Like other works by American Surrealist Kay Sage, I Saw Three Cities is at once realistic and mysterious. Presiding over the haunting, abandoned landscape seen here is a guardian whose fluid drapery and sinuous curves recall those of the ancient Greek statue Nike of Samothrace. Sage’s sentinel lacks the Nike’s effervescence, however. Its drapery is animated, but its core remains rigid and static. This uncanny presence — neither dead nor alive, neither man nor woman — reflects the Surrealists’ fascination with robots and other forms of mechanization. Sage, whose husband was the French Surrealist Yves Tanguy, helped several French artists reach the United States after the outbreak of World War II.
Signed and dated, bottom left: Kay Sage '44
A prominent American Surrealist, Kay Sage used landscape imagery to evoke the spaces of the unconscious mind. She painted these unsettling expanses with meticulous detail. Presiding over the haunting landscape shown here is a guardian whose drapery and curves recall those of the ancient Greek statue Nike of Samothrace. Sage’s sentinel, however, lacks the Nike’s effervescence, its drapery animated but its core rigid and static. This uncanny figure—neither dead nor alive, neither man nor woman—reflects the American Surrealists’ fascination with robots and other examples of mechanized humanity. Sage, whose husband was the French Surrealist Yves Tanguy, helped several French artists reach the United States after the outbreak of World War II and organized exhibitions of their work in New York.
The striking contrast between the ambiguous subject matter and the meticulously painted architectural forms in this vast landscape creates a disorienting effect. A sense of isolation suggests that this dreamlike place once was filled with life but later was abandoned. In the foreground, a sensuous yet inanimate figure recalls the ancient Greek statue Nike of Samothrace, bearing witness to past civilizations. Kay Sage escaped from Paris with her husband, the French Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy, after the onset of World War II, and settled in Connecticut. She created numerous landscapes evoking the unfamiliar and the depths of the unconscious mind before her depression eventually led her to take her own life.
Veronica White, Curator of Academic Programs
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