Tuesday, November 8, 2016

1898-1963: Kay Sage, American

Photo from Internet
Kay Sage was one  of the most prominent Surrealist artists in America. She created a new approach to Surrealism by replacing recognizable symbols with mysterious  architectural forms in an austere, unidentifiable landscape.

Background: Kay’s father was a 5-term state senator in New York. Soon after Kay's birth, her mother left her husband and her older daughter to live and travel in Europe, taking Kay with her. Kay's father continued to support them.

Training: Kay began formal art training at the age of 21, attending schools in Washington, DC and Rome.

Private life: At 27 Kay married an Italian prince, becoming a princess instead of an artist. After ten years of marriage, she grew tired of the idle lifestyle of the aristocracy and divorced the prince.

Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy
In 1938 the famous French Surrealist Yves Tanguy saw Kay's work at an exhibit in Paris. He was impressed enough to seek her out. At the time, Yves was married, but separated. He was 2 years younger than she. Kay and Yves fell in love.

At the onset of World War II in 1939, Kay and Yves moved to New York where they were married in 1940.

After the war, Kay and Yves moved to Connecticut. They apparently had 15 productive years, painting in adjoining studios, marred only by the fact that his work overshadowed hers.

It is said that Kay repelled visitors with her haughty behavior. She and Yves drank and smoked heavily, and fought violently.

In 1955, Yves died  suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 55; Kay was 57. She was devastated by Yves' death.

Kay spent the next 8 years preserving Yves' legacy. She also concentrated on writing. But failing eyesight caused her to slip into depression, and she finally ended her life by shooting herself.

Career: Kay started painting seriously after her divorce from the Prince when she was 37. A couple of years later, she moved to Paris and got involved in the Surrealist movement, which was peaking about that time, the late 1930s.

Kay did the bulk of her mature work between 1940, when she married Tanguy, and 1955, when he died. Her reputation also grew during that period, though she found it difficult to emerge from Tanguy's shadow.

Most of Sage's paintings focus on free-standing architectural structures, including walls, towers, and latticework.  Sometimes draperies seem to stand in for figures. Sage often sets her objects on plains that recede to distant horizons. She render her forms in meticulous detail, using a gray-green-ochre palette. She heightened the mystery of her paintings with curious titles, like "In the Third Sleep."

After Tanguy's death,  she devoted time to preserving his reputation. She also wrote a lot of poetry, mostly in slangy French, an autobiography, and 4 one-act plays.

Her painting style has certain elements in common with that of Tanguy. Here's a sample of Tanguy for comparison.

Yves Tanguy, 1900-1955
Second Thoughts, 1939
Photo by Jan Looper Smith
Our photos of Kay's work:

A Little Later, 1938
Denver / Jan's photo

Danger, Construction Ahead, 1940
Oil on canvas
Photo by Dan L. Smith

In the Third Sleep, 1944
Chicago / Jan's photo

I Saw Three Cities, 1944
Katonah Museum, Princeton

Page 49, 1950
Williams College / Jan's photo

Men Working, 1951
Joslyn / Jan's photo

Tomorrow is Never, 1955
Metropolitan / Jan's photo, 2015