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SANS NOM:

CLAUDE CAHUN AND


MARCEL MOORE
Jersey holds the worlds leading collection of work by Surrealist Claude Cahun and avant-garde
artist Marcel Moore, two enigmatic French stepsisters who lived and worked here from the 1930s.
Louise Downie previews a new exhibition.

ARTISTS CLAUDE CAHUN AND family. In 1937 the sisters purchased


Marcel Moore were an extraordinary La Rocquaise, a house just opposite
couple who worked, lived and loved the hotel, and moved there
together for more than 40 years. permanently in 1938. The garden, the
Cahun and Moore were the house and the area around the bay
pseudonyms for Lucy Schwob and were favourite settings for Cahuns
Suzanne Malherbe, stepsisters who work. While living in Jersey they were
were born in Nantes and lived in Jersey generally known by their real names
from 1937. and gained a reputation for strange
The Jersey Heritage Trust was first behaviour, such as taking their cat for a
introduced to their work in the early walk on a lead and wearing trousers.
1990s, when the then curator of art, They remained here throughout the
Lucy Marder, was shown a collection occupation, carrying out subversive
of their work by Jersey resident John resistance activities for which they were
Wakeham. As a result, an exhibition arrested and imprisoned.
entitled Surrealist Sisters an extraor- Claude Cahun was born Lucy
dinary story of art and politics was Schwob in 1894. She came from a
held at the Jersey Museum in 1993. wealthy Jewish family of intellectuals
The rediscovery of Cahuns work in and publishers. In 1918 she adopted
the late 1980s, the publication of her the surname of her great uncle Lon
biography, Claude Cahun Lcart et la Cahun, an Orientalist and Novelist.
Mtamorphose by Franois Leperlier, in Her forename, Claude, in French can
1992 and exhibitions featuring her be either male or female or, in Claudes
Fig 1 Fashion illustration 1916 by Marcel Moore
photographs have encouraged a rapid watercolour JHT/2003/1/20
case, both.
burgeoning of interest in her work. Marcel Moore was the pseudonym
In 1995 and 2002, the Jersey providing new insights into the work used by Suzanne Malherbe, who was
Heritage Trust acquired collections of and lives of these two incredible artists. born in 1892. Her father was a
photographs, drawings, manuscripts Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore professor of histopathology at Nantes
and other material by Cahun and had a long association with Jersey, School of Medicine. By 1916 Suzanne
Moore and today cares for the worlds having spent many childhood holidays had established herself as a graphic
most important collection of their in the Island. They usually stayed at artist and her illustrations are typical of
work. This material continues to offer St Brelades Bay Hotel and became the type of work emerging from the
invaluable research opportunities, friends with the owners, the Colley Paris fashion scene at the time,

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reflecting the influence of the dynamic
fine art scene and a growing interest in
non-Western cultures, especially that
of Japan. She illustrated books and
magazines and produced publicity
material for leading figures in the
world of the avant-garde theatre and
dance. Her work was exhibited in
important venues such as the Salon
dAutomne (Figs 1 & 2).
Claudes parents divorced and her
father remarried Madame Malherbe.
They lived in Paris in the early 1920s,
becoming closely involved in the
artistic and intellectual life,
frequenting journalistic and theatrical
circles.
Claude seems to have identified
much more with the men in her family
than the women. This striking early

Fig 2 Fashion illustration 1915 by Marcel Moore


watercolour JHT/2003/1/16

self portrait shows her in exactly the


same pose as a photograph of her
father - the stark profile emphasises her
beak nose, which was a duplicate of her
fathers (Fig 3).
Her relationship with her mother
seems to have been confrontational. Fig 3 Self portrait c.1920 by Claude Cahun photograph JHT/1995/32/a
Her parents did not have a happy

