Oppenheim’s fur-lined teacup is perhaps the single most notorious Surrealist object. Its subtle perversity was inspired by a conversation between Oppenheim, Pablo Picasso, and the photographer Dora Maar at a Paris café. Admiring Oppenheim’s fur-trimmed bracelets, Picasso remarked that one could cover just about anything with fur. “Even this cup and saucer,” Oppenheim replied.
In the 1930s, many Surrealist artists were arranging found objects in bizarre combinations that challenged reason and summoned unconscious and poetic associations. Object—titled Le Déjeuner en fourrure (Lunch in fur) by the Surrealist leader André Breton—is a cup-and-saucer set that was purchased at a Paris department store and lined with the pelt of a Chinese gazelle. The work highlights the specificities of sensual pleasure: fur may delight the touch, but it repels the tongue. And a cup and spoon, of course, are made to be put in the mouth.
Following his inclusion of the work in MoMA’s 1936–37 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Museum’s director, remarked, “Few works of art in recent years have so captured the popular imagination.... The ‘fur-lined tea set’ makes concretely real the most extreme, the most bizarre improbability. The tension and excitement caused by this object in the minds of tens of thousands of Americans have been expressed in rage, laughter, disgust or delight.”
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
This Surrealist object was inspired by a conversation between Oppenheim and artists Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar at a Paris cafe. Admiring Oppenheim's fur-covered bracelet, Picasso remarked that one could cover anything with fur, to which she replied, "Even this cup and saucer." Soon after, when asked by André Breton, Surrealism's leader, to participate in the first Surrealist exhibition dedicated to objects, Oppenheim bought a teacup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and covered them with the fur of a Chinese gazelle. In so doing, she transformed genteel items traditionally associated with feminine decorum into sensuous, sexually punning tableware.
Gallery label from The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection, June 24, 2009–January 4, 2010.