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Paul Éluard Photo

Paul Éluard

French Poet

Born: December 14, 1895 - Saint Denis, France
Died: November 18, 1952 - Charenton-le-Pont, France
Movements and Styles:
"The poet is he who inspires, rather than he who is inspired."
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Paul Éluard
"We want to be, when we are young, A little man. I would like to be a big child, Stronger and fairer than a man, And more lucid than a child."
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Paul Éluard
"There is another world, but it is inside this one."
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"Elephants are contagious."
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Paul Éluard
"Hope raises no dust."
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"The earth is blue like an orange."
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"And by the power of the word, I begin my life again."
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Paul Éluard

Summary of Paul Éluard

Considered one of the founding fathers of Surrealism, Éluard was the most gifted of the movement's poets. A friend and influence of/on any number of the Parisian avant-garde, he produced a body of work that married poetic experimentation with a commitment to political activism. Though idealism blinkered him to some of the realities of life under communist rule, his belief in human freedoms was unyielding. His convictions saw him take up an active role with the French Resistance and he emerged from the war as a national hero. Having fallen in love and married three times, his seventy or so publications are adorned with a selection of moving love poems. He was, according to the Egyptian poet Georges Henein, "the bearer of tenderness" and his ultimate goal in life was always the same: to use words "to reduce the distances between people".


  • By the time André Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, Éluard and Max Ernst had already completed their second book collaboration (Les Malheurs des immortels). The two men had anticipated the incredulous playfulness of non-sequiturs and the strange, dream-like, imagery that would become the seal of the Surrealist movement.
  • Éluard abandoned art for poetry early on is his career. He was, however, an enthusiastic collaborator who, with Breton, Valentine Hugo and Nusch Éluard, pioneered the Surrealist experiment of the "Exquisite Corpse". Though dismissed by some critics as no more than a parlour game (in which each participant "blindly" completes a section of a piecemeal image), it became a defining feature of Surrealist art and was valiantly defended by Breton as a way to "escape self-criticism and fully release the minds of metaphorical activity".
  • Éluard most famous work was called Liberté, j'écris ton nom (Liberty, I Write your Name), written during the Nazi occupation of France. Its message of hope and freedom made Liberté one of the most important poems in modern French history when thousands of copies were dropped across France by the British air force. An active member of the French Resistance, the poem secured him the status of "national war hero". Liberté was later transformed into a "poème-objet" by Fernand Léger who married the text with his striking stencil technique.
  • Éluard collaborated with the Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró on what would become a landmark event in publishing history. Eleven years in the making, and only completed by Miró after the poet's death, À toute épreuve was a project with no hierarchy between text and image. It was conceived of, in the words of Miró, as "a book [that has] all the dignity of a sculpture carved in marble" and only 20 copies were produced. It was in the words of the two men who produced it, a work of "plastic harmony".

Biography of Paul Éluard

Paul Éluard Photo

Éluard dreamed of a world in which mankind would be as one: "even when we sleep we watch over each other, and this love heavier than a lake's rope fruit", he continued, was "without laughter or tears [and] lasts forever".

Paul Éluard and Important Artists and Artworks

Le Cirque Triptych (The Circus Triptych) (1913)

Although he is known as one of the most important figures in twentieth century poetry, Éluard produced a small number of drawings during his early years. By the early 1920s Éluard had decided that his writing was superior to his art and no more than a dozen artworks by him, all produced between 1910-18, are known to exist. In this grouping of abstract compositions, produced by an 18-year-old Éluard, strange and stylised organic shapes, boldly outlined in black - partly human, partly animal - float and tumble under the spotlights of a circus big top. Produced during his stay at a sanatorium in Clavadel, Switzerland, where he was recovering from tuberculosis, Éluard's crude and childlike crayon drawings have some resemblance to Kandinsky's abstractions.

The critic Piero Bisello said of the work, "It might have been inspired by a circus visit in the nearby Davos, or by photographs, or his childhood in Paris. It is formally very appealing and it reminds of later works by Miró: the variegated palette, the stylised and rounded depiction of living bodies in a flat environment typical of child scribbles, and the thick black outline of the figures. Moreover, there is a strong formal charge coming from [...] a roughness that doesn't merely remind [us] of the inexperience of the artist, but brings up an aesthetically interesting contrast between the neat marks and the blurry patches of colour".

