Le cirque (Triptyque), 1913
b. 1895, St. Denis, Paris, France
d. 1952, Charenton-le-Pont, France
Paul Éluard (born Eugène Émile Paul Grindel) was a French poet, a leading force in the Surrealist movement, and a luminary in the artistic milieu of his time. At sixteen, Éluard was sent to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland to recover from a pulmonary condition. It was during his recuperation that Éluard discovered a passion for poetry, reading works by avant-garde poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Charles Baudelaire, and Arthur Rimbaud. It was also during this time that he tried his hand at drawing; it is said that the poet was inspired by the artist life represented in the books he consumed. By his early twenties, Éluard decided that his writing was superior to his art, and have up the practice. No more than a dozen works by the artist are known to exist (all created between 1910 and 1918). However, his poetry would aim to present a visual and sensory perception of poetic meaning.
Éluard published his first collection of poems in 1913, while still bed-ridden in Switzerland. The following year, after his release from the sanatorium, war was declared and Éluard signed on as a medic. Towards the end of the war, he published for the first time under the name “Éluard”—the maiden name of his maternal grandmother. He then moved to Paris where he became acquainted with André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault, with whom Éluard put his name to the original Surrealist manifesto. The poet became close friends with the great artists of the decade, who frequently lent illustrations to his poems—Max Ernst (Les Malheurs des immortels, Paris, 1922), Jean Hans Arp (Violette Nozières, 1934), Pablo Picasso (Les Yeux fertiles, Paris, 1936), Man Ray (Facile, Paris, 1935; Les Mains libres, Paris, 1937), and Henri Laurens (La Dernière nuit, 1942), among others. The literary critic Marcel Raymond, wrote, “If Ernst was the founder of Surrealist painting, no poet came closer than Éluard to the specifications in Breton’s manifesto.” During World War II, Éluard worked within the French Resistance, and his poems were secretly circulated under multiple pseudonyms. Thousands of copies of Éluard’s magnificent 1942 poem “Liberté” were dropped by parachute by the Royal Air Force over occupied France.
Éluard was a notable collector of his contemporaries, including Ernst, De Chirico, and Picasso. Éluard believed that there was complete fluidity between the visual arts and the written word, a concept to which his interdisciplinary career is a testament.