Surrealist Women: Eileen Agar

Photograph of Eileen Agar nude by Photographer Unknown
Eileen Forrester Agar

As a young girl the British surrealist Eileen Agar travelled from her birthplace of Buenos Aires to England on a luxury liner accompanied by a cow and an orchestra. Her wealthy American mother believed that milk and music were essential in a child’s development and therefore had made the necessary arrangements so that she wasn’t deprived of them on the long ocean voyage.

After such a childhood it is no surprise that Eileen Agar belonged to the Surrealist movement. She had first met Andre Breton with her future husband, the Hungarian Jewish writer Joseph Bard in Paris in 1928 and was a member of the London Group from 1934.She was the only British woman artist to be featured in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936 ( see John Deth) where she had a total of three paintings and five objects displayed. She had a passionate affair with the Surrealist artist Paul Nash and holidayed with Picasso, Dora Maar, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller (who photographed her several times, see Surrealist Women: Lee Miller), Nusch Eluard  and the poet Paul Eluard, with whom she had a brief and intense fling with.

As well as being a painter, Agar experimented successfully with collages, ready-made and found objects; and was also a  photographer, hat-maker and a writer. She exhibited with the Surrealists in New York, Amsterdam and Tokyo as well as having numerous one-women shows in the U.K. She published her autobiography A Look At My Life at the age of 89 in 1988. She died in 1991 at the age of 91.

Below is her masterpiece The Autobiography Of An Embryo from 1933-1934, which was acquired by the Tate Gallery for its permanent collection in 1989.

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Dreams of Desire 19 (Assia)

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Assia-Emmanuel Sougez 1936
Assia features in several of Germaine Krull’s work of the 1930’s. She was also the muse of several other photographer’s including Dora Maar, Emmanuel Sougez and Roger Schall. She also posed for Andre Derain and several sculptors including Charles Despiau whom she would sit for twice a week from 1934 to 1938.

Assia Granatouroff was born in the Ukraine in 1911 of Jewish heritage. Her family fled revolutionary Russia and settled in France in 1922. After studying textile design she began working as a model in 1930. This proved so successful that it financed a theatrical and film career. With the invasion of France she fled to Marseilles but was arrested by the Gestapo. However she managed to escape and joined the Resistance. After the war she took to producing esoteric artworks inspired by the Tarot.

The photographs of Assia have an almost sculptural quality, emphasising Assia’s full, powerful figure and the statuesque nature of her Amazonian beauty.

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Dreams of Desire 14 (Nusch by Dora Maar)

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Nusch Eluard-Dora Maar
Arguably the muse of the Surrealists, Nusch Eluard (Marie Benz) was the subject of works by Man Ray, Lee Miller, Dora Maar (see above and below) and Pablo Picasso. The poet Paul Eluard spotted her doing cartwheels down the street (she was an acrobat at the Grand Guignol theatre at the time) and was enchanted. They later married in 1934 and is the subject of his collection Facile illustrated with nude photographs of Nusch by Man Ray.

Nusch is the subject of several excellent photographs by Dora Maar, Picasso’s infamous weeping woman. It is rumoured that Nusch was  also romantically involved with Picasso and that the relationship was sanctioned by Paul Eluard ; Eluard was no stranger to open relationships having previously been involved in a menage-a-trois with his first wife Gala Eluard (later Gala Dali) and Max Ernst (see A Week of Max Ernst: Wednesday).

During WWII Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the occupation. She died of a stroke at the age of 40; a tragically early death that left the Surrealists and other artists who knew her bereft.

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