A Twentieth Century Man - Re-evaluating Félix Fénéon, Surrealist Mentor


Félix Fénéon’s biography deserves reappraisal. Current scholarship on his life and work, notably Joan Halperin’s Félix Fénéon: Aesthete and Anarchist in Fin-de-Siècle Paris, reflects a limited view of his accomplishments. From the current perspective, Fénéon was a quintessential man of the fin-de-siècle. Involved in the most avant-garde political and cultural movements of the end of the 19th century, Fénéon coined the term Neo-Impressionism, edited groundbreaking symbolist poetry, and may have been responsible for the bombing of the restaurant Foyot in 1894. Most biographical accounts falter at the turn of the century, although Fénéon was an influential figure in publishing and the art market for the next several decades.

            In the later half of his life, Fénéon demurred from the spotlight, becoming a dealer/collector and eminence gris for a new generation of artists and writers. Since he preferred to work behind the scenes, much tangible evidence is lost to scholarship. Nonetheless, it is clear that Fénéon helped define the leading edge of the avant-garde well into the 20th century. His work – both before and after the turn of the century - had a particularly profound influence on the development of surrealist thought. This dissertation introduces, for the first time, the compelling aesthetic and political affinities shared by Fénéon and the surrealists. It also reveals the diverse personal affiliations between Fénéon, Breton and others in the surrealist circle, proving the extent to which Fénéon continued to play a significant role as art world facilitator long after his contemporary biographies lose interest. Re-examining Fénéon’s long career through the lens of his influence on surrealism, situates this thoroughly modern man firmly in the 20th century.