Eileen Agar 1899-1991

Eileen Forrester Agar was a British painter and photographer associated with the Surrealist movement.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1899, Agar moved to London with her (Scottish) father and (American) mother in 1911 where she attended the Miles Ozanne’s finishing School and took weekly classes at Byam Shaw School of Art.

In 1920 she attended Leon Underwood's Brook Green School of Art and between 1922 and 1926, the Slade School of Fine Art where she studied (part time) under Professor Henry Tonks. In 1927 she met, and was photographed by, Cecil Beaton.

In 1928 Agar moved to Paris with the Hungarian writer Joseph Bard, were she studied art and first met the Surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard

In 1933 Agar had her first solo exhibition - a seven-year retrospective, at Bloomsbury Gallery (London) and, at the suggestion of Henry Moore, she joined the London Group. In 1934 she exhibited her first collages with the London Group (alongside Henry Moore) and spent the summer with Henry Moore and his wife Irina Radetsky at Wittersham in Kent. In 1935 she met Paul Nash (through the graphic designer Ashley Havinden) who introduced her to the idea of the 'found object'

In 1936, Roland Penrose, the English Surrealist painter, poet, collector and promoter of modern art and the writer Herbert Read - both of whom later (in 1946) co-founded of the Institute of Contemporary Art (London); selected five of Agar's works for their International Surrealist Exhibition which was held in June at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Agar's works were exhibited alongside work by Picasso, Miró and Ernst. Attendance for the exhibition was in excess of 20,000. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, included Agar's 'Quadriga' in their Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism exhibition.

Agar spent the summer of 1937 with Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, Man Ray, Henry Moore and Irina Radetsky on The Fal River, Cornwall. In September she then travelled with Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, Paul & Nusch Eluard and Paul Nash to the Hotel Vaste Horizon in Mougins to join Pablo Picasso and Man Ray. it was in Mougins that Agar was photographed by Lee Miller.

During the War Agar worked in a canteen in Savile Row. The British Surrealists has their first meeting in 1940 at the Barcelona Restaurant. Agar was included in their Surrealism Today exhibition at Zwemmer Gallery. In 1948 Agar appeared on the BBC TV programme ‘The Eye of the Artist’.

In 1971 the Commonwealth Institute staged a retrospective exhibition for Afgar and in 1977 she appeared (with George Melly, Roland Penrose, Conroy Maddox and Robert Melville) in a TV reconstruction of the British Surrealists (1940) Barcelona Restaurant meeting. In 1985 Agar modelled clothes by Issey Miyake for Lord Snowden and published her autobiography A Look at my Life in 1988

Agar appeared in the Channel Four TV documentary Five Women Artists in 1989 and was elected Academician of the Royal Academy in 1990

Eileen Agar died on 17th November 1991 in London


Selected Group Exhibitions

1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, London
1936 Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1937 Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy And Cultural Development, Artists’ International Association, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1938 Surrealist Objects and Poems, London Gallery, London
1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Nippon Salon, Tokyo, Japan
1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Robert, Amsterdam
1938 Pictures on the Staircase, London Gallery, London
1939 Living Art in England, London Gallery, London
1939 British Surrealist and Abstract Paintings, Northampton Art Gallery, Northampton
1940 Surrealist Work Artists’ International Association, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1940 Surrealism Today, Zwemmer Gallery, London
1942 New Movements in Contemporary Art. Contemporary Work in England, London Museum, London
1945 Works, by Eminent British Artists, Russell-Cotes Gallery, Bournemouth
1947 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Galerie Maeght, Paris
1951 London Group, New Burlington Galleries, London
1952 Mirror and the Square, New Burlington Galleries, London
1956 Modern Trends in Watercolour Painting, Cumberland House, Museum and Art Gallery, Portsmouth
1961 /69 John Moores’ Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
1961 The Art of Assemblage, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1964 Fifty Years of British Art 1914-64, London Group Jubilee Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London
1965 Art in Britain 1930-40, Marlborough Gallery, Londonl
1971 Britain’s Contribution to Surrealism of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Hamet Gallery, London
1973 The Illustration of Reality and the Reality of Illusion, McRobert Centre, Stirling University
1974 British Painting 1974, Hayward Gallery, London
1976 Leon Underwood and 12 Girdler’s Road, New Arts Centre, London.
1976 British Painting 1900-1960, Sheffield City Art Gallery
1978 Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, London
1979 International Exhibition of Soft Art, Kunsthaus, Zurich
1979 Thirties: British Art and Design before the War, Hayward Gallery, London
1980 The Other Face of the Avant-Garde 1910-1940, Palazzo Reale, Milan and Stockholm
1981 Image and Form: British Sculpture in the 20th Century, 1901-1950, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1982 The Women’s Art Show 1950-1970, Nottingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham
1984 In the Spirit of Surrealism, Oliver Bradbury and James Birch Fine Art, London
1986 Contrariwise: Surrealism and Britain 1930-1986, Swansea Festival Exhibition, Swansea
1986 Surrealism: Objects, Photographs, Collages, Documents, Zabriskie Gallery, New York
1987 La Femme et le Surréalisme, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne
1988 The Surrealist Spirit in England, Whitford and Hughes, London
1989 British Surrealism, Blond Fine Art, London
1990 Collages Surréalistes, Galerie Zabriskie, Paris
1996 In the Mind’s Eye: Surrealist Works on Paper, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
2000 Inaugural Exhibition, Tate Modern, London
2004 Collage, Bloomberg Space, London
2005 Aspects of Modern British Art, Austin Desmond Fine Art, London
2007 Surreal Things - Surrealism and Design, V&A Museum, London

Eileen Agar