“Limitation makes the creative mind inventive.” Walter gropius
While I was doing the reaserch for Tuesday’s post, about André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s “Les Champs Magnétiques”, I read that Soupault was married to an artist, now called Ré Soupault. I had never heard of her and she seemed to be quite interesting. Hence I decided to make her the subject of today’s post as means to discover her universe. I have to admit that there is not much information out on the web on her (so often the case with women artist!), pages that look interesting are very often in German, and unfortunately I don’t speak the language… yet (I really wish to learn it soon). Thereupon the information on this page will be meagre. If you do know of interesting links or books -or anything else- about her (in French or English) please do not hesitate to comment below! Let’s talk about Ré Soupault and bring her back in the conversation so she doesn’t become another forgotten woman artist!
Ré Soupault (29 October 1901–12 March 1996) born known as Meta Erna Niemeyer, was a French-German artist, educated at the Bauhaus. She is known for a diversity of artistic works as a photographer, fashion designer, and also as translator. (Source)
She was born in Pommerania in the then German town (present-day Polish) of Bublitz in 1901. After the First World War, the young woman seeks intellectual freedom and “escapes” from family ties playing chess, playing the piano and by joining the ‘Wandervogel’ youth movement. Her only glimmer of hope is her drawing teacher, ‘the sole sensible person’. The latter shows Soupault the Bauhaus Manifesto, drafted by Walter Gropius. Its promotion of solidarity among artists and artisans in an equal rights community, building a future together, reflects her own desire for a new worldview. (Source) In 1921, she began to study at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Deeply impressed by Johannes Itten’s colour and form theory, Soupault attends his preliminary course twice. She was impressed by the Neo-Zoroastrian Mazdaznanism, according to which Itten and other Bauhaus members lived, and she studied Sanskrit for two semesters at Jena university. From this study, she derives her life motto: ‘Greed is the root of all evil (lobhah papasya karanam)’.(Source) In the Bauhaus, Erna became known as Ré, as Kurt Schwitters and the photographer Otto Umbehr used to call her.(Source)
During a visit to Berlin, she met the former Bauhaus member Werner Graeff, who introduced her to the Swedish experimental filmmaker Viking Eggeling. After her participation in the first major Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar in 1923, Soupault became Eggeling’s assistant. She was fascinated by Eggeling’s enthusiasm and she finished the film “Diagonal Symphony” for the sick filmmaker within a year. With Schwitters, she developed a close working relationship and together they moved to Hanover. As the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925 and developed a more functional design, she decided not to return and to settle in Berlin instead.(Source)
Having begun to write under the pen name “Greta Green” for the Sport im Bild magazine in Germany, she moved to Paris as a correspondent for the Scherl Verlag in 1929. She quickly established herself in avant-gardist circles in Montparnasse where artists met in the Café Dôme. At a birthday party for Kiki de Montparnasse, she got to know the millionaire Arthur Wheeler, with whom she opened the fashion boutique Ré Sport in 1931. She had designed fashion before, like modern culottes for the Parisian Paul Poiret. Later, she designed and sold “rational clothing for the working woman”, and some of her collections were photographed by Man Ray. When Wheeler died in 1934, she had to close the fashion studio. In 1933, she got to know her second husband Phillippe Soupault, a French poet and journalist. With him, she travelled through Europe and took photographs for his reports.(Source)
At the Bauhaus, she got to know her first husband Hans Richter in 1922 with whom she got married in 1926. Their home becomes a meeting place for the avant-garde, among them Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Werner Graeff, Paul Hindemith and Mies van der Rohe. In 1927, the marriage with Richter broke and by 1931 they divorced.
Her second husband was Phillippe Soupault, who she got to know at a reception at the Russian Embassy in Paris in November 1933 and married in 1937.(Source) He had just divorced his second wife and Ré Richter had just given up her business; they were both therefore at a loose end and decided to do some travel reportages together. Ré Richter’s photographs, taken with her 6×6 Rolleiflex, were to be published alongside Philippe Soupault’s literary texts. Between 1938 and 1943, the couple lived in Tunisia, where Phillippe Soupault established the anti-Fascist Radio Tunis, speaking out against the Italian Radio Bari. The two of them travelled to Germany, Switzerland, England, Scandinavia and Tunisia. They married in 1937. Following the arrest of Phillippe in March 1942 by German troops in Tunis, they fled to New York in 1943. There, they met up again with many of their European friends, including Kurt Weill, Fernand Léger, André Masson, Herbert Bayer, Hans Richter and Marcel Breuer. In the following years, the couple travelled through South America for the Agence France-Press. The couple separated after the end of the war; he moved back to Paris and she remained in New York and earned a living writing travel reports for ‘International Digest’ and ‘Travel Magazine’. (Source) (Source)
She returned to Paris in 1955. She began to work as a translator. In 1948, she was commissioned by the German publisher Büchergilde Gutenberg to translate the diaries of the French author Romain Rolland. Further, she translated the collected works of Comte de Lautrémont. She stayed in contact with Phillipp Soupault, with whom she jointly produced a film about the painter Wassily Kandinsky in 1967. In 1973, Phillippe and Ré decided to live together again. This time, each in their own apartment, but in the same house. Phillippe Soupault died in 1990.(Source)
The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar by German architect Walter Gropius (1883–1969). Its core objective was a radical concept: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. (Source) Gropius made himself a director of the newly created school for art and design, as well as the leader of the newborn movement. Immediately, he proceeded to write some sort of rules and regulations for the uprising organization. He printed it on four pages, and there it was – the Bauhaus Manifesto. Those four pages included a founding manifesto and a detailed teaching program of the new school. (Source) Simply put, the aim was to bring architecture, sculpture, and painting back to the craftsmanship. In fact, Gropius claimed that fine arts should be unified under the primacy of architecture. He also thought that craft quality actually is the ultimate source of creative design.(Source)
The Bauhaus combined elements of both fine arts and design education. The curriculum commenced with a preliminary course that immersed the students, who came from a diverse range of social and educational backgrounds, in the study of materials, color theory, and formal relationships in preparation for more specialized studies.(Source) The Bauhaus art is the art of modernization. The Bauhaus architects considered contemporary architecture as a display of “dead style”. They reacted against the theory of the historicists, whose understanding of the past was held vital to explanation of the present. (Source)
The Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20thcentury. Its approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933.(Source)
Here is a small selection of Ré Soupault’s work, small because indeed there is not much to find on the internet.