The Art of Provocation II

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Papin Sisters Before, After-Le Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution May 1933
A dramatic subversion of a convention even before it had become a commonplace. The Papin sisters were responsible for one of the most sensational murder cases in 1930’s France. After seven years exemplary service as domestics in the Lancelin household they killed and mutilated Madame Lancelin and her daughter when a blown fuse threw the house into darkness. The sisters promptly confessed, however it was revealed during the brief trial that they were locked in an incestous lesbian relationship.

This wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last that the Surrealists venerated criminals. Earlier in the first issue of La Revolution Surrealiste they had placed mugshots of themselves around a photograph of Germaine Berton, an anarchist who had assassinated the leader of a far right party organization. Later they would advocate for Violette Noziere who poisoned both of her parents and whose subsequent spectacularly deranged testimony gripped the nation.

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15 thoughts on “The Art of Provocation II

    1. Isn’t it? I don’t have the Berton picture, I think you are thinking of What is Hidden which features mug shots of the surrealist with eyes closed around a picture by Magritte of a naked woman. This really is the everything you didn’t need to know about obscure art movements from 1880-1939

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  1. This highly publicized story in France was huge, still is really, a modern folk lore almost. The P sisters were so odd, I mean it was never fully explained by them or anyone else. I love the films The Concrete Garden and Sister My Sister. In the latter that was a rough adaptation of this story but the director decided to make them definitely incestous and that’s all anyone remembers of the film but there is so much more, for example the frustrations of working in those bound positions. I always personally believed they were incestous but maybe that was a sick idea of mine, either way I felt the film really was very passionate (Jodi May I believe) and for the first time I understood the attraction among some siblings (I’m an only child) as with The Concrete Garden (Gainsborough?). In this true story though, it was more the underdog syndrome. I’d have probably done the same minus taking the eyes out, too squeamish. What was most interesting was the idea at the time that women ‘couldn’t possibly’ do this, it really threw everything previously believed under the bus.

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    1. Well the Surrealists applauded them, those Surrealists. I was always under the impression that they were incestous, but I have a lurid imagination. Ah us only children and our imaginations.

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