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June 10, 2023

Stunning Portraits of Meret Oppenheim by Taken Man Ray in the 1930s

Meret (or Méret) Elisabeth Oppenheim (1913 – 1985) was a German-born Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer. Oppenheim was a member of the Surrealist movement along with André Breton, Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst, and other writers and visual artists. Besides creating art objects, Oppenheim also famously appeared as a model for photographs by Man Ray, most notably a series of nude shots of her interacting with a printing press.

Meret Oppenheim decides to become an abstract artist after discovering a Bauhaus exhibition in Bâle, in 1929. As she settles in Paris, in the early 1930s, the German artist who also writes poetry, becomes familiar with the Surrealist group thanks to her friend, Hans Arp. The movement adopts her as a muse, in particular Man Ray who depicts her androgynous beauty in numerous nudes and erotic portraits that seduce André Breton who defines her as a ‘creature’ and ‘statue’. But Meret Oppenheim came to Paris not to become an idol or Max Ernst’s passionate lover, but a proper artist and she decides to concentrate on her own creations: from fashion drawings to paintings and jewelry, inspired by the works of Marcel Duchamp and her dreams.

As she is having lunch with Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso who initiate a game for which they have to envelop all the objects on the table with fur – inspired by the fur bracelet Meret Oppenheim had designed for Elsa Schiaparelli and that she is wearing – the artist decides to cover their whole coffee set with the skin of a gazelle. By transforming an everyday object into a symbolique piece, she gives birth to an iconic surrealist work, entitled The Luncheon in Fur by André Breton.

In 1937, Meret Oppenheim leaves Paris and knows what she would later call a ‘crisis’, during eighteen years. She returns to art by imagining the costumes for Pablo Picasso’s play, Le désir attrapé par la Queue, in 1956 and, with a legendary performance in 1959 for which she interrogates fecundity by turning a naked woman whose face is painted in gold into a buffet. As Surrealists rather appreciated her as muse than a peer, Meret Oppenheim also had to face a misinterpretation of her work, a patriarchal judgment that emphasized voyeurism and eroticism. Hopefully, 1970s’ feminists comprehended her work in its original discourse and celebrated the artist as a true speaker for women’s creativity.


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