The Beauty of Surrealism -Kay Sage

The reason I am still writing this blog after two years is that I keep finding new and wonderful pieces to explore. Today, the impressive oeuvre of Kay Sage has been filling my thoughts and my iPad!

Sage was born in 1898 in New York. Her parents divorced when Kay was young and she was taken to Europe by her mother.  In 1920, she moved to Rapallo, Italy and began her career in the arts. Here she met her first husband, Prince Ranieri di San Faustino who she divorced ten years later and with the divorce came her move to Paris and her connection to the Surrealist movement was set.

Sage’s work is ethereal, melancholic, haunting with the use of landscape as metaphor for the mind and a muted palette that cannot fail to move you.


1938 and Sage met the love of her life,fellow surrealist, Yves Tanguy; or should I say, she saw his work ‘Je Vous Attend’ and fell in love – not unsurprisingly.


Tanguy was the more well-known as an artist and Sage was often seen to be in his shadow. Where his works were full of curved biomorphic forms, Sage was more inclined to use rigid, architectual shapes, buildings, and faceless human forms.

In 1955, Tanguy died suddenly from a stroke and Sage was devastated by her loss. Coupled with deteriorating eyesight, she reduced her output, but not the emotional intensity. This work, ‘Tomorrow is Never’ from 1955 is, without doubt one of the most heartrending and melancholic pieces I have found, but also one of the most beautiful. This alone would be worth the airfare to New York to see it at The Met!


Sage uses the landscape as a metaphor for the mind, as the surrealists were wont to do. It is clear that her grief is manifesting itself in this barren landscape, showing us the isolation she was clearly feeling at Tanguy’s passing. The scaffolding holds the figures in a state of suspended animation; powerless to escape and not willing to try. They are here, but not here- draped in clothes that disguise their shape and gender. The constructions rise out of the mists of despair, perhaps they are organic and grow as the grief intensifies. The furthest one could be the newest, holding Sage herself.

As a metaphor for grief encompassing the spirit, this is powerful stuff! Sage never recovered from her loss and in 1963, her second attempt at suicide was successful. In her note, she wrote: “The first painting by Yves that I saw, before I knew him, was called “I’m Waiting for You”. I’ve come. Now he’s waiting for me again. I’m on my way.”

Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder and another way of looking at this is in terms of entrapment and being unable to break free from your current existence. The fact that she has used latticework instead of solid forms to hold her figures mean that the figures can look out of the constructions of their own making into a landscape that is empty of a future; a ‘no-man’s land’. Who knows what is lurking behind those mists and who would be strong enough to break free?

The last word has to be Sage’s:

I have built an ivory tower of despair… I scream, I scream… In my ivory tower.

The Best Surrealists – Kay Sage 

Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy