Eileen Agar

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Eileen Agar
Eileen Agar.jpg
Eileen Agar
Born(1899-12-01)1 December 1899
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died7 November 1991(1991-11-07) (aged 91)
London, England
EducationByam Shaw School of Art, Slade School of Fine Art
Known forPainting
Spouse(s)Joseph Bard

Eileen Forrester Agar RA (1 December 1899 – 17 November 1991) was a British painter and photographer associated with the Surrealist movement.[1][2][3]


Born in Buenos Aires to a Scottish father and American mother, Agar moved with her family to London in 1911. At a young age, Agar became fascinated by pictures by Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham. Before attending school, Agar grew up in her family villa Quinta la Lila learning from her nanny and a French governess. Agar describes her childhood as being “full of balloons, hoops and St Bernard dogs’. Aged six Agar was sent to England to a private school in Canford Cliffs. At her second school, Heathfield School, Ascot, Agar’s teacher Lucy Kemp-Welch encouraged her to continue to develop her art. In 1914 at the onset of World War I Agar was sent away to Tudor Hall from her home in London to avoid the hardships of war. In Kent the music master Horace Kesteven began introducing her to various artists.[4] Through Kesteven, Agar met Charles Sims who exposed her to some of Paul Nash’s early works. Agar describes her time with Sims as "I found myself in a milieu of art where art was a valued part of daily life". Before the war ended, Agar attended the Demoiselles Ozanne to improve her French and while she was there she took weekly oil painting lessons at the Byam Shaw School of Art in Kensington. Agar found the Byam Shaw too academic and pleaded with her family to allow her to look elsewhere to continue her schooling. This infuriated her mother and after an argument with her parents Agar notes in her diary that she got up early, ate lunch with her sisters, and packed her bags and departed from Paddington Station. She left a note for her parents stating that she was on her way to Truro and St Mawes where she would stay with a family friend the De Kays.[4]

Then, in 1924, she studied under Leon Underwood at his school at Brook Green. She attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1925 to 1926. She also studied art in Paris from 1928 to 1930.

In 1926, Agar met the Hungarian writer Joseph Bard and in 1928, they lived in Paris where she met the Surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard with whom she had a friendly relationship. In 1930 Agar painted her first surrealist piece ”The Flying Pillar” based off Andre Bretons surrealist manifesto. Agar describes her piece in her memoir as “her first attempt at an imaginative approach to painting and although the result was surreal, it was not done with that intention”.Agar continues on in her Diary to say that “Surrealism was in the air in France and poets in France, later in England, were kissing that sleeping beauty troubled by nightmares, and it was the kiss of life that they gave”. The flying Pillar was later renamed the Three Symbols and is described by Agar as a reference to Greek art and Gustave Eiffel and his famous tower which was the symbol of modernity. The painting represented the classical world merging with the modern as a cross roads in time. She describes the various images in her painting in her 1928 Diary entry as Greece being the meeting place of Judaeo-Egyptian and Greco-Christian followed by the words’the Judaeo-Graeco pillar’ as if it were a note to bear in mind and to later be developed”. In 1931 Agar painted the Movement in Space which was her cubist abstraction work.

She was a member of the London Group from 1934 onwards,[5] and later married Bard in 1940.

Ceremonial Hat for eating Bouillabaisse (1937). Surrealist hat of cork trimmed with found objects.[6]

Agar exhibited with the Surrealists in England and abroad. During the 1930s Agar's work focused on natural objects often in a light-hearted manner such as Bum-Thumb Rock, a set of photographs of an unusual rock formation she noticed in Brittany. She started to experiment with automatic techniques and new materials, taking photographs and making collages and objects. The Angel of Anarchy, a plaster head covered in fabric and other media, is such an example from 1936–40 and is now in the Tate collection.[7][8] She created 2 versions of The Angel of Anarchy after her first Angel of Anarchy got lost on its way back from a show In Amsterdam. She made her second version in 1940 using the same cast of Joseph Bards head and kept the original title The Angel of Anarchy. The bust was divided into two parts. One with white fur and one with black fur with most the head being covered in green osprey and ostrich feathers and dollies that she received from her mother who used to wear them as a head dress.[4]

