The second Surrealist chapter of this library highlights women who loved freedom, from Leonora Carrington to Remedios Varo.
Hannah Höch (1889-1978), Fremde Schönheit [Strange beauty], Berlin, c. 1929, original photographic collage on coloured paper, 10.5 x 20.2 cm (detail).
On 3 January 1935, Leonora Carrington (one of the Surrealists chosen by the Kahns) started a diary in the form of a letter addressed to herself. At just 18, she set herself a goal: to be an artist. "Give up dreaming and become a true artist, no matter how bad – but be an artist." She attained her goal, illustrating the essence of the movement on a par with the men. Raised as a member of the British gentry and sent to a boarding school in Florence, Leonora keenly admired the painters of the Quattrocento, particularly Uccello – considered a forerunner by the Surrealists. She resumed her diary on 28 March 1939. Her life then took a completely different turn: for two years earlier, she had met Max Ernst in a London gallery. Her writings reflect their life in Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche. Her pictorial work and fantastical poems, like The House of Fear (1938) illustrated by her lover, as well as this diary (€12,000/15,000), evoke her exclusive and obsessive passion for the German painter. Ernst was arrested in 1940, and she was devastated by the separation. After fleeing to Madrid, she broke down and was hospitalised. She managed to get to the US and went to live in Mexico, where she took up painting again and continued to write tales. Meanwhile, Ernst had fallen in love with a young American artist, Dorothea Tanning, also present in this collection with The Civilizing Influence, painted in 1944 (€40,000/50,000).
A poet and writer rescued from oblivion
Léna Leclercq, born in the Jura, went to Paris to continue her studies and became friends with Alberto Giacometti, who introduced her to the Surrealist circle and the literary avant-garde. A teacher in Guadeloupe from 1950 to 1952, she resigned, and moved into Balthus' home, the Château de Chassy in the Morvan, after meeting him through the sculptor. She shared the artist's life for a time, until she discovered his affair with his young niece Frédérique Tison. This drama is evoked indirectly in Il faut détruire Carthage, the novel she dedicated to Annette Giacometti, the sculptor's wife, who came to her aid after she attempted suicide. Her collections of poems were acclaimed firstly by the René Laporte poetry prize for Pomme endormie, published in 1958 by Marc Barbezat, with lithographs by Alberto Giacometti, and then by the Max Jacob prize for Poèmes insoumis (1960), published by the same company and illustrated by André Masson. The following year she published La Rose est nue with Jean Hugues, illustrated by Ernst, of which a copy by Paul Bonet features in the Kahn library (€8,000). It is accompanied by Personne (1962, illustrated by Dorothea Tanning, €3,000/4,000), and Midi, le trèfle blanc (1968), with an etching by Joan Miró, estimated at €1,000. In 1988, Pierre Mourin and Danielle Ducout devoted an exhibition to her in Dole, which brought her out of oblivion. Her subtle and highly personal writing, where "words trickle like cool water over life's wounds," have earned her a well-deserved place in this Surrealist gathering brought together by Geneviève and Jean-Paul Kahn, alongside powerful personalities like Nancy Cunard, Hannah Höch and Remedios Varo.
The triumph of the rebellious
In 1917 in Zurich, a few provocative artists joined forces, marking the birth of the Dada movement, which caught fire in Germany in particular through Raoul Hausmann. His companion, Hannah Höch, was the only woman to take part in the events in Berlin. In the collage Schmitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letze Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (1919-1920) parodying political figures, she addresses an important theme in her work: the identity and social role of women. Between 1920 and 1930, she combined the ideas of race and sexual identity; a rare collage from this so-called "ethnographic" series is one of the gems in the Kahn library (€30,000/40,000). In 1976, two years before her death, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Berlin National Gallery devoted a retrospective to her. Meanwhile, it took until 2014 for Nancy Cunard to be given her due by an exhibition at the quai Branly. Fiercely beautiful and highly attached to her freedom, she moved to Paris in 1920. Tristan Tzara introduced her to the Surrealist group, who were captivated, and Louis Aragon was seized with a "mad love" for her. When they broke up, he suffered deeply, and she decided to create her own publishing house, Hours Press, which published the rejected lover. Voyageur, poëme par l’auteur de “Voyages”, and A toi Nancy l’amour, including an autograph envoi by Aragon "To my last love…", are two booklets, estimated at €4,000. In 1942, another muse, the model and photographer Lee Miller, was appointed the American army's official war correspondent for the British Vogue. In 1945, she photographed the camps of Buchenwald and Dachau, and insisted that these horrendous pictures be published. The exhibition staged by the Jeu de Paume in 2008 paid belated tribute to her. Geneviève and Jean-Paul Kahn chose her portrait as a mermaid by Man Ray (€3,000/4,000), and an anonymous photo of her nude in the shower (€1,000/2,000). A beautiful, private moment reflecting this highly personal library.