TIAMSA Member News: Simone Kahn – surrealist, collector, and gallerist; digital research and exhibition project (Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris)

The unique trajectory of Simone Kahn (1897–1980) warrants increased attention at a time when museums are committed to paying tribute to the place of women in surrealism. The growing interest in Kahn stems from the publication of her letters to her cousin Denise Lévy (Gallimard, 2005) and subsequently of those she received from André Breton (Gallimard, 2016), with whom she shared her life between 1921 and 1931.

These correspondences constitute a precious testimony to a personality who established herself as a privileged collaborator and interlocutor of artists throughout the decade of the formation of surrealism. Kahn wrote, drew, and contributed to collective activities, to publications, and to organizing the group’s exhibitions. She formed lasting friendships with the painters and poets she met in this milieu, such as Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and André Masson, among many others. Moreover, she established – and continued to expand throughout her life – her own collection in the studio she shared with Breton at 42 rue Fontaine, consisting of works from the Parisian avant-garde and from areas beyond the West. 

Simone Kahn’s advocacy of the art of her time and her link with the surrealists did not cease with her divorce from the poet. After the Second World War, she fervently supported artists by opening two galleries in Paris, first Artist and Artisan, opened in 1948, and then the Furstenberg Gallery, which hosted more than fifty events between 1954 and 1965. At the latter institution in 1962, she mounted the exhibition Le Surréalisme, featuring works by surrealists of the early generations, including E. L. T. Mesens, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, and Max Ernst, as well as those by younger talents, like Jean-Jacques Lebel, Avigdor Arikha, and William Nelson Copley.

This project aims to examine and to present in the form of a digital exhibition the full artistic and intellectual life of Simone Kahn – as a woman of letters and friend of artists, a passionate collector and independent gallery owner, who has long been obscured within the historiography of surrealism. It, in turn, provides a fuller portrait of a woman who, beyond the surrealism of the 1920s, remained engaged and relevant on both an artistic and a political level. This investigation, which builds upon current scholarly interests in the evolutions of surrealism after the Second World War, is part of the research efforts towards the publication Au grand jour – Lettres (1920–1930), un album. André à Simone Breton (éditions de la rue d’Ulm, 2020) as well as towards the program initiated in 2014 at the DFK Paris on the economic networks of surrealism (Networking Surrealism in the USA. Agents, Artists and the Market, Passages Online 2019 ; Le surréalisme et l’argent, Passages Online 2021).

Simone Kahn at the ‘Atelier 42’, rue Fontaine, c. 1927, Photograph © private collection, Paris.

Curatorial Team:
Dr. Julia Drost (DFK Paris); Dr. Alice Ensabella (LARHRA, Lyon, Grenoble); Christine Haller, M.A. (DFK Paris); Katia Sowels (ENS, Paris)
Intern: Anna Lena Brunecker (DFK Paris)

For more information, see: https://dfk-paris.org/en/research-project/simone-kahn-surrealistin-sammlerin-und-galeristin-2943.html