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Kay Sage

American Painter and Poet

Kay Sage Photo
Movement: Surrealism

Born: June 25, 1898 - Watervliet, NY, USA

Died: January 8, 1963 - Woodbury, CT, USA

"I have said all that I have to say. There is nothing left for me to do but scream."

Summary of Kay Sage

As Sage's vision grows increasingly hopeless, glimmers of red, flowing drapery, and rolling eggs metamorphose to become complex and unstable architectural hiding places. After a privileged childhood, Sage moved to Italy, where she lived and worked in the company of a group of artists. Having married an Italian Prince however, she soon felt stifled and without artistic inspiration, so moved to Paris, where she met fellow painter Yves Tanguy, became involved with the Surrealist group, and started what she would later call, her "real life". She began to favor the geometric over the organic, and landscapes turned from natural vistas into barren psychological spaces. Constructed in mind, Sage built stage sets on canvas that typically look transitional, temporary, and unstable like scaffolding or theatre rigging. Following the unexpected death of her love, Tanguy, she suffered greatly at the end of her life. As a concluding tragedy that one wonders from the overarching tone of sadness that her paintings had already foreseen, Sage became partially blind and took her own life.

Key Ideas

The work of Sage differs dramatically from that of other Women Surrealists. Whilst other women involved in this movement often depicted symbolic motifs imbuing their pictures with ethereal positivity and relatively obvious meaning, Sage obscures such meaning and instead presents a typically nihilistic, cold, and impenetrable view of the world.
Like Giorgio de Chirico, Sage is interested in constructed artifice, sharp perspective, and poetry, but where the older Italian's scenes typically suggest uncanny narrative, Sage's settings are more foreboding and sometimes even apparently dangerous. Like the English Vorticists, who made desolate wartime paintings, Sage too depicts broken, threatening, and uninhabitable terrains.
Sage had a complex and destructive personal and working relationship with Yves Tanguy. Although it seems that Sage could not live without her partner, friends recall that they did not live together harmoniously either. Their work developed in parallel but was also markedly different. Whilst Tanguy held on to biomorphic forms and a jewel-like palette, Sage maintained a color wheel much more subdued and scenes became all the more constructed and formally abstract. The couple was very reluctant to exhibit together and did so only once close to Tanguy's death.
The presence of the egg in Sage's work links her childhood and her autobiography. Her father had a collection of rare and unusual birds eggs that she would look at as a child and she titled her autobiography China Eggs (1955), focused on the fragile time before she moved to Paris. The egg is also perhaps the most meaningful object in her pictures. More typically Surrealist, it points to notions of alchemy and transformation and suggests hope of new life in a way that little else in her oeuvre does.
Kay Sage Photo

Katherine Linn Sage was born on June 25, 1898 in Waterliet, NY, north of Albany. She was the second daughter of a well-established family who had made their fortune in the Northwest timber industry. Her father, Henry Sage, was president of the Sage Land and Improvement Company. He was also the director of various banking and business enterprises, and had served as a state senator from 1911 to 1921. Sage's mother, Anne Ward, married Henry when she was very young, age eighteen, in order to satisfy financial and social needs. She defied expectations and proved to be a recalcitrant wife. As historian Stephen Robeson Miller states, speaking of Sage, "the combination made for an unstable childhood". Very early on in their marriage, the artist's parents established separate lives. Henry remained in Albany while Anne traveled around multiple European cities to escape the duties of the spouse of a wealthy politician and businessman. Sage often accompanied her mother on these extended trips while her sister would only join them during the summer.

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