From 1909 to 1914 Sima studied in Prague, where he was concurrently enrolled in the School of Fine Arts and the Polytechnic, earning a diploma in civil engineering.  After being drafted into the Austrian army and then the Czech army during the Second World War, he was appointed assistant at the Polytechnic in Brno in 1920.  At that time, he was making figurative paintings. He left Czechoslovakia for France in 1921, and worked for a year in the Mauméjean stained-glass ateliers at Hendaye. During a trip from Hendaye to Saint Sebastian, he witnessed a sight that would transform his concept of painting: “a ball” of lighting striking a valley.
Sima became a lover of lightning, seeking to tame and accommodate it in his paintings.  Settling in Paris, where he married a medical student in 1923, he received a visit in 1925 from André Breton, who invited him to participate with the surrealists in the coming year’s Salon des Surindépendants.
In 1926, during a visit to Lake Lugano, Sima witnessed a storm at Carona that once again reminded him of the beauty of lightning.  This vision inspired him to crate a series of landscapes that he called Tempête électrique.  It was in Sima’s studio in the Cour de Rohan, that he and two young poets, Roger Gilbert-Lecomte and René Daumal, decided to form the group Le Grand Jeu, with the slogan, “Revolution Revelation.”  The first exhibition of the Grand Jeu was held at Galerie Bonaparte in 1929, accompanied by Gilbert-Lecomte’s catalog essay, Ce que devrait être la peinture, ce que sera Sima (What painting should be, what Sima will be).  That same year, the breakup between Le Grand Jeu and surrealism was confined at a meeting presided over by Breton and Bar du Château.  In 1930 Sima had an exhibition of portraits at the Galerie Povolozky, following which Hommage à Sima was published in Cahiers du Sud (May-June 1931).  Sima’s ideal was “to reproduce the never-seen reality,” by summoning the memory of the species rather than individual memory.  He then developed a theory of “space-light” and painted prisms floating in limpid space. As the Second World War approached, Sima went through a quite period, making only two paintings: Désespoir d’Orphée (1942) and Les Hommes de Deucalion (1945).  He did not return to painting until 1950, and in 1955 exhibited his new experiments at Galerie Kléber.
​ In 1959 he made stained glass windows and etched glass at the Atelier Jacques Simon.  A major retrospective of his work was held in 1963 at the Musée de Reims.  His principal paintings in France are scattered between the museums of Lyon, Paris, Reims, Rouen, Saint-Étienne and Grenoble, and in the Czech Republic in the museum of Brno, Prague, Hluboka and Litomerice.  His last work was a series of etchings for a book of poems by René Char, L’Effroi la Joie (1971).

Josef Síma

Born 1891 in Jaromer (Czech Republic); died 1971 in Paris. 

Paysage Surréaliste​, 1931