Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986
New York, Baruch College Gallery, Women Artists of the Surrealist Movement, 1986 (not listed in the catalogue)
Born in Buenos Aires in 1899 to an American mother and Scottish father, Agar moved to England when she was twelve years old. Always artistically minded, she studied at the Slade School of Fine Art before moving to live in Paris from 1928-30. This stay was to prove decisive; in Paris she met Paul Eluard and André Breton and became acquainted with the French Surrealists. Returning to England she became a member of the London Group and in 1936 was invited by Roland Penrose and Herbert Read to contribute to the now legendary International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in London. Later in the same year she became one of only a few English artists to be exhibited as part of the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism show in New York.
A rare example of Agar’s celebrated Surrealist objects, The Wings of Augury dates from this crucial moment in her career and marks an important new direction in her art. She spent the summer of 1935 on holiday in Dorset near the home of Paul Nash, a prominent British Surrealist artist; Nash’s ideas about animism and spirit of place had a profound influence on Agar and she began to look at the natural world in terms of its correspondence with the unconscious. As Whitney Chadwick observes when discussing the present work: ‘Two objects fashioned in 1936, Precious Stones and The Wings of Augury, mingle references to nature, in the form of marine objects collected in Dorset the previous summer, with allusions to classical civilisation. Agar’s world of nature, its roots deep in the classical tradition, sustains a strong mythic dimension’ (W. Chadwick, op. cit., p. 147). In the present work the title provides the classical allusion – augury being an ancient Roman practice that observed the flight of birds as a means of prophecy. Agar’s interpretation of this is whimsical; the classical terracotta head perched on the top flirts with the figurative, suggesting a literal winged figure of augury. It is juxtaposed with the myriad natural objects – feathers, shells, bones and coral – that surround it, in a manner typical of the Surrealist treatment of the object. Agar appropriates elements of the natural and the classical as a means of accessing a deeper subconscious truth.
As Michel Remy explains: ‘the objects we see are the results of a grafting of different objects onto each other, each one thus losing its bare, common identity. In other words, the repressed is unwittingly made to resurface through a whole network of metaphors – each object being jostled and shaken out of its habitual identity […]. The Surrealist object ‘stages’ a synthesis of dream and reality. It manifests itself as a communicating vessel engineered, so to speak, by the power of desire which it reveals and unleashes. Such a fundamentally Surrealist process was never abandoned by Agar’ (M. Remy, Eileen Agar. Dreaming Oneself Awake, London, 2017, p. 95).
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