Spotlight: French Artist Jacqueline Lamba Was a Surrealist Muse Whose Own Work Was Largely Forgotten. Now, a New Exhibition Is Restoring Her Narrative
Lamba's dynamic practice was significant in both the development of Surrealism and 20th-century Expressionism.
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About the Artist: Born in 1910, French artist Jacqueline Lamba was a fierce and independent artist whose work falls across a range of modes and movements of the 20th century. As a teenager, Lamba enrolled at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, but ultimately found the curriculum too academic. After being introduced to his book by a friend, Lamba met the famous Surrealist André Breton in 1934; within months of their meeting, they wed. Involved alongside Breton with the Surrealist circles of Paris, the work she produced in this period of her career reflect her deeply intellectual understanding of the tenets of the movement. In the midst of World War II, under the patronage of Peggy Guggenheim, the pair and their young child made the necessary voyage to America to escape Nazi powers in France. Lamba went on to have work included in several of Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in the 1940s. Breton and Lamba eventually separated, and in 1946 Lamba married American sculptor David Hare, whom she had met working on the Surrealist magazine VVV. This second marriage ended in 1954, after which Lamba returned to France. Of the time following her second divorce, it was noted that “she had painted Surrealism to please Breton and expressionist landscapes to please Hare, and now she was painting for herself.” Lamba was a driven and ambitious artist, and though she worked in increasing isolation, she continued to produce works through until her death in 1992.
What You Need to Know: On view through April 22, 2023, Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco presents “Jacqueline Lamba: Painter,” a retrospective exhibition of the wildly dynamic and intriguing artist. Opening the gallery’s 30th anniversary season the show includes over 40 works on paper and paintings dated from between 1927 and 1988—highlighting the prodigious output of the ambitious artist. The show at Weinstein Gallery is the first gallery exhibition of Lamba’s work in the United States in seventy-four years. Seeking to rectify the academic and canonical neglect Lamba’s life and practice have oft experienced, the exhibition presents a compelling range of work from across periods of the artist’s life; from Surrealist compositions influenced by Breton to expressionist landscapes shaped by her time with Hare, and, perhaps most captivating, paintings from her late career, when she painted exclusively for herself and in the manner of her own creative impulse. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated digital exhibition catalogue of the same title, which includes an essay by art historian Salomon Grimberg.
Why We Like It: Throughout her life, Lamba struggled to be recognized as a painter in and of herself, outside of the traditional labels of wife and mother or the shadow of her husbands’ work. Though she did not ultimately receive the same degree of recognition as her friends and contemporaries like Claude Cahun or Frida Kahlo, the collection of works within the exhibition at Weinstein Gallery illustrate just how much she is equally worthy of acclaim and recognition. Her work notably underwent several evolutions throughout her lifetime, but there are certain consistencies that emphasize the strength of her artistic vision and skill. For example, a strong sense of place can be traced throughout Lamba’s oeuvre; early works such as Spirale et village (1946), coinciding with her immersion in Surrealism, evoke the milieu of an old fairytale, creating a sense of narrative through the spiraling and juxtaposed angles of structures within a village. The much later Sans titre (ville de jour) (1970) again centers on place—but from a perspective akin to Impressionism. The nuances of the cityscape, conveyed through subtle changes in light and brushstroke, recall optical afterimages; the feeling of the city is less narrative and more akin to a memory.
See inside the exhibition and featured works below.
“Jacqueline Lamba: Painter” is on view at Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, through April 22, 2023.
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