Les Malheurs des immortels (Misfortunes of the Immortals) (1922)

Artist: Max Ernst

In this strange, dream-like image, reminiscent of a nineteenth century wedding photograph, Ernst presents a formally-dressed male figure - with the head of an eagle - beside a seated woman, her face replaced by an inverted butterfly or moth. The towel draped over the birdman's arm suggests that he could be either a hairdresser or a waiter, while the snake provides the time-honoured symbol of the perils of temptation. The two friends collaborated on the creation of the poems, "playing like children at cutting and pasting and figuring out the world in order to remodel it", wrote French academic Sonia Assa.

Although André Breton's Surrealist Manifesto was yet to be published, Éluard and Ernst's second book collaboration, Les Malheurs des immortels (from which this image is taken) clearly presages the bizarre playfulness and interest in the subconscious of the movement to come. On each of the book's 20 double pages, there is a title, a poem and an Ernst collage. But, in a reversal of the conventional illustrated children's book, it is the poems that illustrate the image. As MoMA describes it on its website, "the book pairs the semantic dislocations of Éluard's poems with the visual disjunctions of Ernst's recent collages".

Assa adds, "turning the pages of Les Malheurs des immortels for the first time, we are struck by two obvious and competing impressions. One is the similarity of the collaborative work with sixteenth and seventeenth century emblem books. On each double-page there is a picture, a title, and a poem: each of the three components, though perhaps seemingly unrelated, is expected to contribute to the global 'meaning'. The other impression is of eeriness combined with playfulness, of determined nonsense prevailing in pictures and texts where non-sequiturs are the law. We find ourselves in the midst of a familiar world gone awry, in the dimension of the heteroclite".

Portrait of Paul Éluard (1929)

Artist: Salvador Dalí

This painting, considered one of the finest Surrealist portraits, unites two of the movement's most iconic figures: Dalí and Éluard. As Sotheby's described it in its auction catalogue, the "rich and complex symbolic imagery, along with its technical mastery [confirm] its importance as a document of this pivotal moment in the history of the Surrealist movement [and make it] impossible to resist the temptation to look for allusions to Gala [Éluard's then wife]".

Éluard sat for Dali during his 1928 stay at the painters home at Cadaques on the Spanish coast. Dali had become smitten with Gala and felt doubly frustrated; both at her marriage to the poet, and because of his own sexual inadequacies. Dali's secretary and biographer, Robert Descharnes, wrote: "Dalí felt flattered that Paul Eluard should have come to see him [and as] for Gala, she was a revelation - the revelation Dalí had been waiting for, indeed expecting. She was the personification of the woman in his childhood dreams to whom he had given the mythical name Galuchka".

Éluard's head floats like a helium balloon over a desolate landscape. Near the top, the head of a lion, often interpreted through Freudian dream symbolism as a statement of violence and raw desire, became a motif in Dali's paintings around this time. Meanwhile, also in the upper right of the composition, Dali represents a woman's face in the shape of an ewer which, in Freudian symbolism, likens the figure of the woman with that of a carrier or receptacle. The Sotheby's catalogue suggests that this "confrontation of the male and female symbols has been interpreted as the artist's neurotic apprehension of his relationship with Gala" and a further clue to this theme can be found in the image of the grasshopper. The insect held a personal meaning for the artist who as a child fantasized about being a "grasshopper boy", but the praying mantis was also a favorite symbol amongst Surrealists who were drawn to the idea of a male being devoured by the female, post-coitus. Additionally, the Éluards kept a collection of praying mantises, and, as the couple's guest, the artist had been able to observe the insect's behaviour first-hand. The portrait remained in the collection of Gala and Dalí until Gala's death in 1982 when it was given to Gala and Éluard's daughter, Cécile. The portrait sold for $22.4 million in 2011, setting the then new record for a Dalí painting.

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Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Paul Éluard Influencer Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Robert Weinberg
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 04 Mar 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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