The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism by Whitney Chadwick - review by Rachel Cohen

Rachel Cohen

Stepping out of the Shadows

The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism


Thames & Hudson 256pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

When people write condensed accounts of Surrealism, they generally refer to the best-known figures: André Breton, the magnetic and sometimes authoritarian self-proclaimed leader of the movement; Max Ernst, one of its most powerful painters and creators of collages and sculptures, his figures monstrous and hybrid; Man Ray, photographer of smoothness and celebrity; Antonin Artaud, with his brilliantly incendiary view of the theatre. They talk about Paris in the 1920s, about experimentation with automatic writing and new techniques of making films. They mention the psychological distress of surviving the First World War and the way these artists offered a more emotional, less detached stance than Cubism did; the Surrealists were more politically revolutionary than their Cubist counterparts. It is widely recognised that figures such as Marcel Duchamp, who was associated with Surrealism, though not exactly a canonical member, opened up important new avenues for art. Happenings, installations, mixed media work, ready-mades, art films, performance pieces – all of these draw significantly on practices developed by the Surrealists. 

What you hear much less about in these accounts is the artistic accomplishments of the women associated with Surrealism. Sometimes Dora Maar is mentioned, though more often as the person who photographed her lover Picasso’s Guernica than as a significant painter and photographer in her own right. Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined

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