HERITAGE MAGAZINE 9
marriage. When Claude was four years Although he found her difficult,
old her mother had a mental Breton apparently recognised her
breakdown and was institutionalised in talent and individuality.
a hospital long term. In 1930, Claude published her
Cahun published articles in autobiographical work Aveux non
journals and in 1929 translated Avenus (Disavowed Confessions) - a
Havelock Ellis controversial theories compilation of dreams, poems,
which introduced the possibility of a philosophical and intellectual
third sex, uniting masculine and dialogues, and musings on peculiarity
feminine traits but existing as neither and uniqueness. The book was
one nor the other. illustrated with a series of
photomontages,
created in collaboration
with Suzanne as Marcel
Moore.
In 1932 the sisters
Fig 5 Claude Cahun in Barbe Bleue May-June 1929 by
joined the Association Claude Cahun photograph JHT/1995/30/k
des Ecrivains et Artistes
R e v o l u t i o n n a i r e s , leaflets were signed The soldier
which was under the without a name. Lucy and Suzanne
auspices of the distributed the notes themselves, often
Communist Party, but travelling into St Helier where there
in May 1934 Claude was a denser concentration of soldiers.
published a short essay They would secrete them in soldiers
entitled Les Paris sont pockets or in staff cars. In July 1944
ouverts (place your bets) the sisters were arrested and charged
- an attack on with listening to the BBC and inciting
Fig 4 Claude Cahun, Solange and Roger Roussot in propagandist cultural the troops to rebellion. The latter
Le Mystre dAdam May- June 1929 by Claude Cahun photograph JHT/1995/31/u policies of the charge carried the death penalty, which
Communist party. In was commuted, and the pair were
Her association with the Thtre 1935 she co-founded Contre Attaque imprisoned for almost a year before the
Esoterique led by Pierre Albert-Birot is a group of Surrealists and friends Liberation (Figs 6 & 7).
evident in some of her photographs. protesting against the rise of Hitler and A portrait of 1945 shows the
Many of her self-portraits are theatrical the spread of fascism in France. defiant Claude with the Nazi eagle
in nature, with acting, masquerade and In 1937 Claude and Suzanne insignia clutched between her teeth.
self-staging (Figs 4 & 5). moved to Jersey permanently.
Although she described herself as a When the Germans invaded in
Surrealist, Cahun was separated from 1940, they decided to stay in
the main Surrealist group. Women the Island. The sisters began
rarely participated and none were distributing anti-Nazi leaflets
official members. It was very much a intended to demoralise the
male dominated group led by Andr troops and encourage soldiers
Breton. The function and image of to desert. Suzanne spoke
women in Surrealist art was often in fluent German, although she
the role of muse, child or femme fatale. kept this fact a secret from the
Women were treated as objects to occupying forces, and would
inspire male genius; their bodies were translate BBC radio
for use as aesthetic objects and for male broadcasts into German. The
desire. Breton is said to have avoided words were then typed or
Claude, disliking her unconventional handwritten on small pieces of
dress and behaviour. However, Claude tissue paper. The impression
had already published articles and given was that they were
made self portraits by the time the first written by a German officer. Fig 6 Propaganda leaflets which encouraged the German troops to rebel
manuscript JHT/1995/45/53
Surrealist manifesto appeared in 1924. Typically of Claude, these

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Fig 7 Self Portrait 1945 by Claude Cahun photograph JHT/1995/30/u HERITAGE MAGAZINE 11
CLAUDE CAHUN
SELF-PORTRAITS
CLAUDE CAHUN WAS AN This is an act of ridicule and
enigma. Her work invites but defies parody, of teasing eroticism and
explanation, but perhaps some of the blatant denial. It mocks the viewer for
biggest clues are in her writings. For being attracted to what is obviously
example she wrote: Masculine? not on offer.
Feminine? But it depends on the There are many paintings of
situation. Neuter is the only gender women looking at themselves in a
that always suits me, and I will never mirror. Usually they refer to
finish removing all these masks. narcissism, voyeurism and being the
object of the male gaze. However, in
this self-portrait, Claude is not looking
at herself, she is looking at us looking
at her (Fig 10). She wears a long
chequered coat, which she holds
closed. The coat conceals all of her
body apart from her face. Yet in the
mirror image it appears almost as if she
Fig 9 Self portrait 1927 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/30/j
is opening the coat, revealing the base
of her neck. She disrupts the viewers
In this self-portrait of 1927,
Claude is dressed as a body-builder
(Fig 9). But perhaps it is not her body
she is referring to, but her self, her
identity or her multiple identity. She
wears a vest, tights and shorts. Her face
is made up, the cheeks accentuated
with hearts, echoed in the kiss curls
above. Her gaze is coy and inviting,
almost seductive, but at the same time
contemptuous and mocking. Her
nipples and pouting lips are darkened
Fig 8 Self portrait 1921 by Claude Cahun for emphasis. But emblazoned across
photograph JHT/2003/1/3 her flat almost male chest are the
words I am in training do not kiss
In this disturbing self-portrait of me, a straight-forward denial of the
1921, her head is shaved and tipped to invitation evident in the rest of the
emphasise the elongation of her skull portrait. It is an attempt to ward off
(Fig 8). Her hairline is delineated, sexual trespassers. The real sex of the
almost in preparation for some sort of body is indeterminate. The nipples are
brain surgery. Although the top half of accentuated but flat. The legs are
her body is unclothed, the lower half is protectively crossed but a heart invites
tightly bound, like a mummy or you to look as the hand insinuates itself Fig 10 Self portrait 1928 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/41/n
perhaps a strait jacket. between the legs.

