fig. 1
Oscar Domínguez

Introduction

In 2014 the National Gallery of Victoria made a significant addition to its growing and increasingly important collection of Surreal objects with the acquisition of Óscar Domínguez’s La couturière (The dressmaker). Painted in Paris in the summer of 1943,1 The painting is inscribed in black paint, ‘l.l.: O. DOMINGUEZ / 9-8-43’. during a period of intimate friendship between Domínguez, Pablo Picasso and Paul Éluard, the work is bound by threads that may be unpicked and retraced to the fundamental concerns of the European avant-garde of the early twentieth century. Its subject matter and symbolism are demonstrative of the artist’s sourcing of Surrealist iconography, whereby the expression of psychosexual instincts and complexes resounded in deafening revolt against the fetters of conservative postwar society. This paper seeks to place the painting within its art historical and social contexts by tracing its sources and origins.

La couturière depicts a female figure seated at a sewing machine as she stitches the seam of a long, white piece of fabric. Composed of geometric forms, her contorted body zigzags down the canvas; the angles and planes of her body jut into the space of the room. Her strangeness is accentuated by the shadow that her body casts upon on the wall behind her – the dark shape eerily reminiscent of an insect’s anatomy. The tight, claustrophobic space enveloping her is rendered even smaller by its construction of interlocking geometric forms in greenish-blue – a perspectival trick that simultaneously emphasises her towering stature and causes the walls to close in. Finally, a rhythm of repeated forms creates an assimilation between woman and machine: the body of the black sewing machine bears a resemblance to the seamstress’s figure, in return the shape of her right arm mimics that of the black wheel, and her face, tilted to one side, adopts the contours of the needle.

Óscar Domínguez: ‘Dragon tree of the Canaries’2This nickname, coined by Breton, refers to the arborous species of dragon trees (Dracaena draco), which are native to the Canary Isles. Breton gave the name to Domínguez in memory of the ‘plus grand dragonnier du monde’, which he encountered on a trip to the valley of La Orotava in the north of Tenerife. The tree then developed as a symbol of Dominguez’s personal mythology, and the species appeared as a recurring motif in a number of Domínguez’s works – most prominently in the paintings he produced in Paris. See José Pierre, André Breton et la peinture, Editions l’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 1987, p. 233. The strange, upwardly serpentine branches of dragon trees surely appealed to the Surrealists, not least for allusions to metamorphosis and the medusa, but the species has also long been regarded as a source of ‘dragon’s blood’ – a deep red resin that has been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years – an attribute that would have appealed to their interests in alchemy, magic and mythology. See Deepika Gupta, Bruce Bleakley and Rajinder K. Gupta, ‘Dragon’s blood: botany, chemistry and therapeutic uses’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 115, no. 3, March 2008, pp. 361–80, available at <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5786935_Dragon’s_blood_Botany_chemistry_and_therapeutic_uses> (accessed 5 April 2016)..

Born in 1906 on Tenerife in Spain’s autonomous Canary Islands, Domínguez was born into a farming family. He first visited Paris at the age of twenty-one in connection with his father’s banana export business, and between 1929 and 1933 he travelled regularly between Tenerife and the French capital. In 1933 he held his first solo exhibition of paintings at Círculo de Bellas Artes de Tenerife, and in Paris later that year he met and befriended the Surrealists who had formed around poets André Breton and Paul Éluard. Falling promptly under their spell and into their fold, he contributed a satin-lined wheelbarrow to their seminal Exhibition of Surrealist Objects held at the Galerie Pierre Colle in Paris in 1933. Domínguez settled permanently in Paris in 1934, and that very same year he became an official member of the Surrealist group.  He thereafter contributed significantly to the Surrealist movement, both participating in and helping to organise numerous and important Surrealist exhibitions throughout the 1930s.3 His participation in, and organisation of, many Surrealist exhibitions followed: in 1935 he organised an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Athenaeum on Tenerife; in 1936 he participated in the now famous exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at MoMA, New York, and in the International Exhibition of Surrealism in London at the Burlington Galleries (organised by Roland Penrose). Domínguez would remain in Paris until his suicide in 1957. See ‘Óscar Domínguez’, Museu Coleção Berardo, http://en.museuberardo.pt/collection/artists/165#sthash.cHFefw1I.dpuf (accessed 21 March 2016); and ‘Óscar Domínguez’, Oxford Reference, Oxford University Press, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095725892> (accessed 29 March 2016)..

Angst, sex and objects, sex objects

That atmosphere in which coexisted revolution and poetry, dream and scandal, love and violence, eroticism and humour … that atmosphere of total subversion and permanent non-conformism.4 ‘Pour la dixieme anniversaire de la mort de Paul Éluard’ in Georges Hugnet, Pleins et delies, Guy Authier, La Chapelle-sur-Loire, 1972, p. 384, cited in Ted Gott, ‘Lips of coral: sex and violence in Surrealism’, in Michael Lloyd, Ted Gott & Christopher Chapman, Surrealism: Revolution by Night, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1993, p. 151.

Surrealism emerged in Paris in the mid 1920s among a group of poets and artists who, appalled by the societal conditions that had allowed the atrocities of the war, as well as the subsequent re-establishment of conservative social order, launched a relentless assault on bourgeois society, violently attacking its familial, religious and patriotic values. The oppressive religious principles of the Catholic Church in particular came under constant fire – and as the group’s members fought society’s shackles,5 Éluard describes the root of their frustrations: ‘Everything in today’s society rises up at each step to humiliate us, to constrain us, to shackle us, to make us go backwards’. See Paul Éluard, ‘L’Evidence poetique’, Cahiers d’art, vol. 11, nos 6–7, 1936, p. 188; cited in Gott, p. 126. they revolted angrily against the ideologies of self-hatred, sexual oppression and shame that had been imposed upon them by the clergy (‘clerical castration’) during their youth.6 Gott, p. 128. For an in-depth discussion, see Gott, pp. 126–8. Out of their angst, the Surrealists sought a new world order – and the release of their individual liberties – through the promotion of sexual liberation.

