My Nurse

Meret Oppenheim-My Nurse 1936

One of the best examples of the Surrealist ‘cult of the object’ which transformed everyday found objects in strange, suggestive ways by placing them into unlikely convergences and chance juxtapositions, My Nurse by the Swiss artist Meret Oppenheim, famous for her fur-lined tea-cup is a disturbing, subversive work with marked fetishistic overtones.

An up-turned pair of white leather high-heeled shoes are placed on a platter, bound and trussed up like a turkey. Oppenheim commented on this work that ‘…it evokes for me the association of thighs squeezed together in pleasure. In fact, almost a “proposition”. When I was a little girl, four of five, we had a young nursemaid. She was dressed in white (Sunday Best?). Maybe she was in love, maybe that’s why she exuded a sensual atmosphere of which I was unconsciously aware.’  

Oppenheim’s comments and the fact that it is shoes bound in such a manner shows that she was fully aware of Freudian psychology. Another, quite clear implication, is that women are not supposed to move.

Georges Bataille in the article Big Toe in Documents magazine outlined his view on shoe and foot fetishes. Because the foot is what treads on the ground and connects us to base reality it is despised, whereas the head, which is nearest to the sky and clouds is venerated. Of course some people will take the contrary view and worship what is generally held in contempt. Luis Bunuel took a rather more straight-forward delight in his shoe fetish as can be witnessed in the extraordinary tracking shot of Catherine Deneuve’s elegant black pumps as she climbs the stairways to Madame Anais brothel for the first time in Belle Du Jour.

69 thoughts on “My Nurse

  1. I absolutely can picture the position of the legs based on the shoes. I drew a passable sketch of Meret Oppenheim. She’s very beautiful. The foot links us to the base reality. And the head reaches for the heavens. Some might view the foot as a grounding. A foundation on which everything else must rest.

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      1. Yes soon, though I doubt I will do a new post before Saturday as this week is hectic… I am fully expecting to be back in the grove next week and continuing with T.F. For a week Saturday. This post really digressed on the whole fetish issue.

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  2. I always find surrealism intriguing, though I can never really pinpoint why, besides making me think about it. Interesting perspectives on foot fetishism; don’t forget about Quentin Tarantino and his obsession over Uma Thurman’s toes 😉😁

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  3. Mr. Cake, Meret Oppenheim certainly turned everything on its head with this piece, strong commentary. Wonderful post, great piece of art, in fact it’s brilliant. “Breakfast in Fur”, has always been a bit unsettling for me, also most memorable, making it another great piece of art. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you Miss Cranes this post is quite digressive. Breakfast in fur is another great piece art, however as My Nurse is less well known I thought I would highlight this brilliant piece, which is memorable and quite disturbing. Maybe I need to clarify what the Surrealists cult of the object is more. Thank you for your comments as always. Mr Cake

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    1. Thank you very much, though hopefully the posts about art aren’t too impenetrable, which is a problem I find with a lot of art criticism. I also write short stories, essays, poems and I am attempting a novel. I discovered your site through Meg we have worked on a few things together. Thanks again for the interest.

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      1. Awesome I will be enjoying reading your writings I am sure. I don’t know about you, but reading the same people over and over and over again can be paralyzing to brain matter. I just unfollowed 15 people and added 10 new folks. Time to live a little and reawaken my spirit. You dig?

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  4. I love, simply love the picture. And with them ropes, really witty. So much to interpret just again. Yes. Reminds me of a piece of art that was being exhibited in the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. It consisted of several breadrolls, arranged like a flock. Every piece had one feather stuck at each side, so two ruddy feathers for each. I saw it when I was six or seven, and it influenced me a lot. I think some had raisins in them, too. I just loooved it. Made me wanna be an artist. Yes. That might have been the moment. The one.
    Hm. I wanted to insert the link, but I can’t find it anymore! Strange. Perhaps it was just in my imagination or some garbage on the floor. hehe.

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  5. It seems Oppenheim has included many fetishes in her work. Foot fetish (quite common) bondage and oral sex, the Madonna/whore seems perhaps represented by scuffed shoes, and more, intentional, but just what did she mean? I rather dislike the title. A most thought provoking subject Mr. Cake.

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    1. Thank you Miss Heart…My Nurse (sinister title) resists all definite interpretations, though it is hard to ignore the heavily sexual nature of the work. Thighs squeezed together, bound and trussed, a comment on the ideal woman of the male (and surrealist) gaze, reduced to a tasty dish. Another excellent female surrealist.

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    1. Hmmm I am not sure that Meret Oppenheim was a vegan. Leonora Carrington was a vegetarian, but veganism would have been exceedingly rare during the 1930’s in Western Europe. Rack of lamb is an interesting interpretation, I thought turkey but indeed lamb was dressed like that back in the day.


  6. Fascinating as always. I did some drawings of a friend, including of her shoes. She, for a time, dominated for a living. My drawings amused her: she described to me the absolute focus of some of her clients on her footwear. This sculpture perhaps gets to the heart of this fetish.
    Recently we talked about Eliot’s The Wasteland and I mentioned the graphic novel version. The artist is Martin Rowson. He draws political cartoons for the Guardian. One of his characterisations of Cameron’s government was the fur cup. Say it slowly. He will of course be fully aware of its artistic pedigree, which I now too understand thanks to you,

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    1. My pleasure and thank you very much for the anecdote. The male Surrealists definitely had a thing for shoes as mentioned in the post. How much of this was a knowing nod to Freud and how much was genuine fetish is hard to determine, but not in the case of Bunuel. I know the cartoonist, he is excellent.

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