During the time between the two world wars there came a period of introspection initiated by Sigmund Freud and psychoanalyst thought, greatly persuasive in the art world, particularly.
The main protagonist of the kind of art brought about by looking beyond the classical view of things was the French artist, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). Surrealists who followed much later were inspired by his way of seeing the world as if in a dream-like state. His naive style was rather child-like but artists saw his fantastical images as thought-provoking and his sylization as another version of the real thing.
His poetic 'Boy on the Rocks' presented a series of sharp-pointed mountains with a huge boy sitting or standing astride them, appearing to be placed uncomfortably atop one of them. The mask of a face and diproportionate body gave the boy a quiet appearance in this apparently dangerous place having conquered the task of climbing above the peaks. His naivety persuades the viewer to accept the vision as true.
The Italian painter, Giorgio de Chirico1888-1974), painted in what is now known as the Metaphysical style, juxtaposing ordinary objects within strange contexts. This was a protest against the brutality of the first world war. Along with other painters of his kind, he saw Rousseau's work in its dreamlike state to be the result of seeing the world from another perspective. He wanted his work to be represented by real things but not limited by them in any way. His 'Uncertainty of the Poet' placed a headless twisted torso of a woman beside a huge scattered bunch of bananas on a quiet piazza. The result was a disturbing vision and this style was relatively shortlived.
The German artist, Max Ernst (1891-1976) introduced the use of frottage (layering paper over a rough surface and rubbing with graphite) to provide texture as a starting point for his finished work. His 'The Entire City' is an example with its floorboard pattern beneath a moon with a moon with an empty centre. Ernst founded the cologne branch of the Dada group at the same time as it appeared in Paris.
The Surrealist movement followed on from 1924 with the advent of the Belgian realist surrealist artist, Rene Magritte who painted 'The Fall' with his bowler-hatted, raincoated men faling from a clear sky into a uniform street. The image appeared to be almost normal, if a little odd.
Salvador Dali became the most memorable of Surrealist painters with works like 'The Persistence of Memory' with its melting watches and contorted face in the centre. The image is disturbing and reminds us that the world has gone mad and everything is changed from its normal appearance by the atrocities of war. Escaping to a dream world would seem to be perfectly natural.