By the late 1920s erotic desire became a central concern and tool for the Surrealist cause. As art historian Jennifer Mundy writes in the catalogue for an exhibition dedicated to the very subject, Surrealism: Desire Unbound, ‘there was a new willingness to confront the darker aspects of sexuality’, and, indeed, the group vigorously sought to explore the deeper, unexplored and oppressed territories of their minds.7 Jennifer Mundy, ‘Letters of desire’, in Jennifer Mundy, Dawn Ades & Vincent Gilles (eds), Surrealism: Desire Unbound, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, pp. 11–53, at p. 11. Indeed, art historian Alyce Mahon states that ‘From the start, the Surrealists saw art as a weapon for social and political revolt and voiced their position through it’. Alyce Mahon, Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, Thames and Hudson, London, 2005, p. 12. Mahon’s book provides a detailed discussion of the ways in which the Surrealists researched, utilised and deployed eroticism, individual desire and sexual pleasure as means to combat repressive bourgeois society throughout the war and post-war years.

For the Surrealists, the writings of Sigmund Freud – who identified sexual instincts and their suppression as fundamental to the development of the individual and civilisation – were thus confirmation of the existence of the remote and unexplored territories of the psyche.8 The most influential of Freud’s texts for the Surrealists were The Interpretation of Dreams (first published in 1900, and translated into French in 1926) and The Essays on Sexuality (published in 1905, and translated into French in 1923). Their translations from English to French coincided with a ‘popular’ Surrealist demand. See Mundy, pp. 11– 12. See also Mahon, pp. 14–18. Using techniques such as automatic drawing and writing, which were designed to reduce or eliminate the influence of ‘conscious control’, the Surrealists sought to tap into the subconscious and bring to the surface their deepest, most spontaneous – or ‘authentic’ – thoughts. Indeed, Freud’s interpretation and analysis of psychosexual instincts and complexes further encouraged the Surrealists to not only examine themselves but also critique the values with which they were raised.9 Mundy, p. 12.

The journal La Révolution Surréaliste, which was founded soon after Breton published his first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, was one of the first forums in which the Surrealists disseminated their concerns and explicitly linked (violent and angry) revolt with sex. These ideas were manifest in ‘Research into sexuality’, a set of transcripts published in the journal in 1928, which documented a series of unabashed conversations that took place over the course of two evenings between more than a dozen Surrealists who had gathered to discuss topics ranging from sexual preference, masturbation, fetishism, female orgasm and group sex.10 Gott, p. 128. For a translation of the transcripts in English, see José Pierre (ed.), Investigating Sex: Surrealist Researches 1928–1932, Malcolm Imrie (trans.), Verso, London and New York, 1992. It was during these conversations that Breton described sodomising a woman as ‘the greatest good’ and revealed his ‘desire to make blasphemous love in a church’.11 Gott, p. 132. With these shocking words, his motive is clear: having been raised in the divine Cult of the Virgin, in whose image the ideal woman/mother is made, one is taught to be ashamed at the thought of making love (that is, acting out the natural desire of making love) to her knowledge (to be equated with the taught suppression of erotic desire, as when a child, in discovery of his sexuality is told ‘what if your mother were to see you masturbate?’).12 Salvador Dalí’s The sacred heart (Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the portrait of my mother), 1929, for example, explicitly combines the image of the Christ and the Church’s connection to the idea of the virtuous mother, and spitting as an expression of the disgust at the priesthood, which the Surrealists saw as corrupt and hypocritical. Moreover, there are countless examples of Surrealist ‘nunsploitation’ – drawing blasphemous allusion between the Virgin and sex – the more one looks, the more one finds. Examples include Breton and Éluard’s poeticised version of the Kama Sutra entitled ‘L’immaculée Conception’, or Conroy Maddox’s hyper-blasphemous photographic series Conroy Maddox Entertaining a Nun, 1942. What becomes clear throughout the Surrealists’ ‘Research’ is their desire to act in utter defiance of French Catholic mythology: Breton and the Surrealists threw their self-hatred back on the Church. However, what can also be read is that women were regarded not as co-liberators, but rather, as aptly noted by Hal Foster, their bodies were seen as sites for, or objects of, male liberation.13 See Hal Foster, ‘Violation and veiling in Surrealist photography: woman as fetish, as shattered object, as phallus’ in Mundy, Ades & Gilles (eds), pp. 203–25. The Surrealists thus developed a twisted and violent relationship with women.

Domínguez actively participated in and widely contributed to the Surrealists’ revolutionary (though misogynistic) program. His assemblage Arrivée de la Belle Epoque [Arrival of the Golden Age], 1936, which was displayed in a vitrine along with other Surrealist objects in the famous Exposition Surréaliste d’Objets, held at Galerie Charles Ratton in 1936, violently manipulates the female body: a naked, classical figure is split in half by framed, sharp, abstract forms. While Domínguez’s reworking of the statuette can be read as a call for a break with the past, and hints, as art historian Janine Mileaf states, ‘at the instigation of a new world order’,14 Janine A. Mileaf, Please Touch: Dada and Surrealist Objects after the Readymade, Dartmouth College Press, Hanover, 2010, p. 141. I believe that the figure’s wound exposes more corporeally violent and psychosexual tensions. Two sharp, tooth-like forms puncture (or punctuate) the void left by her disembowelment: the fetishised Classical female form is at once punctured – yet it is also imbued with castrative potential.15 Foster, p. 206. See also Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1993.

Writing about the exhibition, French artist, writer and critic Georges Hugnet recognised a latent (and sexual) violence in Surrealist objects, describing them as ‘solidified desires’, which exude ‘a violence ready to explode and which could well explode’.16 Georges Hugnet, ‘Arrive de la belle époque’, Cahiers d’art, vol. 11, nos 1–2, 1936, cited in Gott, p. 142. Indeed, the trope of the violated female became more and more pervasive, violent and erotic in Surrealist works throughout the 1930s. For the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris in 1938, for example, the entrance hallway – named the ‘rue Surréaliste’ – was lined with sixteen female mannequins, each provocatively designed and dressed as sex objects at the hands of a Surrealist. Domínguez’s mannequin appeared all but naked, her only covering provided by a jet of fabric fired out of a large siphon that had been placed at her side. Other Surrealists presented mannequins wrapped – or, perhaps, trapped – in fish net, gagged with velvet ribbons and flowers, or, such as in the case of Max Ernst’s femme fatale, menacingly titled ‘Black Widow’ and presented with a man cowering at her feet. And in the central room of the exhibition Domínguez’s Jamais [Never], 1937, a phonograph devouring a high-heeled woman head first (a mannequin’s legs flail in the air), emitted sounds of hysterical laughter. Of course, the Surrealist use of the mannequin was the culmination of a long-running interest in and violent fetishisation of the female body – as art historian Louis Kachur writes, ‘in this apotheosis the body is treated as an object’.17 Louis Kachur, Displaying the Marvellous: Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, and Surrealist Exhibition Installations, MIT Press, Boston, 2001, p. 78. Mannequins and dolls appear frequently as a proxy for the female body (and its maltreatment), such as Hans Bellmer’s re-shaped, contorted, violated, sexualised and fetishised poupées. See also Foster, ‘Violation and veiling in Surrealist photography’, pp. 203–16. For an insightful and elegant discussion of Bellmer’s fetishisation of the female body – and its connection to the abject, see Rudolf E. Kuenzli, ‘Surrealism and misogyny’, in Dada/Surrealism, no. 18, 1990, pp. 17–26 (esp. pp. 20–1). Within these objects a certain fetishistic violence – a tendency specifically directed toward the female body – is manifest.

