Do you know who was the artist Claude Cahun?

Claude Cahun was a surrealist photographer, writer and painter. She was born on October 25, 1894 in the French city of Nantes. She was a transgender artist at a time when being transgender required a great deal of courage. Paris has a memorial plaque on the Boulevard Raspail.

Claude Cahun
Memorial plaque on Boulevard Raspail in Paris – Wikimedia Commons

She defied all norms regarding gender, identity and sexuality at the dawn of the 20th century with her art. Being born into a Jewish family would also bring her more problems during the Nazi occupation.

Claude Cahun Story Details

Her real name was Lucy Renne Mathilde Schwob. Her father was a newspaper owner and her grandfather was the artist David Leon Cahun. That is why Claude grew up surrounded by a creative atmosphere. When she was only 14 years old, she met Suzanne Malherbe, who changed her life. Suzanne was her artistic collaborator and also her lifelong love partner.

In 1917, his father married Suzanne’s mother, who was a widow. As a result, the young lovers also became half-sisters. In 1919, the then Lucy takes the name Claude Cahun. The name Claude because it is gender-neutral and Cahun because of the surname of her artist grandfather. While her partner, Suzanne adopts the name Marcel Moore.

She was a multi-faceted artist in Paris

The couple studied in England and then Claude studied Philosophy and Letters at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1918 they moved to Paris where they worked together. Marcel, who spoke several languages fluently, was Claude’s model on many occasions.

Claude Cahun artist
Claude Cahun – Image by Los 40 Cl

In 1922 living in Montparnasse, the couple is part of the intellectuals of Paris. Claude publishes articles in the Parisian newspapers Le Mercure de France and Vues et Visions.

She was a multifaceted artist. Writer, photographer, sculptor and also actress. She played both male and female roles. Although she defined herself as neutral, neither male nor female.

This is how she posed in her self-portraits, often wearing masks. She shaved her head as another way of removing a mask and appearing in the photographs neither as a man nor as a woman.

By the time 1937 came around, the atmosphere in Paris had become rarefied. The anti-Semitic climate and the advance of fascism made the couple very uncomfortable. Therefore, they decide to move to the English island of Jersey.

Facing the Nazis was no easy task

When Germany invaded France, the island of Jersey was not spared. Even with the island overrun by the Nazis, the couple (whom the villagers believed to be sisters) decided to resist. They both began to organize a resistance on the island. With pamphlets and anti-Nazi propaganda to demoralize the German soldiers. In four years they distributed 4000 leaflets written in perfect German, which Marcel spoke fluently.

For the Nazis, being transgender and Jewish was a certain death sentence. In 1944 they are seized by the Gestapo, and are held in prison. The Nazis destroyed everything on the estate, so some works from that time were lost forever.

However, before the death sentence is carried out, Jersey is liberated by the Allied forces and they released the couple. Claude Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude from the French government in 1951. He died in St Helier, Jersey, on 8 December 1954.

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