Jersey Heritage Trust

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(09.04.2003 , United Kingdom, Jersey JE2 3NF )

A collection of photographs, 1915-29
Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), 1894-1954
Jersey Museum

A grant of £60,000 from the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund), the UK’s largest independent art charity, has helped the Jersey Museum acquire a collection of photographs by a deeply innovative, female Surrealist photographer who moved in the avant-garde circles of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. The total cost of the acquisition was £85,000, with additional funding coming from the Jersey Heritage Trust and the Berni Trust.

Claude Cahun (a sexually ambiguous pseudonym used by Lucy Schwob), was fascinated by the subject of identity, and explored this through the medium of photography. She chose to question, through self portraiture, her sexuality, her androgyny, her body, her culture, her surroundings and her fears. The multiple personalities explored by Cahun, her various personae and sexual identities, all prefigure major concerns among fine artists of recent times. Cahun was an extraordinary talent whose work has assumed great significance in the last few years. This is partly because of the work’s intrinsic quality but can also be attributed to the rise of women’s studies and the parallels between the subjects being explored in her work and issues currently concerning contemporary art practitioners.

Lucy Schwob was born in Nantes in 1894 into a wealthy Jewish family. She shared much of her life with her stepsister Suzanne Malherbe, a graphic artist working under the pseudonym Marcel Moore. They often collaborated, for example, over Vue et Visions; published in 1919, the book was written by Cahun and illustrated by Moore. The couple moved to Jersey in 1937 where they remained throughout the German occupation during the Second World War, often carrying out Resistance activities. In 1944 they were arrested and charged with ‘inciting the troops to rebellion’ for which they were sentenced to death – a sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment. They remained in Jersey for the rest of their lives.

The collection of photographs, never previously publicly exhibited or published, is now on display in the Barreau Le Maistre art gallery at the Jersey Museum. A major exhibition of her work is planned for 2005, at the Berkeley Art Museum at the University of California, which will include the Jersey Heritage Trust’s entire collection of Claude Cahun‘s work. The exhibition will tour throughout the USA before coming to Jersey later that year. This will be the first time that all of the collection will be shown together, and the first major solo exhibition of the work of Claude Cahun in Britain.

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