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Proto-Surrealism is a term used for Surrealism avant-la-lettre. Since the terms surrealism and surreal were coined only c. 1917, the surreal sensibility before that time was best described by the French term fantastique, which includes fantastic art.

Thought of as the effort of humanity to liberate imagination as an act of insurrection against society, Surrealism finds precedents in the alchemists, possibly Dante, Hieronymus Bosch, Marquis de Sade, Charles Fourier, Comte de Lautréamont and Arthur Rimbaud.

The immediate predecessor was Dada: collaborators included Hugo Ball (German actor and playwright); Jean Arp (Alsatian artist); Tristan Tzara (Rumanian poet); Marcel Janco (Rumanian artist); and Richard Huelsenbeck (a German poet).

Earlier examples include the Italian engraver Giovanni Battista Braccelli in the visual and Lucian in the literary field.

In "What is Surrealism?" (1934), André Breton mentions a list of proto-Surrealists and the New York exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936-7) featured a section on proto-Surrealism and proto-dada.

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