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CAHUN, Claude.

Two autograph postcards signed to Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, the second also signed by Marcel Moore.

Paris & Jersey: 1932 & 1938 Stock Code: 131539
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Exceptionally rare autograph material from the French photographer and mixed-media artist

Two exceptionally rare autograph postcards signed from the French photographer and mixed-media artist Claude Cahun to Surrealist poet Robert Desnos, one written from Paris, the other from Jersey in exile; in the first thanking him for a gift of flowers, and in the second reporting on her reclusive life in Jersey with her collaborator, lover, and step-sister Marcel Moore, who has also signed the second card using her birth name, "Suzanne". Desnos (1900-1945) was one of Cahun's close friends and favourite poets; she photographed him in 1930 (a portrait now owned by the Zabriskie Gallery). We can trace no comparable autograph material for Cahun in commerce; signed or inscribed copies of her surrealist publication Aveux non Avenus (1930) have surfaced several times at auction, but little else beyond that, and certainly nothing of this length or with such an excellent association.

Cahun (1894-1954) was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob. She began making photographic self-portraits as early as 1912, and in 1918 she adopted the gender-ambiguous name Claude Cahun, a move which further distanced herself from her famous family members, Maurice Schwob (her father, a newspaper publisher) and Marcel Schwob (her uncle, a Symbolist writer). During the early 1920s, she settled in Paris and set up a studio with Suzanne Malherbe (1892-1972), who adopted the similarly androgynous name "Marcel Moore". Both Cahun and Moore participated in a number of surrealist exhibitions and enjoyed close friendships with figures such as André Breton, René Crevel, Sylvia Beach, Robert Desnos, and Adrienne Monnier, though their relationship with the latter became somewhat strained after Monnier refused to publish Cahun's confessional Aveux non Avenus or write an introduction. In the first card, Cahun writes to Desnos, in French: "The multiple flowers that you brought us are still today fresh and in flower. Before falling asleep the other morning, we discovered their strange perfume, which made us see the countryside. 'When this you see, remember me' is not written on their beautiful petals, and yet I think no less of it". "When this you see, remember me" is written in English, and is an often-quoted turn of phrase found, for example, in love poems of the 16th and 17th centuries, and familiar letters through to the 19th. More closely tied to Cahun, however, is the phrase's appearance as the key refrain in Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts, an experimental libretto scored by American composer Virgil Thomson, finished and set by 1927. Though not premiered until 1934 in the US, the opera's first act was performed by Thomson for Stein and a dozen carefully chosen avant-garde friends (including Tristan Tzara and Georges Hugnet), an evening that became known as "the Paris production". It is not impossible that Cahun heard or read Stein's work as it circulated in Paris at the close of the 1920s - Stein met "the niece of Marcel Schwob" at Sylvia Beach's home some time before 1921, and they both attended Nathalie Barney's salons - and both Cahun and Moore were involved in some of the most radical experiments in Parisian theatre. The envelope bears the printed address of Chez Les Vikings, 29 et 31 Rue Vavin, a Parisian café in the 6th arrondissement and from 1928 a hotel and restaurant popular among British, American, and Scandinavian expatriates and tourists (see Arlen J. Hansen, Expatriate Paris: A Cultural and Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s, 2014, p. 131). As with many of the left bank cafés, the Viking played host to a number of celebrated literary figures; Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin often met there, and many of Miller's impassioned letters to her are headed and sent from the Viking. Simone de Beauvoir wrote a number of her letters to Sartre from the same, where she also regularly met Natalie Sorokin, her student with whom she and Sartre had affairs.

Cahun and Moore created sculptures, photomontages, and collages, as well as publishing a number of polemic essays and articles. Though Moore's involvement has not always been credited, it is now assumed that she was behind the camera for many of Cahun's most celebrated and provocative self-portraits. From 1937 the couple settled in Jersey at the Schwob family retreat and, following the fall of France and the German occupation of Jersey and the other Channel Islands, they became active in the resistance. The second card provides a glimpse into their non-subversive pastimes: "'Would you like to plant cabbages, in the fashion, in the fashion etc.' But we are not planting cabbages, not liking them. On the other hand, very lovely red haricot beans, soon to be good, I hope, and lettuces, radishes, tomatoes and asparagus, lawn and flowers. All of that, plus sea baths and sun are keeping us very busy - but that doesn't stop of from thinking of you affectionately. It would be good to hear you talk a little - as I think we are becoming more and more dumb. On the other hand, it would be jolly to hear or read news from Paris". Cahun quotes, with a slightly adapted opening, the tradition French children's folk song "Savez-vous planter les choux, À la mode, à la mode?" used to teach the order of body parts, lending her note a jaunty tone. Their propaganda efforts eventually led to their arrest and both were condemned to death in 1944, a penalty only lifted with the island's liberation the following year. Cahun and Moore fell into relative obscurity after the Second World War, though a scholarly biography in 1992 did much to resurrect interest in their lives and work. Now both are remembered and praised for their striking, provocative art and engagement with issues of gender and identity. As part of his 2007 exhibition of Cahun and Moore's work for the High Line Festival in New York David Bowie said: "you could call Cahun transgressive or you could call her a cross dressing Man Ray with surrealist tendencies. I find this work really quite mad, in the nicest way. Outside of France and now the UK she has not had the kind of recognition that, as a founding follower, friend and worker of the original surrealist movement, she surely deserves. Meret Oppenheim was not the only one with a short haircut".

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2 autograph postcards signed, each written across both message and address panel, with postmarked envelopes. The first, dated Wednesday 29 April [1932]: single postcard with colour-printed photographic illustration of orange lilies recto (92 x 142 mm), hand written in blue ink across verso, addressed "Cher amis" and signed "Claude"; together with an envelope postmarked 15 November 1932, addressed to "Monsieur Robert Desnos, 6 rue Lacretelle, Paris, XVe" in blue ink, in which Desnos apparently kept the present card. The second, dated June 1938: single postcard with black-and-white-printed photographic illustration of a woman picking "Jersey Cabbages", captioned as such (88 x 138 mm), hand written in blue ink across verso, signed "Claude", additionally signed "Suzanne"; together with an envelope postmarked 27 June 1938, addressed to "M. et Mme Robert Desnos, 19 rue Magazine, Paris, 6e, France" in blue ink, with the return address "Mlle L. Schwob, St Brelade's Bay, Jersey, Iles de la Manche" to verso.


Postcards slightly toned, else fine, the envelopes a little raggedly opened and slightly creased.


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