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painted mask and no pupils are visible
behind the eye holes. She hides her
eyes - the doorway to the soul. Her
body has been carefully placed
between two swirling patterns on the
quilt, echoing the curves of her body
and the elliptical shapes on the mask.
In 1929, while Claude was
masquerading, psychoanalyst Joan
Rivire wrote a classic paper on women
who employ womanliness as
masquerade. She proposed that
masquerade was a tool used by women
to deal with the anxiety of trying to be
successful in a mans world.
Claude wrote: In front of the
mirror, on a day full of enthusiasm,
you put your mask on too heavily; it
Fig 11 Self portrait c.1928 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/22/w
bites your skinwith horror you see
that the flesh and its mask have
gaze by staring back in a strong, Fig 13 Self portrait c.1928 by Claude Cahun
become inseparable photograph JHT/1995/32/b
confrontational and unwavering way. I had spent many solitary hours
The eyes of the mirror image do not disguising my soul. Its masks so perfect that when they happened to
connect with the viewer, rather they run into each other on the plaza of my
stare beyond into the unknown. consciousness, they didnt recognise
Claude repeatedly used masks as a one another But the facepaints that
device in her work. She created Id used seemed indelible. To clean
multiple identities and in this self- them off I rubbed so hard that I took
portrait these multiple identities are off the skin. And my soul like a face
masked (Fig 11). None of these masks galled to the quick, no longer
has eye holes. The main face is almost resembled human form.
doll like in appearance, suggesting Claude made several double
perhaps that there is no real person portraits. This single image she later
here, that this is an inanimate object, turned into a double portrait (Fig 13).
perhaps a comment on how women It has been suggested that some of her
were perceived. self portraits recreate a mother figure.
Another masked image from 1928 This single portrait shows Claude
(Fig 12). Claude kneels naked on a floating in water, as babies do in the
quilt, her legs tucked in neatly. She sits womb. Her feet are bound with
naked and erect. Her head lifts almost seaweed like an umbilical cord tying
with pride at the tanned female body. her to the rock. The rock itself is
But she has hidden her breasts from Fig 12 Self portrait c.1928 by Claude Cahun shaped like the groin of a woman. Her
photograph JHT/1995/30/t
view. Her face is half hidden by a head and neck are raised out of the

HERITAGE MAGAZINE 13
as her other self, Suzanne/Marcel,
her lifelong companion.
In this portrait, Claude is dressed as
a child, with short socks and a floppy
bow in her hair (Fig 15). She has
hidden in the closet and fallen asleep.
Claude is a child, curled up in a foetal
ball, hidden away from adult eyes if the
doors were shut, but the arm has
caused the doors to open and the child
to be revealed. This image is carefully
constructed. The bow in her hair

Fig 17 Self portrait c.1939 by Claude Cahun


photograph JHT/1995/30/y

This theme is echoed in these two


Fig 14 Self portrait c.1928 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/36/b
portraits, possibly taken in the garden
of La Rocquaise. In the first Claude is
water as if pushing from the placenta surrounded by rich, lush vegetation
and trying to breathe. (Fig 17). She strokes a luxurious
If we are to carry this interpretation animal fur and holds ripe grapes. The
to the next image, this double portrait floral growth has spread to her hair and
would be like twins in the womb, both an animal tooth is aimed threateningly
connected to the rock by the seaweed at her throat.
but also connected to each other In this next picture the ripe stalks
through the hand lowered from one and blossoms close in on the sleeping
body to touch the feet of the other figure, the fur insinuates itself closer to
Fig 16 Self portrait c.1930 by Claude Cahun
body, like Siamese twins (Fig 14). This photograph JHT/1995/32/g her face ready to smother the tiny gap
could be interpreted as another between her lips (Fig 18).
duplication of herself by Claude, or as reflects the shapes of the cupboard In this self-portrait, Claude is
the creation of the person she regarded finials. The lines of the body are caged behind a lattice work window
echoed in the placing of the boxes on (Fig 19). The reflection of the
the shelves above. window creates another wall of the
From the late 1930s onwards cage. Her bent knees add to the
Claude photographed herself not only
in interior spaces but in the real world,
in gardens, beaches and architectural
settings. She still used extravagant
costumes and masks, but much less
often. She started to manipulate the
real world as a tool for her self-
portraiture. Here she lies nude on a
beach, partially covered with clinging
seaweed (Fig 16). The tide washes over
and around her. The strong diagonal
of the shadow seems to pull her into its
darkness. She is faceless and her bright
hair sinks into the rock in the
background. It is almost as if she is
Fig 15 Self portrait c.1932 by Claude Cahun being consumed by the overwhelming Fig 18 Marcel Moore c.1939 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/30/f photograph JHT/1995/31/c
power of nature.