Breton himself emphatically recognised Domínguez’s alignment with Surrealist techniques and concerns. In March 1938, the month following the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Breton published an essay entitled ‘Accomplissement onirique et genèse d’un tableau animé’ [Dream accomplishment and genesis of an animated painting]18 André Breton, ‘Accomplissement onirique et genèse d’un tableau animé’, Trajectoire du rêve, G.L.M., Paris, 1938, pp. 53–9, cited in Jose Pierre, ‘Oscar Domínguez o el triunfo del fantasma’, in Oscar Domínguez: Antológica 1926–1957, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1996, p. 17. in which he presented a portrait of Domínguez as he appeared to Breton in a dream on 7 February 1937. Breton describes how he stopped to observe the artist as he painted, and witnessed the development of a pattern of ‘entwined trees’, or ‘conjoined knots’, along the borders of the canvas. Upon closer inspection, however, Breton noticed that each knot was, in fact, the hind leg of a lion – and that each lion was ‘frantically licking’ the genitalia of the neighbouring animal.19 Much has been written about mythological hybrid and monstrous figures, such as the Sphinx, that play a significant role in the construction of the collective Surrealist myth. For a discussion of the roles of women, myth and psychoanalysis specifically, see Briony Fer, ‘Surrealism, myth and psychoanalysis’, in Briony Fer, David Batchelor & Paul Wood (eds), Rationalism and Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1993, pp. 171–82. Breton concluded that what was most impressive was the way in which the animals performed their act ‘in reality’ as Domínguez was painting them, in such a way that the canvas became ‘animated’: through ‘the combined effect of the painting and the action of the lions, the backside of each animal was ‘gradually identified with the sun’ – that is, a marvellous phenomenon occurs – and thus, before Breton’s ‘wonderstruck eyes an aurora borealis unfolds’.20 Pierre, 1996, p. 17. For Breton, Domínguez was admirable and wonderful – like an aurora – for he allowed access to ‘l’automatisme absolu [absolute automatism]’, the natural animation of the canvas by painting a strange, sexual occurrence, which has risen from Domínguez’s subconscious through the practice of automatism in the execution of his art.21 In the manifesto Breton defines Surrealism in the following terms: ‘Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express … the actual functioning of thought … in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern’. André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. from the French by Richard Seaver & Helen R. Lane, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1969, p. 26. Breton laid claim to Domínguez as a Surrealist, and linked access to the subconscious with sexual liberation.

***

The outbreak of the Second World War saw the dispersal of the Surrealist group when many of its members fled Europe in fear of their lives. During the winter between 1940 and 1941, Domínguez took up residence in the Villa Air-Bel in Marseilles, joining company with a number of Surrealists – including André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, André Masson and Max Ernst – as they awaited exit-visas, which would allow them to take refuge in the United States.22 The villa was used as a shelter for Emergency Rescue Committee, led by American journalist Varian Fry. It was there that Domínguez collaborated for the last time with the central Surrealist group, resulting in the creation of the Jeu de Marseille, a deck of Surrealist-designed cards. As Alyce Mahon wrote, ‘The Surrealists’ modification of the deck of cards was not just artistic, it was political’: the re-designed set disempowered and substituted the symbolic system of traditional playing cards, which represented the prevailing hierarchical structure headed by the bourgeois and aristocratic, with new designs expressing Surrealist values and views of the world.23 The complete list of contributors to the deck is: Victor Brauner, André Breton, René Char, René Daumal, Robert Delanglade, Óscar Domínguez, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Hérold (Blumer), Sylvain Itkine, Wifredo Lam, André Masson, Benjamin Péret and Tristan Tzara. Designs included references to mediums, philosophers, writers and, tellingly, Lamiel, who is represented by the form of a Surrealist sphinx – part human woman, part praying mantis, and who holds a medieval city in flames. For a concise discussion of the creation of the cards, and the semiology behind them, see Holly Crawford (ed.), Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices, University Press of America, Inc., Lanham and Plymouth, 2008, pp. 40–2. For a discussion of the politics embedded within and surrounding the cards, see Mahon, ‘Surrealism and World War II’ in Mahon, pp. 65–105, esp. pp. 69–72. Domínguez’s contributions to the set imagine Freud as a magician of dreams (Freud mage de rêve – étoile) and the Ace of dreams (As de rêve – étoile). Freudian psychoanalytics and its symbols would continued to be a recurring point of reference throughout Domínguez’s oevure over the following decade.

Unable to secure an exit visa, Domínguez was forced to return to Paris in the spring of 1941. In the void left in the French capital after the departure of most of the avant-garde, he forged intimate friendships with Picasso and Éluard, who also remained in France during the war. The works shown in Domínguez’s first solo exhibition in Paris, held in at the Galerie Louis Carré in 1943, illustrated the profound influence of both Éluard and Picasso on the artist. First shown at this exhibition (and later acquired by Éluard for his personal collection), La couturière shows Domínguez’s sourcing of Surrealist iconography and ideology, but also the distinct transformation in the style of the artist’s work that took place after his return to the French capital – geometric forms and strong lines found in Picasso’s oeuvre also became prominent in Domínguez’s work throughout the 1940s.24 ‘Óscar Domínguez’, Museu Coleção Berardo,  <http://en.museuberardo.pt/collection/artists/165>, accessed 24 Jan. 2017. The painting was important to Éluard, and in 1948 the poet reproduced it to illustrate his dedicatory poem ‘Á Oscar Domínguez’ in his volume Voir.  Further, Éluard wrote the catalogue text for the exhibition and later acquired the painting – one of two works by Domínguez that remained in the poet’s collection until his own death in 1952.  Annick Lionel-Marie, Paul Éluard et ses amis peintres, 1895–1952, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1982, pp. 70, 100–1.

