by Whitney Chadwick. Thames & Hudson, November 2017. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9780500239681 (h/c), $35.00.
Reviewed March 2018
Farewell to the Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism primarily chronicles the period of time between the two World Wars and brings to light the lives, work and relationships of twelve women who were practicing artists, writers, poets and photographers. Interwoven throughout are the complex affiliations and interconnections the women shared with the Surrealist movement. Author Whitney Chadwick, scholar and professor emerita, San Francisco State University, structures the text around the relationships between the women set against the backdrop of men, husbands, lovers, war-torn Europe, and Surrealism. Chadwick’s text may be read as a timely and relevant retelling of her 1985 publication Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, with emphasis now clearly placed on specific and detailed accountings of the relationships which supported and sustained the women and the ways in which they identified as artists as opposed to muses. The creative lives and practices which intersect and intertwine include those of Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini, Frida Kahlo and Jacqueline Lamba Breton, and Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe.
The book begins and ends with French artist and poet Valentine Penrose, wife of English painter Roland Penrose. Valentine Penrose rebuffed the Surrealist notion of women as a combination of heightened sexuality and childlike inspiration, a femme-enfant or woman-child. Although influenced by Surrealism, Valentine questioned and criticized the movement through her writing exploring gender roles and identity and also through her close relationship with French/Mexican poet and painter Alice Rahon. After Valentine’s divorce from Roland in the late 1930s she once again found shelter with him and his new partner, American fashion model and photographer Lee Miller, when London was under siege in 1940 by the Germans. Miller, enmeshed in documenting the seemingly endless bombing of the city, discovered an unexpected alliance with Valentine based on their connection to both Roland and Surrealism. The complex relationship between the three continued until the two women died within a year of each other in the late 1970s.
The publication contains eighty-five color and black and white illustrations that are relatively small but very useful for reference, picture credits, a selected bibliography, notes, and an index. The combined use of archival materials, letters, papers, photographs, and other sources provides a richly detailed and engrossing picture of the women’s lives from this era overshadowed by war, trauma, violence, and unrest. Farewell to the Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism is highly recommended for academic libraries serving undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in art, art history, visual culture, and women’s and gender studies programs.