S U R R E A L I S T   P E R I O D

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The Dice is cast (Le Dé en est jeté), 1940, oil on wood


In 1937, at the age of fourteen, Madeleine Novarina began painting fantastic gouaches which were admired by her cousin, Constant Rey-Millet, a painter and founder of the magazine "Le Taudis" (The Slums). In the house of the latter, at La Tour Faucigny, she met his visiting friends: C. F. Ramuz, Igor Stravinsky and Jean Giono.

Tableau manifeste, Oil on wood, 1943

« Il y a autre chose que les formes du visage à détruire,

il y a les formes de l’intelligence. »

Le Toutarien ou l’animalicieux, 1945

Woe to he whose ephemeral virtues attack me

Gouache on paper, date unknown

    Madeleine Novarina painted her his first picture at the beginning of the war, in 1940, when she was not yet seventeen, at the back of of a Passive Defense sign indicating: Area A7. She painted a character with a bird's head in front of a large dice whose visible sides show the letter A and the letter Z, and called it Le Dé en est jeté (the die is cast).

Moving-lives (Nature-vives)

    Madeleine Novarina liked to collect rocks and driftwood from Lake Geneva, roots to paint them with a brush or to create sculptures-assemblies. She came up with the idea of composing Moving-lives, i.e. the opposite of still-lives,  improvising with her body and a found object or a chosen landscape, a sort of live painting.

Voici comment je prends racine,

Série des Nature-vives, 1946

The Belt of Venus,

Moving-life, 1958

IMEC/Fonds Alexandrian

Le monument aux vivants, 1945

moving-life composed with a root and the body of her brother, Louis Novarina

IMEC/Fonds Alexandrian

This is how I am taking root

Moving-life, 1946

    Whilst spending her holiday at Marie Bacharach’s (her sister) in Mar Vivo, Madeleine Novarina often improvised outdoor happenings, such as Le Second mariage de la mère Ubu (The Second Marriage of Mother Ubu), in 1958, which was the subject of an amateur film. Also in 1958, she drew eyes and mouths with toothpaste  on all the giant cacti in the garden, turning them into hallucinating characters watching the guests. There, Madeleine created and photographed many Nature-vives using her own body. In one of them, La Ceinture de Vénus (The Belt of Venus), she created a pattern around her vulva by surrounding it by a large amber necklace twisted three times.

Madeleine Novarina, Sarane Alexandrian, éditions de l’Amateur, p. 99

Dance of joy, concrete and wire, 1945

IMEC/fonds Alexandrian


    In 1944 and 1945, Madeleine Novarina painted restlessly and with all available media, taking the de-nailed seat of a chair to paint on it, "Le Poussin qui s'étonne de la vie (chick surprised by life). Frescoes were decorating the walls of her bedroom, were she also wrote provocative mottoes with colourful letters. Her vocation as a painter was so strong that she imagined a type of woman whose head was shaped as a palette; the hole for the thumb both suggested the eye and the mouth. This hybrid creature is featured in large drawings in brush and ink as part of her series Scènes du pays d'où (scenes from the country where) and La Femme de demain (tomorrow’s woman) who lifts her legs to express joy.

Madeleine Novarina, text by Sarane Alexandrian,  p. 27

    Madeleine Novarina used to mischievously say: "I was born surreal" - which is also the only way of being. For André Breton, Surrealism was not an art school, but a state of mind leading to combine fantasy with reality in order to live fully. The members of the Surrealist group instantly saw this state of mind in the twenty-two years old newcomer from Thonon, who had come to Paris with her early work. She was immediately invited to take part in their Brussels exhibition "Surrealism in 1945", alongside Magritte, Chirico, Arp and Max Ernst.

Madeleine Novarina and surrealism, p. 4

    From December  15th, 1945 to January 15th, 1946 Madeleine Novarina was part of the first post-war Surrealist exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1945 (Surrealism in 1945), curated by Paul Nougé and Marcel Mariën at La Boétie  gallery, in Brussels. Her painting Trois entreprises (Three Companies) was placed between works of Paul Klee and Max Ernst.

    In 1946, Madeleine Novarina became friend with Victor Brauner. Presented in June to André Breton who had returned from the United States, she became a member of the Surrealist group and attended all the weekly meetings. She showed two paintings, a gouache and two drawings at the Surindépendants exhibition.