***

You can still set your last traps / of suffering, of terror / Downfall at your feet, biting is before you / Claws spread like blood / Around you.25 Paul Éluard, cited in Mundy, Ades & Gilles, p. 274.

The unnerving form of La couturière engenders that of an insect – and a feeling of violent entrapment ensues. Her human breasts form part of an exaggerated thorax, atop which sits a diminutive head and from which elongated, angular arms constructed of a multiplicity of jointed geometric forms awkwardly extend. With her feet she powers the sewing machine, rendering the concealment of her hands all the more conspicuous: the spectator dreads that if she were to lift her forearms into sight they might take the form of a mantis’s pincers.

In December 1929, the journal Documents was founded in order to replace La Révolution Surréaliste and to continue the dissemination of Surrealist concerns. Upon its pages some of Picasso’s most violently misogynistic works were reproduced,26 An entire issue was dedicated to the artist in 1930 (series 2, no. 3). including a number of works from his Dinard series of 1927–29, in which he renders the visages of women flat, menacing and ‘skull-like’, and punctuates them with dentured and ‘abstracted vaginas or anuses’.27 Gott, p. 136; William L. Pressly, ‘The praying mantis in Surrealist art’, The Art Bulletin, vol. 55, no. 4, Dec. 1973, p. 600. See also R. Rosenblum, ‘Picasso and the anatomy of eroticism’, in T. Bowie & C.V. Christenson (eds), Studies in Erotic Art, Basic Books, New York, 1970, pp. 337–392. To further illustrate the point, Rosenblum writes: ‘from about 1927–1933 Picasso devoted much of his energy to the creation of images corresponding to the psychological and physiological realities of sexual experience.’ And continues, ‘At times, sexual impulses, particularly those of women, are seen as menacing, brutal, and destructive’ (p. 338). To further illustrate the point, Rosenblum writes: ‘from about 1927–1933 Picasso devoted much of his energy to the creation of images corresponding to the psychological and physiological realities of sexual experience.’ And continues, ‘At times, sexual impulses, particularly those of women, are seen as menacing, brutal, and destructive’ p. 338. The acutely stylised profile of the subject in Sleeping woman, 1927, for example, features a gaping opening: the ‘mouth’ of a vagina lined with sharp teeth. In his Nude standing by the sea, 1929, furthermore, Picasso sculpts, mutilates and metamorphoses the female physique. Not only is the head of the figure reduced to the diminutive size of a pin, but her breasts – two pointed cones – have migrated to the square cavern created by her back, shoulder and lifted arm. These tooth-like forms sit in close proximity to a horizontal slit – a navel, mouth or, indeed, genitals. As art historian Dawn Ades writes in her analysis of the painting, ‘the notion of the vagina dentata is never far away’; Picasso paints a striking anatomical analogy ‘with visual rhymes between the faces and genitals – or even elision between them – emphasising the point’.28 Dawn Ades, ‘Pablo Picasso, Woman by the sea, 1929’, in Surrealism: Revolution by Night, p. 43.

Moreover, at the end of the bather’s lifted arm a pincer (replacing an expected human hand) latches onto the wrist of her other limb. Indeed, the woman’s corrupted physique, combined with her predatory arm, nods to the Surrealist obsession with the praying mantis. For the Surrealists, the insect represented their own violent fantasies, impulses and drives, whereby trauma is represented by, transferred onto and enacted upon the female body.29 Amy Lyford has discussed the Surrealists’ frequent deformation and violation of the female form in terms of the self-reflections of mutilés de guerre – that is, how Surrealist representations of women might be reflective of views of masculinity in early twentieth-century France as a result of contemporary male dismemberment due to traumas sustained in the First World War. See Amy Lyford, Surrealist Masculinities: Gender Anxiety and the Aesthetics of Post-World War I Reconstruction, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007, p. 13.

It was during the 1920s that Picasso was most influenced, and courted, by the Surrealist group.30 Ruth Markus, ‘Surrealism’s praying mantis and castrating woman’, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, 2000, p. 35. It should be noted that Breton claimed Picasso as a kindred spirit to the Surrealists (he used his collage of the minotaur for the cover of the first edition of their journal, Minotaur, in 1933) and sought to classify his works as ‘Surrealist’ (as he did others). See Elizabeth Cowling, ‘Proudly we claim him as one of us’: Breton, Picasso, and the Surrealist movement’, Art History, March 1985, pp. 82–104, first cited in Markus, p. 38, n. 28. Domínguez must have been acutely aware of Picasso’s work from this period, for there are striking similarities in the manipulation of the female form in Domínguez’s Arrivee de la belle époque and Picasso’s bather: the hollow, dentured caverns inserted into the bodies of both females resonate in violent simile. And Dominguez continued to adopt and adapt such imagery over the subsequent decade.

Devouring women: praying mantises

In his paper ‘Fetishism’ (1927) Freud declared that ‘probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals’.31 Sigmund Freud, ‘Fetishism’, in On Sexuality, Pelican Freud Library, vol. 7, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1981, p. 354, cited in Barbara Creed, ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’, Screen, vol. 27, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1986, pp. 4471, p. 44. Breton expressed Freud’s influence on his own view of women, writing in his second Surrealist Manifesto (1929) that ‘the problem of woman is the most marvellous and disturbing problem there is in the world’.32 Cited in Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007, p. 9.  There have been many significant studies on this theme, some directly cited in this paper, others being: Xavière Gauthier, Surréalisme et Sexualité, Gallimard, Paris, 1971; Susan Rubin Suleiman, Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics and the Avant-Garde, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1990; Katherine Conley, Automatic Woman: The Representation of Women in Surrealism, The University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1996; Wendy Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985.

