Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Yves Tanguy and Penguin SF Cover Art

(Yves Tanguy’s cover for the 1963 edition of Mission of Gravity (1954), Hal Clement)

On the birthday of French-American surrealist Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) (January 5th), I always take a minute to browse his art online. I faintly recalled seeing his art on various 1960s Penguin edition covers…. And lo and behold, J. G. Ballard’s  New Wave masterpiece The Drowned World (1962) and Hal Clement’s pioneering work of hard SF, Mission of Gravity (1954) were both graced with Tanguy’s canvases. Penguin regularly used the work of famous mainstream artists–for example, Max Ernst (I identified ten covers). China Miéville’s novella “The Last Days of New Paris” (2018) also uses a Tanguy/Lamba/Breton exquisite corpse collage (I’m focusing primarily on earlier covers in this post).  

I’ve found Tanguy’s art, often extensive plains populated by faintly organic undulating shapes, relentlessly inventive and appealing. In addition, he was married to my single favorite American surrealist, Kay Sage (responsible for funding/supporting many French surrealists who came to the US during WWII). Unfortunately, her work did not appear on SF covers from the 60s-70s.

(Yves Tanguy’s 1942 painting Indefinite Divisibility appeared on the 1st edition of Science Fiction: A Historical Anthology (1983), ed. Eric S. Rabkin)

(Yves Tanguy’s cover art for the 1965 edition of The Drowned World (1962), J. G. Ballard)

For more Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art consult the INDEX

13 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Yves Tanguy and Penguin SF Cover Art

  1. Hi Joachim

    I always enjoy your posts on science fiction cover art. My wife and I really enjoy the surrealists and look forward to them when we visit galleries. Penguin did some really interesting covers overall, there is a lovely site showing all the covers online but I rarely find them in the bookstores. When we went to London I expected to find lots and did not find any. So I just have to be content to pick them up here and there.

    All the best

    • Hello Guy, me too! My wife and I were thrilled to visit the MOMA in New York City last summer — and of course, I’ve spent a lot of time in France over the years hanging out in the museums…..

      I HIGHLY recommend Whitney Chadwick’s Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement.

  2. Great Thanks

    My wife and I have been watching some programs on Leonora Carrington, got a book on her and saw some of her work in London, so we are quite interested in the topic.


    • She was also a short story author (as were many of the female surrealists). This collection tempts me whenever I glance through my amazon wishlist…..

      And her complete fiction collection is listed at $8 amazon prime at the moment!

      • Yes, she’s a favorite.

        One of my first jobs involved working for a man who owned a Varo painting (certainly not one of her most famous ones but I was intrigued).

        Have you read Chadwick’s Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement? Highly recommended. I wish there was a more recent monograph of women in the movement but it’s a good place to start.

    • Yeah, that one is lovely…. I agree about “as appropriate” — Sage’s work, often unfairly compared to that of her husband, is far more interested in architectural and manmade forms.

      This one would be PERFECT for a Ballard novel, especially The Drowned World!

  3. I am new to this site and also to Tanguy’s artwork (which is weird since I’m 64 and a long time art fan). What I find amazing is how close it is to Richard Powers’ art. I have been collecting some of the latter’s with SF books and have 200. I don’t completely understand my fascination with their styles, but some of it has to do with nostalgic memories of early 60s shows like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits.

    Nostalgic also for the way people of the Pulp era, 50s SF and early 60s thought so much about the future (the Year 2000) and that people would be entirely different. As if technology (which was to be so much more advanced than it is) would make us so happy and prosperous that criminal thinking would evaporate on its own. Remember, around 1960 it was assumed that we would all have jet packs like the Rocketeer or some tiny, personal flying device (a back pack with a propeller on a shaft?) that we would go everywhere with. Oh, and monorails too.

    So I will explore more of your past reviews and see how much they might relate to my tastes. I have to admit, I have owned far more old SF paperbacks than read them. Owning is, after all, an activity all to itself.

    Thanks, Joachim and other commenters.

    • Hello James, thanks for visiting!

      Richard Powers is absolutely my favorite science fiction cover artist. And yes, he was definitely influenced by the surrealist — perhaps Tanguy.

      My site is sort of devoted to the SF that was far more critical of technology and progress than the typical pulp/50s visions. I am a fan of New Wave SF (the late 60s) and especially the 70s. I would keep that in mind while perusing the reviews!

      I wrote an article about why I read what I read here if you’re curious:

      As I lay out in the article, it’s not nostalgia for me — I am far too young to have lived nostalgia for those eras (a child of the late late 80s) nor did I read science fiction seriously until my 20s (how I kept sane as an undergrad and later grad school). Rather, as a historian, I find the Cold War/Civil Rights era fascinating — and of course, the science fiction and cover art produced in that period.

      Visit/comment often. I look forward to future discussions.

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