Paul & Nusch Eluard & Surrealism Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPHY, ILLUSTRATION & MEMORABILIA
All the boys loved Nusch, the hypnotist’s assistant whose skinny frame and fiery demeanour mesmerised every art star in town. It was poet and painter Paul Eluard, though, who made Maria Benz – muse to the sex-obsessed surrealists – his wife in 1934. This small, but packed to overflowing, one-room exhibition of publications, photographs and other detritus culled from the Roland Penrose collection charts the affair between these lovers and other friends such as Picasso, Max Ernst and Man Ray.
Over ten display cases, we whizz through the early years in cluttered disarray, through masterly collaborations, the Spanish Civil War, and above all the poetry, all laid bare in assorted editions and publications, themselves evocative of such an experimental age. At the centrepiece of all this activity and all this unfettered outpouring of work, though, is Nusch.
Look, there’s Nusch, all string-bean limbs, captured lean and naked. And look, there she is again, smiling and devoted as she gazes back at her betrothed in a Man Ray snap. And see, there’s Nusch some more, looking blissful and radiant. There’s a postcard of a portrait of Nusch by Picasso, a photograph of a portrait of Nusch by Picasso, and so on.
With that randy old bull around, it’s a wonder Eluard even got a look in. When he does, though, there’s a near sentimental and somewhat surprising sweetness to such affection that makes the entire archive seem like one big box of mementoes and memories tripping over each other in a confined space. Seen like this too, each intimate little moment fuses with the work in a way that’s energised by its compressed, selected state, an unruly tumble of art and life.
Best of all, there’s a book of Eluard’s open at an English translation of his poem, ‘Lady Love’. In its hopelessly devoted simplicity, in retrospect it becomes a slow-burning elegy to a woman who died unexpectedly aged only 40. Nusch was Eluard’s inspiration. The flights of fancy stopped after she’d gone. In this little room, though, Eluard, Nusch and all the rest are still tangled up in each other’s mess. Which is how it should be.
Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 27 Sep