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Prelude to a Civilization (detail)

Victor Brauner (Romanian, 1903-1966)


Prelude to a Civilization


Encaustic, pen and ink on Masonite


Prelude to a Civilization represents a giant white animal in profile against a blue-and-green ground, within whose body are stylized renderings of some forty animals, figures, masks, and abstract symbols. Brauner may have based this composition on the pictographic robes of the Plains Indians. Such a robe—fashioned of animal hide—records its warrior-owner's exploits in decorative inscriptions covering the surface. Although the creatures Brauner depicts resemble Mexican codex illustrations, they also seem to be purely imaginative, and evoke the art of both Paul Klee and Max Ernst. Brauner executed this work in encaustic, a technique in which paint is mixed with molten wax. Into the resulting hardened surface, the artist incised the figures with pen and ink. He had first employed this medium after he was forced to take refuge from World War II in the Pyrenees and was unable to obtain his usual working materials. Here, the overall effect suggests an ancient cave painting.


Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Uploaded on June 9, 2008