Born in Paris, Tanguy joined the French Merchant Marine and traveled the world before deciding to become an artist. Tanguy encountered the work of Giorgio de Chirico in 1923 and soon after began painting in a Surrealist fashion. Within two years, André Breton welcomed him into the Surrealist group. Despite his lack of formal training, Tanguy’s art developed quickly and his mature style emerged by the late 1920s—a style that changed very little during his over thirty-year career. In 1939, he immigrated to the United States, where he lived the rest of his life, marrying the American Surrealist painter Kay Sage in 1940 and becoming an American citizen in 1948.
All of Tanguy’s mature paintings depict a highly distinctive dreamscape—a kind of inner landscape of the unconscious where immense, unbounded space is occupied by scattered biomorphic shapes, that seem both lunar and marine. Tanguy synthesized the Surrealist strategy of unpremeditated expressionism with an academic attention to meticulous rendering of subject matter. Surrealist painting can be divided into two general categories, the "abstract" and the "academic," and Tanguy belongs to the latter category, as do René Magritte and Salvador Dalí.