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The importance of being a (Surrealist) muse

Here’s a guest post by Livia Satriano. She is a lovely Italian Media Graduate based in Milan. She works as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly writing about music, art and culture. She wrote her first book “No Wave” about the New York underground music and art scene of the late Seventies, which was published in Italian recently. She is also the editor of Assez Vu – a blog celebrating odd and inspiring pictures from the past. The name “Assez Vu” means ”I’ve seen enough” and it is taken from a poem (“Départ”) by Rimbaud whom Livia is massive fan of. She thought it would be the perfect name and inspiration for her visual blog of “gems” from the past, to say that there’s still so much that we have to see and discover before we can say we’ve seen enough.

Photo of Livia Satriano

The importance of being a (surrealist) muse

Forget the femme fatale of the “Belle Époque”, the woman who made Surrealist hearts beat fast was more of a childlike woman, she was emotive, intuitive, irrational — all the perfect characteristics to take inspiration from as an artist. And what is a muse if not an inspirer?

But never think of the Surrealist muse as the “average” muse, Surrealist women were different and unpredictable in some way. They weren’t Botticelli blonde goddesses, Gauguin exotic beauties or just pretty girls to look at. They were instead proud, independent women who knew what’s what. They could easily switch from being the inspiration for a painting or a poem to being personally involved in artistic expressions. Both object and subject, child and mother, feminine and masculine — The Surrealist muse was the first modern woman.

 

Nusch Éluard
The sentiments apparent / The lightness of approach / The tresses of caresses.
— Nusch, by Paul Éluard.

Nusch Eluard by Man Ray

Nusch Eluard by Man Ray, 1928

Maria Benz’s first job in Paris was as a “hypnotist’s helper” but soon she met the surrealist poet Paul Éluard whom she married in 1934. Since then this lovely, ethereal girl became the muse of many artists, from Man Ray to Picasso and a favourite inspiration for her husband’s work. She also loved making collages herself at night, while struggling with insomnia.

Some of Nusch’s collages

 

Méret Oppenheim

Who covers a soup spoon with luxurious fur? Little Meret. Who has outgrown us? Little Meret
— Max Ernst

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray, 1932

fur-covered tea cup by Méret Oppenheim

She was by all means a Surrealist artist. Her bizarre objects/creations – like the fur-covered tea cup or the fur gloves with polished fingernails – were way ahead of their time. But she was also a beautiful and intriguing woman who posed for Man Ray several times.

Poison by Man Ray featuring Méret Oppenheim:
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Suzanne Muzard

Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all
— Nadja, 1928, by André Breton

Photo of Suzanne Muzard & André Breton

Photography album with Suzanne Muzard by André Breton

André Breton, Paul Éluard & Suzanne Muzard, Untitled 1931

Suzanne was a former prostitute who won the heart of the father of Surrealism. Breton’s masterpiece “Nadja” is said to be dedicated to her but at that time she was still “the young wife” of writer Emmanuel Berl. Muzard and Breton had an intense relationship, she being his muse, but sometimes also a partner in art-making.

 

Lee Miller

I would rather take a picture than be one
— Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, 1932

Portrait of Lee Miller, by Man Ray ca. 1929

London, 1941 by Lee Miller

One of the most beautiful woman of her generation, Lee graced the covers of fashion magazines such as Vogue but was also, and above all, a talented photojournalist. She had a special photography teacher, Man Ray, of whom she soon became lover and main inspiration.

A clip from ‘Le Sang d’un Poete’ by Jean Cocteau:
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Dorothea Tanning

My work is about leaving the door open to the imagination
— Dorothea Tanning

Can two artists have a long happy life together? This is what happened to Surrealists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. They had never been apart since Max Ernst’s first visit in her New York studio in 1942. The legend says a chess game was all it took for them to fall in love! She, “the oldest living surrealist”, passed away early this year at the age of 101.

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst

Dorothea Tanning & Max Ernst