I was given some crayons and told to sit quietly at a little table, which I did, until I happened to look up and see a picture of a furry cup and saucer, complete with a teaspoon, yet. I remember the horror to this day. Tea from that cup! I could just feel that wet, slimy fur on my lips and how the hairs would catch in my teeth if I put that teaspoon in my mouth. I freaked. Didn't get taken to school again.
|Object: Breakfast in Fur|
Meret was only 22 years old in 1936, when she created this memorable piece of art - once seen, never forgotten! "Object: Fur Breakfast" became an icon of the Surrealist movement, endlessly reproduced on posters and coasters, like Dali's "Persistence of Memory" and Magritte's "The Great War": the bowler-hatted man with a green apple covering his face.
|Magritte: The Great War|
"Object" was an overnight sensation at Surrealist exhibitions in both Paris and New York, and was immediately snapped up by the Museum of Modern Art.
|Dali: The Persistence of Memory|
In the same year, Meret created another important Surrealist work: "Mein Kindermadchen" (My Nanny) - a pair of high-heeled shoes, tied together, decorated with paper frills like a trussed chicken, and presented on a silver tray. The piece is full of latent eroticism. The rounded heels look like buttocks, evoking the image of a bound, nude woman on her back, legs apart.
|Oppenheim: Mein Kindermadchen|
At age 20, Meret was already a "muse", celebrated by the Surrealists as the "fairy woman whom all men desire". She was on intimate terms with Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamps and André Breton. Man Ray used her as the nude model for a series of photographs titled Erotique Voilée.
The acclaim that "Object: Fur Breakfast", and to a lesser extent, "Mein Kindermadchen", received, catapulted Meret into overnight fame when she was really too young to cope with the spotlight. Not unlike many young footballers of today! Many art historians feel that this spectacular early success blighted her future career - she was constantly trying too hard to live up to her early triumph.
It was not helpful that several of her fellow-Surrealists, perhaps with a touch of envy at the success of a mere young female, frequently tried to disparage and trivialise her. She lost confidence, failed to finish projects and even destroyed many works.
In the 1950s she seemed to come to terms with the pressure of expectations engendered by her almost mythical status as the quintessential Surrealist. She went on to create a rich and varied body of work: she designed objects, wrote film scripts and poetry, made masks and costumes. She set up a studio in Berne and became a source of inspiration for many younger artists.
She died of a heart attack at age 72, on the very day that her latest book of poems and etchings was launched.
Meret Oppenheim contributed greatly to the recognition of women as artists in their own right.