Claude Cahun

1894-1954 Heroïne
The “Morphwoman”

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Born in 1894 in Nantes, state of surrealism: BRETON, VALHE, Lucy SCHWOB, from a rich intellectual Jewish family, daughter of Maurice, niece of Marcel Schwob, the writer, she could have lead a quiet bourgeoise life, but the 2 world wars, her Judaism, her homosexuality and her artistic and libertarian spirit didn’t make it a walk in the park -Her mother is schizophrenic and in !909 sees the birth of a heated passion for Suzanne MALHERBE, who will sign under the name MOORE, and very rare fact, this passion will last their whole life, until Lucy’s death in 1954. From 1917 on, she will write under the name Claude CAHUN and will collaborate as a poetess, write and photographer with several magazines (Mercure de France) avant garde (BIFUR) or homosexual (INERSIONS)in 1925...

Participates in the DADA manifestations or in ADRIENNE MONNIER and Sylvia BEACH’s bookstore, and hangs with the sculptress CHANA ORLOFF. Fancy to wear her hair very short, then died gold, and silver, and finally shave it in the Paris of 1920’s. Her first collections “Views and Visions”, “Wild songs” are being published.

Living in Paris with Suzanne, she turns to theatre with Mr MORENO, Tourjansky and PITOEFF. She will be an actress sporadically but will rather design stage costumes.

Her friendship with Michel LEIRIS will be flawless. She hangs around esoterical circles. (Georgette LE BLANC, Jane HEAP). When her father dies in 1928, she intensifies her poetic politic and photographic work co signs “AVEUX non AVENUS ” in 1930, text and photos. From her friendship with Paul NIZAN et de Robert DESNOS she will meet Andre Breton in 1932, passionate friendship, joins the revolutionary artist writers and the surrealism with Tristan TZARA et René CREVEL. Participates in the groups’ exhibitions: Paris-Londres-Jersey.

Claude Cahun
and Suzanne buy a property in Jersey in 1937 that will be their home til the end. “La Roquaise”. As an activist she is part of “The International Federation of Revolutionary Art"with BRETON and TROTSKY. Considering that she’s jewish, and her differences, her political views, she turns into an activist since the Nazis invaded jersey in 1940. Production of controversial anti Nazis flyers and photos arrangements with Suzanne. She’s arrested for the first time in 1943. Attempts to commit suicide. Death sentence in 1944, their house “The farm with no name” is being rampaged and many archives will be destroyed. Fortunately saved by the 8th May 1945 german defeat, they will spend a lot of time finding and restoring their lost art works.

During the years 1940-45 she starts autobiographic stories, “Confidences in the mirror”, “The mute in the fray” then several self portrait /images/movements “The way of the cat”.

At the age of 60, in 1954, her health starts failing quickly. She dies of a heart attack in Jersey. Suzanne has engraved in her tombstone St John’s Apocalypse: ”And I live new paradise and a new earth”.

We can remember 4 great fields of activity from the plastician, poetess and photographer Claude Cahun

: Discovery of photo and text
: Discovery of the era’s avant garde and herself as a subject and object.
: Continuity of publications and variety of subjects :still life, self portrait between DADA and surrealism, photo arrangements and anti nazi propaganda.
: return to the symbolic self portrait and to the “still living life”.

Because of her engagement, Claude Cahun was an avant gard feminist pioneer all of her life. Confusing the issues, subversion of the masculine feminine genre, she defines herself as neutral and metamorphoses her identity, constantly staging herself, changing face, and anticipating 50 years in advance the work of de Cindy SHERMAN or LEIGH BOWERY.

She practices the poetry of the object and the diversion from its original function ( rock, feather, newspaper..etc) She practiced politic and poesy with a passion in the name of freedom of speech , manners, and confessions.

Her elective encounters with avec LEIRIS, BRETON, DESNOS, ELUARD Ernst, show her fidelity to her artist friends.

She magnifies in second degree the feminine desire with self derision and asserts narcissism as a plastic value. From her unique and intense collaboration with Suzanne MALHERBE like a long and mad love story she writes in “Null and void Admissions”, ”Portraits of one or another” Our two narcissism drowning in each other it was the impossible with a magic mirror.

That is how Claude CAHUN lived and created, plastic narcissist that could be called today a UFO OUTSIDER.


Claude Cahun
Jeu de Paume Paris


Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde
75008 Paris