Your currently viewing RAW Modern | Switch to RAW Contemporary

Suzanne Van Damme (1901 - 1986)

Surreal Composition, 1943

Essay by Henry Beddington

Although Suzanne Van Damme was born in Belgium, arguably the cradle of Surrealism, it was not until after she moved to Paris in the 1930s that she started to produce work of her own that was identifiably surrealist in spirit. By the late 1940s, to which period this picture dates, she was at the height of her powers – the intense blue background highlights the contours of each motif, creating a collage-like effect, that brings to mind the celestial maps of earlier centuries. Although this painting is rooted in the natural world, for example, in the marine-like forms (shell, clam, prawn and whale), it also has a supernatural feeling. Elements, such as the multi-faceted broken sculpture (seen middle right) add to the composition’s mysterious and vividly surreal spirit. The creature in the bottom centre of the canvas, bird-like with flowing feathers and small, claw-like feet, is a motif that appears entirely recognisable yet at the same time completely unfamiliar. This figure is reminiscent of the work of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), and his depiction of surreal and unearthly beings, derived from a fusion of familiar forms in unlikely juxtapositions.

In the decade this picture was painted, in response to the challenges made by women fighting for equal rights, progress was made in overcoming some of the existing cultural and sexual stereotypes that were commonplace. Through her outstanding works Suzanne Van Damme contributed to this evolution, making a strong case for the parity of the sexes in the male-dominated sphere of surrealist art. But like many of the significant women painters of the movement, both in her lifetime and subsequently, the fight for recognition is still ongoing.

x W110cm
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.