On 23.04.2021 I attended a zoom course led by Sarah Jaffray from Citylit.

The course looked at the women involved in the 1936 Surrealist exhibition in London. These women sought to transform the Surrealist movement by rebelling against misogyny.

Artists covered included:

  • Sheila Legge 1911-1949
  • Peggy Guggenheim 1898-1979
  • Eileen Agar 1899-1991
  • Leonora Carrington 1917-2011
  • Ithell Colquhoun 1906-1988
  • Lee Miller 1907-1977

My main takeaways from the lecture.

I loved how these female Surrealist used surrealism in such a clever way to make a stand against misogyny. I was particularly drawn to Eileen Agar’s Butterfly Bride 1938 [shown below]. I found the use of collage really interesting and I love how Agar made a point of using the silhouette of the woman to block out the colonial history that was being documented on the text behind. I thought this was a very powerful piece.

I also really enjoyed Leonora Carrington‘s work. I thought her painting, The Giantess (Guardian of the Egg) [shown below] was both beautiful and powerful. I love her use of symbolism and the dreamlike quality of her images. After the class I looked for more of her images and they were stunningly beautiful and also intriguing.

We ended the lecture by looking at Lee Miller’s work and how she used documentary photography to record the absurdity or reality, particularly in Germany during WWII.

Notes from the lecture

Transformers of the movement, rebelling against misogyny
Sheila Legge, Peggy Guggenheim, Eileen Agar, Leonard Carrington, Ithell Colquhoun & Lee Miller

Surrealism founded in Paris 1924Following the war.  Social revolution followed- mental health and class war. Surrealism linked to the trauma of WWI not just dreams. 

Hysteria PTSD traumatised mind. Charcot – Sigmund Freud – Babinki – Andre Breton ; neurologist & scientist, violence of tradition caused the trauma – surrealist manifesto.

Surrealism frees society from the hysteria/trauma (hysteria from the word Uterous – hysterectomy)
Art movement: Dismantles reality and structure of our reality. Destroying agreed reality. A new reality that subverts old reality. Tear down the structures that destroyed a generation. The movement wanted to destroy structures but not misogyny. Liberation against structure but women used as subjects and sexist principles. The hysterical womans body.

Historians left women out of Surrealist Art History. 
Women helped to create the 1936 exhibition. 

Sheila Legge 

Dali esq performance, she was the poster child for the exhibition but Dali was what historians have remembered. Her work will be shown at the White chapel gallery this year (2021). Performances were always included in surrealist exhibitions. 

Peggy Guggenheim 

opened a gallery. Collected surrealist art. Art of the Century in the USA.

Eileen Agar (1899-1991)

Shaped by the Surrealist exhibition in 1936 she was the first female British surrealist. The London Group Exhibition – she was well represented and featured. She was interested in the mystical power of women, nature as a source of inspiration (in British surrealism)Seek out what is strange in what already exists.Inter penetrating reason and unreason when both exist together. Magic focus rather than dream (womb magic).
The autobiography of the EmbryoNature an alternative logic order to masculine traditions.
Her work will be shown at the white chapel gallery too 19 May 2021.
Objects – useful, concrete, material – representations of inner hallucinations when used in art.
Real world destabilising what we think of it and turning it into something else. An alternative reality.
Butterfly Bride by Eileen Agar – trapped within her (transformation). She masks the history of colonialism (the text in the background) in the image. 

Ithell Colquhoun

well recognised artist, won prizes but excluded from history. 
Dali – fear of castration by women, Hitler alliance, famous because of his self promotion skills. Dali meditated on his anxiety before he painted (being castrated) Colquhoun was inspired by his art.

Scylla 1938 – knees or sea scape? Open sexuality, boat coming in and will get smashed up.
Earth mysteries. Alchemical figures.
The Pine Family 1940 – too bold and sexual for the surrealism group – only men were allowed to do that, They ddn’t like magic and female sexuality.
Automation – tap into unconscious Super automatism
Nature mysteries – connecting to natureFeminine – natureMale & female energies
Decalcomania – paint on bass/metal and transfer to paper

In contrast: Rene Magritte, The Rape 1945 – The woman’s facial features are replaced by the torso and pelvis of a naked woman is suggestive firstly of the way males see the woman. The idea is to create a sexual image out of the woman’s face, the first thing one would usually see. This is also indicated by the name of the piece ‘The Rape’.

Leonora Carrington 1917-2011 

– innovative.
Self portrait with rocking horse. – destabilising reality, tail-less rocking horse, her hair like a horses mane, jog pours. Surrogate, freedom – horse outsideSomething shocking, cleaned up, not clear why.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492697 Leonora Carrington: Self Portrait c1936-37

Asking why – it’s what surrealism aims to do.
Childhood analysis of nightmares.
Max Ernst & Leonora Carrington – he ended up in a concentration camp and she was tortured by mental health officials 1940 Down Below.
Her focus was on nature, mythology and magic.
Recognised by her peers
Own narrative and associations by the viewer.
Magic realism, alchemy
Green Tea (La Dame Ovale) 1942 – detailed characters, feminine

The Giantess (Guardian of the Egg) – hyroglyphics, egg form, bird flying out of cloack. Viewers invited to think of our own narrative.

The Women’s Liberation Movement Late 1960s – 1980s

Lee Miller 1907-1977 

PhotographerSecretive about her art practice.Relationship with Mann Ray
Unexpected representation
Photography=truth so great to use in surrealism.
Reality disruptive of logic
Reality can be as brutal as nightmares. Which she portrays in her documentary photography in Germany during and at the end of WWII. In the images below a family have taken their own lives at the very end of WWII, a scene which looks surreal and nonsensical but which was in fact a reality.


The Deputy Burgermeister’s Daughter