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Fig 19 Self portrait c.1938 by Claude Cahun photograph JHT/1995/31/x
feeling of constriction. The bars of the literally written all over her in a double research. There are a number of
window cut her body into sections, exposure print, with words from threads to the sisters lives and work
and cut off her nose and mouth from gravestones overlaying her figure (Fig that invite analysis the theatrical work
her eyes. Her eyes are shut. Can they 24). She wears military clothes, of the 1920s and early 1930s and its
function without the rest of the body? perhaps laying blame for her death on association with Paris avant-garde
Is she asleep, or dead, or dreaming of a her captors. theatre, Cahuns books, manuscripts
place beyond the cage? Claude Cahun died in 1954. Her and poems, Cahuns self-portraiture,
Claudes already weak health death certificate cites coronary and their relationship with each other,
suffered during the war and the few pulmonary embolism, although it is Moores art, and their resistance
self portraits she did after the known that she also had digestive activities during the German
Liberation were dominated by the problems. Suzanne moved to a smaller Occupation of Jersey. Some studies
theme of death. In this series of five house, Carola in Beaumont, where she have compared and contrasted
photographs, she sets herself against committed suicide in 1972. Cahuns work with that of other artists
the backdrop of St Brelades Many writers and researchers have - most notably that of Cindy Sherman
churchyard, where she is buried (Figs explored Cahun and Moores work - or have placed Cahun within
20-24). Some images include a skull, and analysed the character of these two subjects, such as Surrealist art or
and some mask out her face. In the women, often presenting interesting tableaux vivants.
third of the series, she appears to mock and thought-provoking insights with Having worked on the Cahun and
death, with the cigarette dangling occasional conflicting opinions and Moore collection for the past ten years,
from her mouth (Fig 22). But death is creating what is now a rich pool of I feel that one of the key questions is

Fig 20 Self portrait c.1947 by Claude Cahun Fig 21 Self portrait c.1947 by Claude Cahun Fig 22 Self portrait c.1947 by Claude Cahun
photograph JHT/1995/36/n photograph JHT/1995/31/h photograph JHT/1995/31/a

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how the sisters would have reacted to
the level of interest in their work. To
The new exhibition, Acting Out:
Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, takes
Bibliography
my mind, the answer to this question is place at the Jersey Museum in J Blessing Resiting Determination
typically (of the sisters) enigmatic December 2005. An Introduction to the Work of
they would have both loved and hated Claude Cahun Surrealist Artist and
it. They would have hated the minute Louise Downie is the JHT curator of art. Writer in Found Object Vol 1 No.1
dissection of their art and lives, the Tel: 633327 Fall 1992
pigeon-holing of their characters and Email:
their art. At the same time they louise.downie@jerseyheritagetrust.org Claude Cahun, Aveux non avenus
(Cahun in particular) would have Paris: Editions du Carrefour, 1930
revelled in the attention and enjoyed Claude Cahun Les Paris sont Ouverts,
their stardom. Most of all I think they Jos Corti, Paris, Mai, 1934
would have enjoyed teasing, tantalising
W.Chadwick ed., Mirror
and tormenting their audience,
Images:Women, Surrealism and Self-
providing just enough information to
Representation, Cambridge, Mass
invite interpretation while at the same
time denying logical answers, Gen Doy, Materializing Art History,
providing contradictory statements Berg Publishers, Oxford and New
which pose more questions than give York, 1998.
answers.
Claire Follain Constructing a profile of
Resistance Lucy Schwob and Suzanne
Malherbe as paradigmatic rsistantes
degree thesis 1997
Danielle Knafo, Ph.D Claude
Cahun The Third Sex in Studies in
Gender and Sexuality 2(1);29-61,2001
Honor Lasalle and Abigail Solomon-
Godeau Surrealist Confessions:
Claude Cahuns Photomontages in
Afterimage Vol.19, No 8 March 1992
Franois Leperlier, Claude Cahun:
lcart et la metamorphose Paris: Jean-
Michel Place, 1992
Jennifer Mundy (ed) Surrealism Desire
Unbound Tate Modern 2001
S.Rice (ed) Inverted Odysseys:Claude
Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman,
Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press, 1999
Fig 23 Self portrait c.1947 by Claude Cahun Fig 24 Self portrait c.1947 by Claude Cahun Liz Rideal (ed) Mirror Mirror
photograph JHT/1995/36/e photograph JHT/1995/31/g
National Portrait Gallery 2001

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