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Suzanne Van Damme (1901 - 1986)

Couple d’oiseaux anthropomorphes, 1946

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 dates, she was at the height of her recognition. Just one year after painting these surreal figures, 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.

These hybrid figures, blending human and animal characteristics, imbue the composition with an enigmatic and vividly surreal essence, blurring the lines between human, animal, and object. They symbolise the fluidity of form and identity, suggesting the potential for metamorphosis and transmutation. The composition and figures share similarities with Max Ernst’s “Attirement of the Bride” from 1940, reflecting the same type of llusionistic Surrealism and emphasis on hybrid anthropo-birds. This juxtaposition of pageantry and elegance with primitive elements creates in both paintings a striking contrast.

The first figure, with a female body and a turkey head, presents a juxtaposition of disparate elements that challenge conventional reality, intensifying the surrealist undertones of the subject. Its grotesque foot resembles a decomposing limb. Behind this figure stands a full-size humanized raven, likely evoking themes of death—underscored by the skeletal-like humanized hand of the animal.

An unsettling and nightmarish atmosphere is underlined by the many contrasts between the two figures, who, by merging together form one soul.

During this decade, Suzanne Van Damme’s remarkable works contributed to advocating for gender parity in the male-dominated realm of surrealist art. However, like many significant women painters of the movement, both during her lifetime and thereafter, the struggle for recognition continues.

Surreal Figures
x W61cm
Signed and dated. Oil on panel.
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.