Montmartre is undoubtedly Paris’ most fascinating neighbourhood and is often described by intellectuals as a melting pot, where conventions and day-to-day occurrences are brought to life through artistic creations.
Its geographic location and the panoramic view it offers of Paris were well summarised by the French poet André Breton, who famously wrote, “If you really want to understand Montmartre, go up very early in the morning and watch Paris downhill, where it is slowly emerging from its sleep with its splendours, like someone waking up stretching out his or her arms.”
Paris has many legendary museums, such as the Louvre, D’Orsay or Luxembourg, to name only a few — but walking up the hill to reach the door of the Musée Montmartre is a truly unique pleasure. The museum’s organisers this year have taken the unusual decision to hold an exhibition entirely devoted to female painters, or to their portraits painted by other artists, and female photographers.
Entitled ‘Surrealism the Feminist Way’, the show displays paintings and other works by a number of female artists whose works are often simultaneously provocative, dynamic and aesthetic. To name only a few of these female artists for want of space, one cannot ignore Claude Cahun, who acquired enormous popularity in the early 20th century for her sculptures and off-beat photographs.
An offbeat exhibition in Paris honours the incredible works of France’s female surrealists
Add to this the Prague-born Marie Cerminova, who acquired French nationality and became very well-known as a painter with her single artistic name Toyen, working furiously until the final day of her life in Paris at the age of 78 in 1980.
But of course we cannot continue here without mentioning Dora Maar, an international celebrity during her own lifetime as a highly creative photographer, who was also known as the woman closest to the heart of Pablo Picasso. Her many portraits by the Spanish genius, who lived almost his entire life in France, are part of his most celebrated works. Maar’s photographic creations are also a delight to view at this unique exhibition.
In the words of one of the high officials of Musée Montmartre: “This wave of female surrealism also provided a number of women painters as well as photographers the rare opportunity to shift their talents to a new framework, in order to bring to public attention their creativities that certainly had no equivalent in other avant-garde styles in the Parisian history of art.
“Many of these women, until then totally unknown or little known to the public as artists, succeeded in expressing their emotions often by appropriating or even extending the themes initiated by the earlier leaders of the movement, to express their freedom by creating these chefs d’oeuvres.”
The emancipation that they manifest in their pieces of art echoes through. As does their quest for independence and the spirit of protest, itself a characteristic point in the history of Montmartre, both for men and women.
‘Surrealism the Feminist Way’ is on display at the Montmartre Museum, Paris from March 31-September 10, 2023.
The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 20th, 2023