Inks in splashes: the Supervisions

    The main activity of Madeleine Novarina’ surrealist period consisted in splashing ink on large sheets of Bristol board. Her ink works, which she called "supervisions" do not stand for superior visions, but revised, supervised visions, spontaneously born out of a methodical process or patiently developed from expansive automatism.

    The ink was thrown away from the surface or dripped onto it and she was spreading it by rotating or tilting the sheet and sought in the spoils a vision she could then emphasise with the brush.

    Some of these ink drawings such as as La Parade nuptiale, Le Couple flânant ensemble, Les Amants dans le désert or Le Feu du désir (courtship, couple strolling together, lovers in the desert, the fire of desire), feature a man and a woman expressing their joy to gaze at each other, to dance with one another, to walk together or kiss.

    In L'Intermédiaire (the intermediary), a character who is none other than Victor Brauner (his anxious eye, his half-humble-half-proud attitude of the times can be recognised here) induces the encounter between the two lovers and seems to prevent the girl from reaching the boy.


    To announce that she felt transformed as a new woman thanks to her divorce from an unhappy first marriage in 1956 and her love affair with Sarane Alexandrian, she used the name "Varina" to sign a series of gouaches and drawings of a wild gaiety, real Caprices, describing her intimate times with the beloved man.

Early works, 1935

Le Retour des hirondelles, 1935

The Die is cast  (Le Dé en est jeté), 1940, oil on wood

Hand with things (La Main aux choses)

Moving-life, 1959

IMEC/fonds Alexandrian

Folding shutter, painting on wood, 1952

Varina’s Glee, 1956

Monique Pignet’s collection

Gouache on paper, 1946

Monique Pignet’s collection

Madeleine Novarina, text by Sarane Alexandrian,  p. 74

Early works, gouaches, Palettes-Women (Femmes-palettes), Moving-lives (Nature-vives), Supervisions and Varina


Eye of the Caves


Prickly Spectators, Moving-life produced with the cacti of a garden in Mar Vivo (Var, France), 1958

IMEC/fonds Alexandrian

Gouache on wood, 1946

IMEC/Fonds Alexandrian

A Princess of better days,

1956, collection Christophe Dauphin

Créature du pays d’où, 1945

Femmes-palettes Series

La Femme de demain, 1945

Femmes-palettes Series

Stop ! Or the Shadow Area Customs Officer, 1948

Night Concert in the Country Where from


The dinner of the famous Predator, 1948

Small Tree with Glasses, 1948

One cannot believe one’s eyes, 1948

The Living Scarecrows, 1948

Sabbath in the Moutains, 1948

The Fauna of my Dreams, 1948

She who dances on a Volcano, 1948

Painting guide the Architecte, 1946

The Glare, 1946

Hens seeking a man, 1946

The Child found like a Mushroom, 1946

Lovers of the great Hights, 1946

Christophe Dauphin’s Collection

T’es pacol de lectiver, 1945

The Vegetal Octopus, 1946

Antediluvian Clowning, 1947

Apparition of I don’t know what 1948

Watercolor, 1946

Pierre Novarina’s collection, Les Gets, France

Watercolor, 20 x 28 cm, date unknown

Françoise Raslovleff’s collection, France

The Branch-Woman,

Valère Novarina’s collection

Early works, 1935

Doubting Mother Hen, 1949

Maison de l’Art Vivant Collection

What is happening there


Barbaric Procession, 1949

La gardienne de l’espérance, 1953

The Courtship, 1955

L’Intermédiaire, 1955

L’Attente du bonheur sous la pluie, 1956

Varina caressed by her Cat, 1956

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Le Fruit vivant, 1943

La Coquelicote, 1943

Magritte’s poster for the first post-war Surrealist exhibition, which Madeleine Novarina took part in. The last name on the list, Witz, is the pseudonym of Christian Dotremont, who Magritte had excluded from the event.

L’Ensorceleuse, 1946

L’oiseau à la fenêtre, 1946

The big beast pregnant with a bird, 1946

The Contributor


Mysterious game, 1948

The Metallic hair of a little thing, 1948

The Flirt, 1948

Partir du bon pied, 1945

Femmes-palettes Series

The Incredibles’ Hot Spot, 1956

Period Ihttp://www.madeleine-novarina-eng.com/MN_Eng/Period_I.html#
Period IIPeriod_II.html
Period IIIPeriod_III.html