The artists of the surrealist movement began with the founders of the literary journal, Littérature: André Bretton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault. The more that they wrote, the more artists and poets joined their group, including Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Jacques Baron, Max Morise, Pierre Naville, Roger Vitrac, Gala Éluard, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Georges Malkine, Michel Leiris, Georges Limbour, Antonin Artaud, Raymond Queneau, André Masson, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy. As the movement developed more, and accepted the merit of visual art, more artists joined the group, such as Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia, Luis Buñuel, Alberto Giacometti, Valentine Huge, Méret Oppenheim, Toyen, and Kansuke Yamamoto.
The beginnings of surrealist painting and their artists, after the November 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, were marked by events supported by the principal poets of the group. First, there was the Joan Miró exhibit, for which the opening on June 12, 1925, was a triumph attended by le Tout-Paris. This was followed by a group show, Surrealist Painting, presented by André Breton and Robert Desnos at the Galerie Pierre, on November 14, 1925, which symbolically opened at midnight and exhibited nine painters (from Pierre Roy to Picasso). In March 1926, there were two shows held simultaneously: a Max Ernst exhibit, and an inaugural show at the Galerie Surréaliste, with the following program: paintings by Man Ray, island objects, and an anthology of birds. In 1927, exhibits of Yves Tanguy and Jean Arp, both with catalogs by Breton, succeeded in convincing the public of the birth of a new art of painting, simultaneously opposed to realism, cubism, and abstraction.
While many artists did join and stay a part of the surrealist movement, some also left for various reasons—often it was political or personal matters. Breton, a founder of the movement, seemed to dictate who was and was not a surrealist artist in his writings. The defining work that takes on the full measure of the surrealist movement’s painters and visual artists is that of Breton’s Surrealism and Painting. He would insist on the effort at reinvention that drove the surrealist artist: “The work of art cannot seem valid in this day and age unless it is situated, progressively, in the direction of the unknown, of the future of everything that has happened before it, including previous works of the artist responsible for it.”