In 1912 young Victor settled in Vienna with his family for a few years; his father, a passionate devotee of Spiritualism, regularly organized séances and corresponded with the famous mediums of the day. As an observer and participant, young Victor acquired a taste for the fantastic, which his art distinctly reflects. When his family returned to the country in 1914, he continued his studies at the Evangelical school in Brăila, then at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, where he painted Cézannesque landscapes. He exhibited paintings in his subsequent expressionist style at his first solo show at the Galerie Mozart in Bucharest in 1924. He went to Paris in 1925 but returned to Bucharest approximately a year later. Brauner helped found the Dadaist review 75 HP in Bucharest and in 1929 was associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist review UNU.
He moved to Paris in 1930 where, through the sculptor Constatin Brâncuşi (a fellow-Romanian), he met the painter Yves Tanguy, who introduced him to other members of the Surrealist movement. The Surrealists were departing not only from the realism and academicism of nineteenth-century art but also from tendencies toward painterly abstraction of the early modernists. Partly under the influence of contemporary psychology, they sought unexpected juxtapositions of sharply depicted figurative images, often recalling the landscapes of dreams. In 1934, André Breton wrote an enthusiastic introduction to the catalogue for Brauner’s first Parisian solo show at the Galerie Pierre. In 1935 Brauner returned to Bucharest, where he remained until 1938.
That year he moved to Paris and painted a number of works featuring distorted human figures with mutilated eyes. Some of these paintings, dated as early as 1931, proved gruesomely prophetic when he lost his own eye in a scuffle in 1938. At the outset of World War II, Brauner fled to the South of France, where he maintained contact with other Surrealists in Marseilles. Later he sought refuge in Switzerland; unable to obtain suitable materials there, he improvised an encaustic from candle wax and developed a graffito technique. Brauner returned to Paris in 1945. He was included in the Exposition internationale du surréalisme at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1947.
In 1948, after he broke with the Surrealists, Brauner's work was more inspired by relics of archaic and primitive civilizations. Visitors to his studio in the Montmartre section of Paris often commented on his collection of primitive art, which comprised Oceanic cult objects as well as Native American artifacts. Gradually, his imagery became more heraldic, stark, and simplified, often evoking Egyptian or Pre-Columbian art.
Beginning in the early 1960's Brauner lived and worked in Varengeville, France; he represented France at the Venice Biennale in 1954 and in 1966, the year he died in Paris as a result of a prolonged illness.
The epitaph on his tomb from the Montmartre cemetery is a phrase from his notebooks: "Peindre, c'est la vie, la vraie vie, ma vie" ("Painting is life, the real life, my life"). The painter’s notebooks with private notes, which he handed to Max Pol Fouchet, partly enclose the "key" of his creation: "Each painting that I make is projected from the deepest sources of my anxiety..."