In the mid-1930s Agar and Bard began renting a house for the summer at Swanage in Dorset. Here she met Paul Nash and the two began an intense relationship. In 1935 Nash introduced Agar to the concept of the found object.[9] Together, they collaborated on a number of works, such as Seashore Monster at Swanage. Nash recommended her work to Roland Penrose and Herbert Read, the organisers of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, in London and she became the only British woman to have work, three paintings and five objects,[7] included in that exhibition.[10]

In 1936 she was the only woman to present works of art at the international exhibition in London, England.[11]

In 1937, Agar spent a holiday at Picasso and Dora Maar's home in Mougins, Alpes-Maritimes, along with Paul Éluard, Nusch, Roland Penrose and Lee Miller, who photographed her.[12] By 1940, works by Agar had appeared in surrealist exhibitions in Amsterdam, New York, Paris and Tokyo.[3] "The war interrupted her artistic activity, and she only began to paint again in 1946 and exhibited fairly regularly from then on until her death."[13]

After World War Two, Agar started a new productive phase of her life, holding almost 16 solo exhibitions between 1946 and 1985. By the 1960s she was producing Tachist paintings with Surrealist elements. In 1988 she published her autobiography A Look At My Life.[14] then in 1990, she was elected as a Royal Academy Associate.[15] She died in London. Agar has paintings in the collection of several British institutions including Derby Art Gallery, Bradford and the UK Government collection.[16]

Eileen Agar is buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Grave No. 17606.[17] Goshka Macuga's 2007 exhibition, part of Tate Britain's Art Now Series, used material drawn from Eileen Agar's Archive.

Notable works[edit]

  • The Angel of Mercy, sculpture 1934,[18][19]
  • Quadriga,[20] painting, 1935
  • The Angel of Anarchy,[21] object, 1940
  • L'horloge d'une femme[22] painting, 1989

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eileen Agar, R.A." Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  2. ^ Whitney Chadwick. "Artist biography Eileen Agar". Tate. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b A S Byatt (27 November 2004). "Angel of anarchy". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Remy, Michel (2017). Dreaming Oneself Awake. London: Reaktion books. pp. 10–102.
  5. ^ Frances Spalding (1990). 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1 85149 106 6.
  6. ^ Kite, Marion. "Ceremonial hat for eating Bouillabaisse: Eileen Agar 1936". Conservation Journal. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b Tate. "Catalogue entry T03809 Angel of Anarchy". Tate. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  8. ^ Penelope Curtis, ed. (2013). Tate Britain Companion, A Guide to British Art. Tate Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84976-033-1.
  9. ^ Lambirth, Andrew. Eileen Agar: An Eye For Collage. Tate. ISBN 978 2 940411 11 5.
  10. ^ Jane Ure-Smith (5 March 2005). "From Swanage with love". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  11. ^ Durozoi, Gerard (2002). History of the Surrealist Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 649. ISBN 0-226-17412-3.
  12. ^ Colvile, p. 25
  13. ^ Durozoi, Gerard (1997). History of the Surrealist Movement. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 649. ISBN 0-226-17412-3.
  14. ^ Lambirth, Andrew. Eileen Agar: An Eye For Collage. Tate. ISBN 978 2 940411 11 5.
  15. ^ Borello, Frances (2000). A World of Our own: Women as Artists Since the Renaissance. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. p. 168. ISBN 0-8230-5874-3.
  16. ^ Paintings by or after Eileen Agar, Art UK. Retrieved August 2011.
  17. ^ Summers, Claude J. The Queer Encyclopedia of the Visual Arts. Cleis Press Inc. p. 163. ISBN 1-57344-191-0.
  18. ^ Rachel Barnes (contributor) (2001). 20th-Century Art Book. Phaidon Press (London). ISBN 0714835420.
  19. ^ Lambirth, Andrew (2008). Eileen Ager: An Eye For Collage. Tate. p. 32. ISBN 978-2-940411-11-5.
  20. ^ Colvile, p. 26
  21. ^ Colvile, p. 27
  22. ^ Colvile, p. 29
  • Georgiana Colvile, Scandaleusement d'elles: trente-quatre femmes surréalistes, Jean-Michel Place, Paris, 1999

External links[edit]