Following Breton and looking to Freud, the Surrealists explored the notion of ‘woman as castrator’ through the mythologies and images of devouring females that have developed in various cultures.33 See Markus, p. 33. As such, they both admired and were influenced by articles by Roger Caillois – a French sociologist, critic and writer involved with the Surrealist circle – published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure during the 1930s.34 ibid. Two of Caillois’s most influential essays, which take the praying mantis, myth and imagination as subjects, were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaur: ‘La mante religieuse’, Minotaure, no. 5, 1934, pp.23–6; and ‘Mimétisme et psychasténie légendaire’, Minotaure, no. 7, 1935, pp. 4–10. In one such essay, ‘The praying mantis: from biology to psychoanalysis’ (1934), Caillois discussed entomology, psychoanalysis and mythography, and concluded that man’s enthrallment with the insect was predicated on the human reaction to (founded in our recognition thereof) its anthropomorphic form – a form which mirrors that of a human female – and, thus, generates a psychological response to the fear evinced by its ‘violent coitus’ (a metaphor for castration).35 Marion Endt-Jones, ‘Reopening the cabinet of curiosities: nature and the marvelous in Surrealism and contemporary art’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2010, pp. 92–5. Ruth Markus has probed further to outline that the mantis’s activities are often defined ‘in accordance with human behavioural patterns’ (Markus, p. 33). Recent literature also supports such a reading by investigating the relationship between Caillois’s science and mythology – what Rosa Eidelpes terms ‘Caillois’ biologist mythology’ and the Surrealist adoption and rendering of the femme fatale. See Rosa Eidelpes, ‘Roger Caillois’ biology of myth and the myth of biology’, Anthropology and Materialism: A Journal of Social Research, no. 2, 2014, <http://am.revues.org/84> (accessed 10 April 2016). The Surrealists, too, recognised the insect’s humanoid form,36 Pressly, p. 600. and saw the tendency of the females to ritualistically devour and ingest their male partners to be an embodiment of the marvel and disturbance expressed by Breton in his second manifesto.

The Surrealists also participated in the empirical study of the praying mantis: both Breton and Éluard bred the insect in their homes,37ibid. Recent research has indicated that its violent act only occurs when the insect is held in captivity (ibid., p. 600 n. 1). Herein resides a certain delicious irony, for by breeding the insects the Surrealists unwittingly set up a psycho-sexual environment in which the decapitation could occur. and were keen spectators of its gladiatorial copulation (Dalí witnessed a live performance as a guest at Éluard’s home).38 William S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, Thames & Hudson, London, 1969, p. 220, cited in ibid. For Dalí, moreover, the mantis represented an association of ‘the most frightening aspects of sex and eating’,39 Pressly, p. 600. and although he substituted mantises for grasshoppers in his paintings, such as in The great masturbator, 1929, he charged them with the sexual symbolism other Surrealists so closely associated with the mantis.40 Dalí referred to the insect in this painting interchangeably as a grasshopper, a locust and a praying mantis, and, at other times, used other ‘similar’ animals, such as the lobster. Markus, pp. 35 and 38, n. 40. André Masson also depicted the praying mantis repeatedly, especially after 1934, when he moved to Spain and acquired insects for himself (Markus, pp. 33, 36, 38 n. 40). See also Robert Belton, The Beribboned Bomb: The Image of Woman in Male Surrealist Art, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, 1995, p. 99, first cited in Markus, p. 38, n. 40.

For the Surrealists, the mantis’s mating rites represented a manifestation of the two conflicting Freudian instinctual drives: love and death (eros and thanatos, propagation and self-destruction).41 Endt-Jones, p. 143; Markus, p. 33. This, as art historian Marion Endt-Jones explains, coupled with the homonymic spelling of the insect’s name in French (‘la mante religieuse’, a homophone of ‘l’amante religieuse’ – the manipulation of aural poetics is, of course, another Surrealist technique), further informed the association of the insect with the notion of the ensnaring femme fatale42 ibid. The homonymic effect also translates to English: ‘praying’ compared to ‘preying’. – and, moreover, as art historian Ruth Markus has discussed, the sinister, monstrous and most fearsome ‘female archetype’ of ‘the castrating woman’.43 Markus, p. 33. For a discussion on the notion of the ‘monstrous feminine’, which has informed my reading of the painting, see Creed’s seminal work, ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’, pp. 44–71. Indeed, this psycho-metaphor manifested in the recurrence of imagery that expresses a fear of castration by the vagina dentata – a threat represented by the female praying mantis, who severs and ingests the head and body of her mate – and permeates the work of the Surrealists.44 Endt-Jones offers a further interpretation to the Surrealists’ fascination with the praying mantis and other insects, linking it to their preoccupation with manifestations of the marvellous and the monstrous collected by early modern princes and scholars, and included in their cabinets of curiosities (Endt-Jones, p. 116). Moreover, Ruth Markus explains that the word ‘mantis’ is derived from the Greek meaning ‘soothsayer, diviner, or magician ordained with spiritual qualities’ (Markus, p. 33). It is unsurprising, then, that she would appeal to the Surrealists.

No doubt influenced by the centrality of the praying mantis in Surrealist art and writing, and its embodiment of Freudian psychoanalytics, the insect also entered Domínguez’s repertoire in the late 1930s. His La mante religieuse, 1938, for example, graphically captures a sharp-toothed, horned female monster-mantis in the act of devouring her mate after copulation in a barren, surreal landscape.45 Insectoid and biomorphic forms indicative of the vagina dentata appear in many of the artist’s works produced throughout the 1940s.

Sewing machines: the ‘mechanical drive’

Similarly, the sewing machine, often coupled with a female figure (an object usually associated with feminine labour), not only appears several times in Domínguez’s oeuvre, but also as a recurrent motif in other Surrealist works of art. Indeed, this leitmotif recalls Comte de Lautréamont’s famous phrase, ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table’, which was adopted from the writer’s 1869 symbolist work Les Chants de Maldoror and became the definition for Surrealism’s aesthetic philosophy and avant-coureur of the Surrealist spirit. The phrase in its origin, as literary historian Jonathan Eburne explains, is ‘one of several litanies of “beautiful as” similes’, and describes the character Merwyn, a youth who is abducted by her admirer, Maldoror, and ‘flung by force across Paris and impaled atop the dome of the Panthéon’.46 Jonathan P. Eburne, Surrealism and the Art of Crime, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2008, p. 49.

