Spotlight on Oppenheim: Inspiration, Repetition, and Surrealism

Meret Oppenheim often explored one subject through a variety of mediums. A favorite theme was the legend of the eighth-century queen Genevieve of Brabant, who was unjustly accused of adultery and sentenced to death. After her executioner took pity on her and released her, Genevieve survived in a forest for six years, giving birth to a son. Found by her guilt-ridden husband, she was forgiven and taken back to the royal palace.

Meret Oppenheim, Genevieve’s Mirror (Der Spiegel der Genoveva), 1967; Embossing, 10 x 6 ¾ in.; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Meret Oppenheim, Genevieve’s Mirror (Der Spiegel der Genoveva), 1967; Debossed print, 10 x 6 ¾ in.; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Oppenheim invoked Genevieve in a poem from 1933; a painting, The Suffering of Genevieve (1939); and a wood sculpture, Genevieve (1971). The queen’s fate served as a metaphor for Oppenheim’s experiences from 1937 to 1954, when she suffered personal and creative crises.

Rather than depict a beautiful queen in Genevieve’s Mirror, Oppenheim drew a hairy animal hoof and the lower part of a human face, joined to look like the handle of a portable mirror. The image may reflect Genevieve’s years living in the wilderness; according to legend, she and her infant son were fed with the milk of a doe.

Visit NMWA to see this and other Oppenheim works in Tender Friendships, on view through September 14.

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