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Suzanne Van Damme (1901 - 1986)

'Femme Surréaliste',

Catalogue essay by Blanche Llewellyn

Despite being born in Belgium, arguably the birthplace of Surrealism, Suzanne Van Damme only began creating identifiably surrealist artworks when she relocated to Paris in the 1930s.

By the late 1940s, the period to which this picture most likely dates,  she was at the height of her recognition. In 1947, André Breton, the so-called “Father of surrealism”, extended an invitation to Van Damme to participate in the renowned “Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme” at Galerie Maeght in Paris. This exhibition featured a prestigious lineup of famous contemporaries including Arp, Bellmer, Brauner, Calder, Duchamp, Ernst, Giacometti, Gorky, Lam, Matta, Miro, Picabia, Man Ray, Tanguy, Tanning, and numerous others.

Although Suzanne Van Damme’s remarkable work contributed to advocating for gender parity in the male-dominated realm of surrealist art – like many significant women painters of the movement, both during her lifetime and thereafter, the struggle for recognition continues; this painting, like numerous others by the artist, lacks a date or title, leaving its origins and significance shrouded in mystery.

The surrealist, nearly mythological female figure, appears to loom over the viewer due to her distorted height , with her form composed of a mixture of seemingly random and undefined objects, including elements resembling a doll, a broom, and pieces of cloth. Her pale, ghostly face contrasts sharply with the vibrant colors surrounding her, hinting at themes of mortality and transience. The deep burgundy background, reminiscent of the color of blood, intensifies the unsettling atmosphere of the piece. Additionally, the inclusion of miniature dead trees in the background further contributes to this apocalyptic image, evoking a sense of impending doom or desolation.

Regardless of the disturbing and confusing imagery, Suzanne Van Damme achieves an overall harmony in her work by skillfully blending disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

x W26cm
Van Damme, Suzanne

Suzanne Van Damme (1901 - 1986)

Suzanne van Damme was born in Ghent and studied art at the Académies royales des beaux-arts at Gand and in Brussels. She admired the work of James Ensor, whose portrait she painted in 1925. In the early 1930's, Van Damme moved to Paris where she met the italian painter and poet Bruno Capacci, who became her husband. In 1941 she came into contact with the Surrealists, including Marcel Duchamp, Jean Cocteau and André Breton, who exerted a profound influence over her work, and she was subsequently invited to exhibit in the 1947 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme at Galerie Maeght in Paris. The Belgian surrealist Marcel Lecomte wrote the introduction to a book about her work, ‘L’oeuvre de Suzanne Van Damme’, published by La Boétie in 1946. Many of her surrealist works were photographed by Breton and can be viewed at She exhibited widely, including at the Venice Biennale in 1935, 1954 and 1962, at the Sao Paulo Bienniale in 1953 and 1957 and at the Exposition Universelle in Brussels in 1958. When she moved to Florence in the 1950s, she began creating more abstract works before developing a highly personal language charged with signs and symbols. She died in Ixelles in 1986.