While, as Eburne further expounds, the descriptor, divorced from its literary and narrative context, ‘exemplifies the formal techniques of early surrealist poetry and art’, such as ‘experiments with collage and collage-poetry’, and other ‘chance encounters’, its original intent as a descriptor of Maldoror’s victim forebodes the movement’s more violent approach to its later political activism.47 ibid. Indeed, the violently misogynistic origin of the phrase – of which the Surrealists were surely aware – is felt even more strongly when considered in terms of the tendency of fetishistic violence manifest in Surrealist treatment of the female body, establishing it, as discussed above, as a sex object upon which one could express his angst and push his political agenda, by rendering it contorted, severed, hacked apart, or even impaled.48 For further discussion of the violence endured by the female body in Surrealist art and thought, see Mary Ann Caws, ‘Seeing the Surrealist woman: we are a problem’, Dada/Surrealism 18, 1990, pp. 11–16; and Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Aldershot and Burlington, Ashgate, 2007.

***

The sewing machine thus functions as psychoanalytic and Surrealist semiotic sign when considered against the backdrop of the Surrealist interest in sex and innuendo as revolutionary tools. Up and down, up and down: the pounding, masturbatory motion of the needle acts in mechanical, onomatopoeic defiance by explicitly expressing sexual desire. The very sound is recalled in Léo Malet’s Ce movement doit etre repete dix fois [This movement must be repeated ten times], also exhibited at the 1936 Ratton exhibition, ‘liberates’ the sexual drive. Placing a mirror vertically across a (previously) banal magazine cutting, Malet manipulates the image into one that seems to depict a woman masturbating. The onomatopoeic effect of the title – one counts to ten – completes the reference to masturbation and draws an allusion to the mechanical, repetitive drive. Just as Hugnet saw the sexual explosiveness latent within Surrealist objects, the repetitive sound of a sewing machine in action augments its perversity and sexuality.

Furthermore, in his aforementioned article ‘The praying mantis: from biology to psychoanalysis’ (1934), Caillois discussed the ‘mechanical drive’ in relation to the praying mantis, insofar as the male mantis possesses the ‘mechanical impulse’ to copulate despite the imminent danger posed by the female. This mechanical sexual instinct was further underlined by likening the female insect to ‘a machine with highly advanced parts’, describing it as something that can operate automatically, going on to compare it to an ‘automaton’ and a ‘female android’.49 Roger Caillois, ‘The Praying Mantis: From Biology to Psychoanalysis’ cited in Marion Endt-Jones, ‘Living Jewels, Creepy Crawlers and Robobugs: Insects in the Wunderkammer, Surrealism and Contemporary Art’, Art, Technology and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity, Jacob Wamberg & Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam (eds), Ashgate, Farnham & Burlington, 2015, pp. 65–79, at p. 72. Domínguez’s Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle, 1934–35 charged with sexual innuendo and brutality, depicts the gruesome mechanical dissection of a female body – and serves as a specific example of the implication of the (sewing) machine as a symbol of sex and mechanics.

From the bizarre arrangement of seemingly disparate objects, the form of a sewing machine emerges from the composition: an arcade game takes the place of the spindle; the thread is replaced by the flow of blood from a funnel placed at a height – the source of this crimson liquid thread is the carcass of a beast – and drips onto the back of a female body, beheaded and dismembered by a white cloth. The machine punctures the woman with distinct ‘mechanical drive’, swiftly countering any castrative action she may commit. Finally, in an act of vengeful reverse-castration, the dragon tree devours the female form from feet up (a gesture replicated in Domínguez’s Jamais). Likewise, the insectoid seamstress in his La couturière mimics the machine she is operating – and reminds us of the threat she posed and represented for the Surrealists and their comrades.

Kylie King, is an art historian based in Melbourne. She has undertaken internships at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, and at the Department of Painting & Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York.  In 2015 she was a Junior Fellow at the Center for the History of Collecting, Frick Collection, New York, where she researched Max Ernst as a collector (in 2016)

I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Ted Gott for his encouragement, suggestions, recommendations, enthusiasm and support, without which this paper would not have come together.

Notes

1

The painting is inscribed in black paint, ‘l.l.: O. DOMINGUEZ / 9-8-43’.

2

This nickname, coined by Breton, refers to the arborous species of dragon trees (Dracaena draco), which are native to the Canary Isles. Breton gave the name to Domínguez in memory of the ‘plus grand dragonnier du monde’, which he encountered on a trip to the valley of La Orotava in the north of Tenerife. The tree then developed as a symbol of Dominguez’s personal mythology, and the species appeared as a recurring motif in a number of Domínguez’s works – most prominently in the paintings he produced in Paris. See José Pierre, André Breton et la peinture, Editions l’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 1987, p. 233. The strange, upwardly serpentine branches of dragon trees surely appealed to the Surrealists, not least for allusions to metamorphosis and the medusa, but the species has also long been regarded as a source of ‘dragon’s blood’ – a deep red resin that has been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years – an attribute that would have appealed to their interests in alchemy, magic and mythology. See Deepika Gupta, Bruce Bleakley and Rajinder K. Gupta, ‘Dragon’s blood: botany, chemistry and therapeutic uses’, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 115, no. 3, March 2008, pp. 361–80, available at <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5786935_Dragon’s_blood_Botany_chemistry_and_therapeutic_uses> (accessed 5 April 2016).

3

His participation in, and organisation of, many Surrealist exhibitions followed: in 1935 he organised an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Athenaeum on Tenerife; in 1936 he participated in the now famous exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism at MoMA, New York, and in the International Exhibition of Surrealism in London at the Burlington Galleries (organised by Roland Penrose). Domínguez would remain in Paris until his suicide in 1957. See ‘Óscar Domínguez’, Museu Coleção Berardo, http://en.museuberardo.pt/collection/artists/165#sthash.cHFefw1I.dpuf (accessed 21 March 2016); and ‘Óscar Domínguez’, Oxford Reference, Oxford University Press, <http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095725892> (accessed 29 March 2016).

4

‘Pour la dixieme anniversaire de la mort de Paul Éluard’ in Georges Hugnet, Pleins et delies, Guy Authier, La Chapelle-sur-Loire, 1972, p. 384, cited in Ted Gott, ‘Lips of coral: sex and violence in Surrealism’, in Michael Lloyd, Ted Gott & Christopher Chapman, Surrealism: Revolution by Night, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1993, p. 151.

