The Women of Surrealism: Jacqueline, Nusch and Valentine

Our fall production, Adoration of Dora, uses a cast of six women to tell the story of artist Dora Maar and her fraught relationship between being an artist and being a muse. Three of the characters that are part of Dora’s story — Jaqueline, Nusch and Valentine — are based on three Surrealist artists of the time, all friends of Dora Maar’s, whose experiences within the predominately male circle of Surrealist artists and writers mirror that of Dora’s central conflict.

“Surrealist women were actively encouraged to be creative and original at a time when conventional society still placed enormous pressures on women to adhere to conventional roles, yet even these attempts to elevate their creativity somehow foundered on the rocks of expectation. The women were not expected to be as talented, as creative or as original as they actually were and therefore the fact of this equality of talent remained unacknowledged. It is this two handed attitude to women in the Surrealist group that makes understanding the movement so complicated.”

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Jacqueline Lamba

Jacqueline Lamba


“The object is only a part of space created by light. Color is its non-arbitrary choice in transfiguration. Texture is

the crystallization of this choice. The line does not exist, it is already form. Shadow does not exist, it is already light.” ~ Jacqueline Lamba

An orphan, Jacqueline Lamba spent her early childhood in boarding schools and eventually studied at l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, where she met Dora Maar, who remained a close friend. Jacqueline was a politicized woman, rebellious against conventional social and political attitudes. Her work appeared in Surrealist exhibitions between 1934 and 1948, and she created imaginative and sophisticated Surrealist drawings, collages and objects which were greeted with enthusiasm. Jacqueline was friends with most of the Surrealist women, and it has been rumored that she was one of Frida Kahlo’s lovers. Jacqueline abandoned the idea of Surrealist painting during the late 1940s, and in 1963 she moved to the French countryside, where she would spend the next 18 years in seclusion, always painting the landscape and the sky. She eventually moved to a nursing home in Touraine, continuing to work in pastels, and passed away in 1993.

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Nusch Eluard

Nusch Eluard


“She incarnated an ideal femininity because she was very free.” ~ Chantal Vieuille

Nusch Eluard was an enigmatic muse that inspired some of the greatest art of the 1930s and 40s. Born in 1906 as Maria Benz, she moved to Paris in 1928 and worked as hypnotist’s helper to earn a living. In 1930, while wandering through central Paris, she was approached by the Surrealist poets René Char, and Paul Eluard – whom she married four years later. As Eluard’s wife, she became one of the most beloved figures of the Surrealists and the muse of Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, René Magritte and Joan Miró. Nusch embodied the image of an independent, unconventional and highly erotic woman who created an art of her own with her Surrealist collages, created while she was battling with insomnia. A sudden stroke caused her to collapse and die on a Parisian street at age 40, leaving a whole group of artists broken with her sudden death.

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Valentine Hugo

Valentine Hugo


Valentine Hugo’s first claim to fame was in 1913 when an exhibition of her ballet drawings adorned the foyer of the Champs-Elysèes Theatre on the opening night of The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky’s hugely controversial ballet. She married fellow artist Jean Hugo (grandson of author Victor Hugo), whom she worked with on designs for a ballet by Jean Cocteau, but their marriage did not last. In 1928 she met the Surrealists and was the first woman to enter their orbit with a professional reputation as an artist already established. She was one of the first women to show their work in a Surrealist exhibition, at Galerie Pierre Colle in June 1933 and her work was included in all of the main surrealist exhibitions from then until 1938, though this never earned her the same recognition or financial reward as her male colleagues. In 1940 she began her career as a broadcaster on Radio-Mondial and, though this was cut short by the German invasion of France, she returned to radio in the 1950s. Poor health and money problems led to Valentine becoming reclusive late in her life. Recently, the significance of her career is becoming gradually recognized, as interest grows in the Surrealist women artists.

Its important to note for our upcoming auditions (Saturday June 27!) that, while these women are caucasian, we will be looking at actresses of all ethnicities for every available role. With the next blog post, we’ll continue with a look at the art and life of Dora Maar and Picasso’s other muse, Marie-Therese Walter.


~ by KOLT Run Creations on June 24, 2015.

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