In a career typified by novel imagery, Pierre Dubreuil's ‘Mœurs Breugheliennes
,’ better known as Les Moules
, is one of the photographer's most surprising images. In the hands of another artist, this photograph might simply be a still life advertisement for A. Piérard table knives. As conceived of by Dubreuil, however, this tableau becomes a surrealist allegory, infused with suggestive, sensual imagery. The phallic form of a knife bisects the image, nestled among a bed of freshly-shucked mussels or moules
, French slang for the female anatomy. The subtle vaginal form of the mollusks in the central portion of the image is all the more evocative in this context. As Dubreuil authority Tom Jacobson notes, many of the photographer’s pictures are also best understood in the context of their titles. ‘Mœurs’ can allude to one’s sexual virtues or moral standards, adding to the already-cheeky visual language employed by the photographer.
It is believed that the photograph offered here is the only surviving oil print of this image. The only other known example of this image is a diapositive – a small, silver-based positive glass plate – now in a private collection. Although Dubreuil exhibited widely during his lifetime, few of his photographs are extant. Amid financial distress in the early 1940s, Dubreuil sold his negatives and many of his prints to the Gevaert photographic company in Belgium, which was subsequently destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.