5

Éluard describes the root of their frustrations: ‘Everything in today’s society rises up at each step to humiliate us, to constrain us, to shackle us, to make us go backwards’. See Paul Éluard, ‘L’Evidence poetique’, Cahiers d’art, vol. 11, nos 6–7, 1936, p. 188; cited in Gott, p. 126.

6

Gott, p. 128. For an in-depth discussion, see Gott, pp. 126–8.

7

Jennifer Mundy, ‘Letters of desire’, in Jennifer Mundy, Dawn Ades & Vincent Gilles (eds), Surrealism: Desire Unbound, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, pp. 11–53, at p. 11. Indeed, art historian Alyce Mahon states that ‘From the start, the Surrealists saw art as a weapon for social and political revolt and voiced their position through it’. Alyce Mahon, Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, Thames and Hudson, London, 2005, p. 12. Mahon’s book provides a detailed discussion of the ways in which the Surrealists researched, utilised and deployed eroticism, individual desire and sexual pleasure as means to combat repressive bourgeois society throughout the war and post-war years.

8

The most influential of Freud’s texts for the Surrealists were The Interpretation of Dreams (first published in 1900, and translated into French in 1926) and The Essays on Sexuality (published in 1905, and translated into French in 1923). Their translations from English to French coincided with a ‘popular’ Surrealist demand. See Mundy, pp. 11– 12. See also Mahon, pp. 14–18.

9

Mundy, p. 12.

10

Gott, p. 128. For a translation of the transcripts in English, see José Pierre (ed.), Investigating Sex: Surrealist Researches 1928–1932, Malcolm Imrie (trans.), Verso, London and New York, 1992.

11

Gott, p. 132.

12

Salvador Dalí’s The sacred heart (Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the portrait of my mother), 1929, for example, explicitly combines the image of the Christ and the Church’s connection to the idea of the virtuous mother, and spitting as an expression of the disgust at the priesthood, which the Surrealists saw as corrupt and hypocritical. Moreover, there are countless examples of Surrealist ‘nunsploitation’ – drawing blasphemous allusion between the Virgin and sex – the more one looks, the more one finds. Examples include Breton and Éluard’s poeticised version of the Kama Sutra entitled ‘L’immaculée Conception’, or Conroy Maddox’s hyper-blasphemous photographic series Conroy Maddox Entertaining a Nun, 1942.

13

See Hal Foster, ‘Violation and veiling in Surrealist photography: woman as fetish, as shattered object, as phallus’ in Mundy, Ades & Gilles (eds), pp. 203–25.

14

Janine A. Mileaf, Please Touch: Dada and Surrealist Objects after the Readymade, Dartmouth College Press, Hanover, 2010, p. 141.

15

Foster, p. 206. See also Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1993.

16

Georges Hugnet, ‘Arrive de la belle époque’, Cahiers d’art, vol. 11, nos 1–2, 1936, cited in Gott, p. 142.

17

Louis Kachur, Displaying the Marvellous: Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, and Surrealist Exhibition Installations, MIT Press, Boston, 2001, p. 78. Mannequins and dolls appear frequently as a proxy for the female body (and its maltreatment), such as Hans Bellmer’s re-shaped, contorted, violated, sexualised and fetishised poupées. See also Foster, ‘Violation and veiling in Surrealist photography’, pp. 203–16. For an insightful and elegant discussion of Bellmer’s fetishisation of the female body – and its connection to the abject, see Rudolf E. Kuenzli, ‘Surrealism and misogyny’, in Dada/Surrealism, no. 18, 1990, pp. 17–26 (esp. pp. 20–1).

18

André Breton, ‘Accomplissement onirique et genèse d’un tableau animé’, Trajectoire du rêve, G.L.M., Paris, 1938, pp. 53–9, cited in Jose Pierre, ‘Oscar Domínguez o el triunfo del fantasma’, in Oscar Domínguez: Antológica 1926–1957, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1996, p. 17.

19

Much has been written about mythological hybrid, such as the Sphinx (as referenced in Breton’s dream), which play a significant role in Surrealist myth. For a discussion of the roles of women, myth and psychoanalysis specifically, see Briony Fer, ‘Surrealism, myth and psychoanalysis’, in Briony Fer, David Batchelor & Paul Wood (eds), Rationalism and Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1993, pp. 171–82.

20

Pierre, 1996, p. 17.

21

In the manifesto Breton defines Surrealism in the following terms: ‘Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express … the actual functioning of thought … in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern’. André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. from the French by Richard Seaver & Helen R. Lane, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1969, p. 26.

22

The villa was used as a shelter for Emergency Rescue Committee, led by American journalist Varian Fry.

23

The complete list of contributors to the deck is: Victor Brauner, André Breton, René Char, René Daumal, Robert Delanglade, Óscar Domínguez, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Hérold (Blumer), Sylvain Itkine, Wifredo Lam, André Masson, Benjamin Péret and Tristan Tzara. Designs included references to mediums, philosophers, writers and, tellingly, Lamiel, who is represented by the form of a Surrealist sphinx – part human woman, part praying mantis, and who holds a medieval city in flames. For a concise discussion of the creation of the cards, and the semiology behind them, see Holly Crawford (ed.), Artistic Bedfellows: Histories, Theories and Conversations in Collaborative Art Practices, University Press of America, Inc., Lanham and Plymouth, 2008, pp. 40–2. For a discussion of the politics embedded within and surrounding the cards, see Mahon, ‘Surrealism and World War II’ in Mahon, pp. 65–105, esp. pp. 69–72.

24

‘Óscar Domínguez’, Museu Coleção Berardo,  <http://en.museuberardo.pt/collection/artists/165>, accessed 24 Jan. 2017. The painting was important to Éluard, and in 1948 the poet reproduced it to illustrate his dedicatory poem ‘Á Oscar Domínguez’ in his volume Voir.  Further, Éluard wrote the catalogue text for the exhibition and later acquired the painting – one of two works by Domínguez that remained in the poet’s collection until his own death in 1952.  Annick Lionel-Marie, Paul Éluard et ses amis peintres, 1895–1952, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1982, pp. 70, 100–1.

25

Paul Éluard, cited in Mundy, Ades & Gilles, p. 274.

26

An entire issue was dedicated to the artist in 1930 (series 2, no. 3).

