Tate Modern talks_lectures

The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism

​The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism, Thames and Hudson​

​The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism, Thames and Hudson​

Join author Whitney Chadwick for a special talk about female friendship among the Surrealists

What did it mean to be young, ambitious and female in the context of an avant-garde movement defined by celebrated men?

Focusing on the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Whitney Chadwick charts five intense, far-reaching female friendships among the Surrealists to show how Surrealism, female friendship and the experiences of war, loss and trauma shaped individual women’s transitions from beloved muses to mature artists. Her vivid account includes the fascinating story of Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe’s subversive activities in occupied Jersey, as well as the experiences of Lee Miller and Valentine Penrose at the frontline. Chadwick draws on personal correspondence between women, including the extraordinary letters between Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini during the months following the arrest and imprisonment of Carrington’s lover Max Ernst at the beginning of World War Two, and the letter Frida Kahlo shared with her friend and lover Jacqueline Lamba years after it was written in the late 1930s during a difficult stay in Paris, marred by her intense dislike of Breton.

Thoroughly engrossing, this history brings a new perspective to the political context of Surrealism, as well as fresh insights on the vital importance of female friendship to its artistic and intellectual flowering.


Whitney Chadwick is an art historian who specialised in twentieth-century European and American art, feminism, gender and sexuality. Her books include Women Artists and the Surrealism Movement, the first full-length study of the women of surrealism, and Women, Art and Society, which has become a required text in art history courses throughout the world. She has also contributed to exhibition catalogues on Sheila Hicks, Mona Hatoum, Wilfredo Lam, Nalini Malani, Leonora Carrington and Lee Miller.

Tate Modern

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London SE1 9TG
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Date & Time

9 October 2017 at 19.30–20.30