Military officers laden with medals and collectively known as 'Generals' were a central image in Baj's work in the 1960s. These personages first appeared in his work in 1959 and during 1960-61 he produced almost forty images of generals in saluting or spread-eagled positions.
The artist's attitude to these personifications of military power is clear enough from the demented appearance they assume in his work, and this impression is confirmed by the commentary he wrote in 1966 for a short anti-war film by Raffaele Andreassi: 'Wars, generals, decorations, wounds, amputations. As consolation the motherland gives you a few pretty coloured ribbons and maybe a medal that bears the inscription "smelted from the bronze of the enemy". All madness. Total madness.'1
Baj was one of the last artists that André Breton (1896-1966) aligned with Surrealism. In his first article on the arts, originally published in the magazine L'Oeil (July 1963) and subsequently in the third edition of Le Surréalisme et la Peinture (Paris, 1965), Breton illustrated the General in the Australian National Gallery to accompany his text:
A quite recent period in Baj's work has singled out from this brutish regiment several incarnations of the 'general in full dress uniform', a category summed up unforgettably by Benjamin Péret as being 'the grossly glided, perfectly poverty-stricken'. This fairground phenomenon, a mountain of importance just about capable of giving birth to an intellectual mouse, nevertheless constitutes a menacing survival, particularly from the moment when he sets himself up as being an expert on 'psychological warfare' and in this capacity feeds his tiny rodent on Clausewitz and Mao Tse Tung. Every time I walk through the arcade of the Palais Royal in Paris (where Charles Fourier used to come and sit, surveying its baubles with a knowledgeable eye) I pause to glance at the window displays gleaming with the crosses, medals, Grand Orders and other lesser postilions which continue to eke out an existence there. Had it not been for Baj, I would have been less attuned to the sight of the goldbeaters'-skins bulging out from behind all this paraphernalia.2
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.308.
- Reprinted in Herbert Lust, Enrico Baj Dada Impressionist, Turin: Giulio Bolaffi, 1973, p.20.
- André Breton, Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1965, p.400.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010