27

Gott, p. 136; William L. Pressly, ‘The praying mantis in Surrealist art’, The Art Bulletin, vol. 55, no. 4, Dec. 1973, p. 600. See also R. Rosenblum, ‘Picasso and the anatomy of eroticism’, in T. Bowie & C.V. Christenson (eds), Studies in Erotic Art, Basic Books, New York, 1970, pp. 337–392. To further illustrate the point, Rosenblum writes: ‘from about 1927–1933 Picasso devoted much of his energy to the creation of images corresponding to the psychological and physiological realities of sexual experience.’ And continues, ‘At times, sexual impulses, particularly those of women, are seen as menacing, brutal, and destructive’ (p. 338).

28

Dawn Ades, ‘Pablo Picasso, Woman by the sea, 1929’, in Surrealism: Revolution by Night, p. 43.

29

Amy Lyford has discussed the Surrealists’ frequent deformation and violation of the female form in terms of the self-reflections of mutilés de guerre – that is, how Surrealist representations of women might be reflective of views of masculinity in early twentieth-century France as a result of contemporary male dismemberment due to traumas sustained in the First World War. See Amy Lyford, Surrealist Masculinities: Gender Anxiety and the Aesthetics of Post-World War I Reconstruction, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2007, p. 13.

30

Ruth Markus, ‘Surrealism’s praying mantis and castrating woman’, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, 2000, p. 35. It should be noted that Breton claimed Picasso as a kindred spirit to the Surrealists (he used his collage of the minotaur for the cover of the first edition of their journal, Minotaur, in 1933) and sought to classify his works as ‘Surrealist’ (as he did others). See Elizabeth Cowling, ‘Proudly we claim him as one of us’: Breton, Picasso, and the Surrealist movement’, Art History, March 1985, pp. 82–104, first cited in Markus, p. 38, n. 28.

31

Sigmund Freud, ‘Fetishism’, in On Sexuality, Pelican Freud Library, vol. 7, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1981, p. 354, cited in Barbara Creed, ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’, Screen, vol. 27, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1986, pp. 44–71, p. 44.

32

Cited in Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2007, p. 9.  There have been many significant studies on this theme, some directly cited in this paper, others being: Xavière Gauthier, Surréalisme et Sexualité, Gallimard, Paris, 1971; Susan Rubin Suleiman, Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics and the Avant-Garde, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1990; Katherine Conley, Automatic Woman: The Representation of Women in Surrealism, The University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1996; Wendy Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985.

33

See Markus, p. 33.

34

ibid. Two of Caillois’s most influential essays, which take the praying mantis, myth and imagination as subjects, were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaur: ‘La mante religieuse’, Minotaure, no. 5, 1934, pp.23–6; and ‘Mimétisme et psychasténie légendaire’, Minotaure, no. 7, 1935, pp. 4–10.

35

Marion Endt-Jones, ‘Reopening the cabinet of curiosities: nature and the marvelous in Surrealism and contemporary art’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2010, pp. 92–5. Ruth Markus has probed further to outline that the mantis’s activities are often defined ‘in accordance with human behavioural patterns’ (Markus, p. 33). Recent literature also supports such a reading by investigating the relationship between Caillois’s science and mythology – what Rosa Eidelpes terms ‘Caillois’ biologist mythology’ and the Surrealist adoption and rendering of the femme fatale. See Rosa Eidelpes, ‘Roger Caillois’ biology of myth and the myth of biology’, Anthropology and Materialism: A Journal of Social Research, no. 2, 2014, <http://am.revues.org/84> (accessed 10 April 2016).

36

Pressly, p. 600.

37

ibid. Recent research has indicated that its violent act only occurs when the insect is held in captivity (ibid., p. 600 n. 1). Herein resides a certain delicious irony, for by breeding the insects the Surrealists unwittingly set up a psycho-sexual environment in which the decapitation could occur.

38

William S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, Thames & Hudson, London, 1969, p. 220, cited in ibid.

39

Pressly, p. 600.

40

Dalí referred to the insect in this painting interchangeably as a grasshopper, a locust and a praying mantis, and, at other times, used other ‘similar’ animals, such as the lobster. Markus, pp. 35 and 38, n. 40. André Masson also depicted the praying mantis repeatedly, especially after 1934, when he moved to Spain and acquired insects for himself (Markus, pp. 33, 36, 38 n. 40). See also Robert Belton, The Beribboned Bomb: The Image of Woman in Male Surrealist Art, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, 1995, p. 99, first cited in Markus, p. 38, n. 40.

41

Endt-Jones, p. 143; Markus, p. 33.

42

ibid. The homonymic effect also translates to English: ‘praying’ compared to ‘preying’.

43

Markus, p. 33. For a discussion on the notion of the ‘monstrous feminine’, which has informed my reading of the painting, see Creed’s seminal work, ‘Horror and the monstrous-feminine: an imaginary abjection’, pp. 44–71.

44

Endt-Jones offers a further interpretation to the Surrealists’ fascination with the praying mantis and other insects, linking it to their preoccupation with manifestations of the marvellous and the monstrous collected by early modern princes and scholars, and included in their cabinets of curiosities (Endt-Jones, p. 116). Moreover, Ruth Markus explains that the word ‘mantis’ is derived from the Greek meaning ‘soothsayer, diviner, or magician ordained with spiritual qualities’ (Markus, p. 33). It is unsurprising, then, that she would appeal to the Surrealists.

45

Insectoid and biomorphic forms indicative of the vagina dentata appear in many of the artist’s works produced throughout the 1940s.

46

Jonathan P. Eburne, Surrealism and the Art of Crime, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2008, p. 49.

47

ibid.

48

For further discussion of the violence endured by the female body in Surrealist art and thought, see Mary Ann Caws, ‘Seeing the Surrealist woman: we are a problem’, Dada/Surrealism 18, 1990, pp. 11–16; and Natalya Lusty, Surrealism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Aldershot and Burlington, Ashgate, 2007.

49

Roger Caillois, ‘The Praying Mantis: From Biology to Psychoanalysis’ cited in Marion Endt-Jones, ‘Living Jewels, Creepy Crawlers and Robobugs: Insects in the Wunderkammer, Surrealism and Contemporary Art’, Art, Technology and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity, Jacob Wamberg & Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam (eds), Ashgate, Farnham & Burlington, 2015, pp. 65–79, at p. 72.