Peggy Guggenheim circa 1942. Seligmann’s skill as a printmaker gave him both the ability to market his ideas in a distributable form, and also allowed him to earn a livelihood as a teacher of printmaking.

Plates from the Protubérances cardiaques series

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