In the Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme of 1938, André Breton and Paul Éluard defined the exquisite corpse (cadavre exquis) thus: "A game with folded paper in which several people composed a sentence or a drawing without being able to see the preceding collaborations. The example, now a classic, that gave the game its name, was the first sentence thus obtained: "Le - cadavre - exquis - boira - le vin - nouveau." The game began in 1925, in a house on the Rue du Château, where a few surrealists lived communally. Jacques Prévert first wrote the words "Le cadavre exquis," thus unwittingly becoming the inventor of the formula's name. After entertaining themselves for months with these verbal creations, someone suggested playing the game with drawings. Simone Collinet, who was present at the birth of this momentous pastime, explained, "We quickly came up with a technique for passing it along. We folded the paper over the first drawing, allowing three or four lines to extend beyond the fold. The next player would work from those lines giving them a new form without revealing the preceding section....Then it was complete delirium. Every evening we were provided a fantastic performance, with the feeling that we were both experiencing and contributing to the joy of seeing unimaginable creatures appear, while having also created them." The result almost always amazed the participants, creating the illusion that inspiration was contagious; that different personalities could merge to the point of appearing as a single creator. Moreover, an exhilarating equality was attained between genius and the less gifted, as Collinet remarked, "Unquestionably the participation of some of our great painters in this game produced a few gems. But the real discovery was the participation of those who lacked talent, and the ability it inspired in them to create by permanently opening a door onto the unknown." The first collective drawings thus executed were reproduced in La Revolution surréaliste under a single signature, The Exquisite Corpse, as it they’d been made by an anonymous member of the group. Meanwhile, the exquisite corpse appeared in the summary of Issue No. 9-10 (October 1, 1927) between Arp and de Chirico in the index of illustrations. On other occasions, sentences obtained by writing games were signed, The Exquisite Corpse. By then it had ceased to be a process, an entertainment, and had become the familiar spirit of surrealism, provoking its adepts to extraordinary graphic competitions. In his recipe for the drawn exquisite corpse, Tristan Tzara said that it required three participants working on three drawings one after the other: "Three people sit around a table. Each draws the upper part of a body, or its associated attributes, hiding his work from the others. Each person then passes the sheet onto his left-hand neighbor, folded so as to conceal the drawing, except for the very beginning of the next section, while receiving from the right-hand neighbor a sheet prepared in the same fashion. At the end of the game each sheet will have gone full circle." This drawing could also be done in gouache or watercolor: "If you want to use color, you must pass along the limited number of colors you have used at the same time as the sheet." Tzara allowed for more than three players working in the same manner. Meanwhile, as André Masson explained, "A rule, although unspoken, was the agreement that drawing and coloring one's part would have, as far as possible, an impersonal nature. The aim was to achieve a surprising image." This tacit rule was observed to such a degree that it is very difficult to guess which section was drawn by Magritte, Tanguy, Max Ernst, Brauner or the others. The artists tried to lose their own style, aiming for a more bizarre representation that could blend with those of their partners. On occasion, they would sign their names on the back of the sheet of paper above the fold of the drawing for which they were responsible. However, the participants' names were usually written at the top or bottom of the drawing, allowing the viewer to judge the collective creation without knowing to whom each segment was attributed. In 1935, in his book Donner à voir, Paul Éluard described the reigning emotion during the sessions: "We spent so many evenings lovingly creating all these exquisite corpses. It was a question of who would achieve more charm, more unity, more daring in this collectively produced poetry. No more cares, no more thought of poverty, boredom, custom. We played with images and no one was the loser. Each of us wanted the next player to win, and win ever more in order to pass it all along to the next one. Wonderment was no longer famished. Her countenance, disfigured by passion, seemed more beautiful than anything she could say to us when we were alone—since that is when we do not know how to respond to her."
What was astonishing was that when the amateurs met with the masters, they found they could draw just as well. In drawings made by Picasso, Man Ray, Paul Éluard and Cécile Éluard (an adolescent at the time), in Antibes, in 1936, it was impossible to tell who had done what. There was the same ambiguity in an exquisite corpse where Jeannette Tanguy, Germaine Hugnet and Violette Herold appear next to Victor Brauner, Raoul Ubac and Yves Tanguy. In 1932, just after the first exhibition of surrealism in Czechoslovakia had taken place, at the Manes Gallery, Czech writer Jindrich Chalupecky noticed an actual telepathic harmony between the players when he played the game with friends: "We wrote and drew exquisite corpses for hours. Although we strictly followed the rules, much to our surprise, the drawings' continuous figures culminated in fantastical forms and objects, and we finally discovered that we had all drawn the same object on the same paper just arranged differently on the sheet. We had reached a state of perfect telepathy." In the catalog accompanying the exhibition Le Cadavre Exquis, son exaltation, at Galerie Nina Dausset in 1948, André Breton wrote: "In their preexisting determination to compose a figure, the drawings, adopting the technique of the exquisite corpse, by definition result in carrying anthropomorphism to extremes and prodigiously accentuating the relation that unites the outer and inner worlds." There is an agreement between what the protagonists think of one another and what they co to become accessible to each other. The exquisite corpse is certainly surrealism's most astonishing and often most disturbing invention. In no other movement, from romanticism to futurism, have we seen its members produce together, with the favor of chance, such fugitive creations, possessing such a deep meaning, allowing the players to express a shared ideal and setting the criteria of the "convulsive beauty" they wished to project in poetry and art.
Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, Max Morise, André Breton,
Exquisite Corpse No. 10, 1928