Jacqueline herself was creative and artistically minded, and she strove to make her own work. But, like her friend
—a talented Surrealist photographer today better remembered as the muse and lover of
—she found herself often overshadowed by her male counterpart. “As Breton’s spouse,” scholar Salomon Grimberg writes, “she remained nameless, and was always referred to as ‘her,’ or as ‘the woman who inspired,’ or as ‘Breton’s wife.’”
Nowhere was this dynamic more clear than the 1935 International Surrealist Exhibition in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Although Lamba had two paintings featured in the show, alongside the likes of
, they were shown without her name or the titles of the works on display.
Amidst her contemporaries, who also knew of her work as an artist, Lamba’s physical attractiveness remained her most noticeable quality—descriptions of her beauty from her peers far exceed comments about her art. “Lamba had been given (or taken on) the identity of a trouvaille
, a found object that inspired,” Grimberg notes. In a photograph by the female portraitist Rogi André, who also captured the likes of Picasso and
, Lamba is depicted underwater in an aquarium. Her body is not quite in focus, her back bent and her breasts breaking through the surface. Here, even, she is a found object: beautiful and malleable, in a work she did not make.
Following seven months in Mexico, spent with
, and the exiled Leon Trotsky, Lamba and Kahlo became fast friends. Both struggled for their own artistic identities amidst turbulent marriages to famous men. Lamba, in particular, had difficulty imagining her role beyond that of mother and muse, a woman who could also be an artist. Kahlo captured her friend’s trepidation in the 1943 painting The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened
—Lamba depicted as a tiny doll among larger, flayed-open fruit echoing the shapes of male and female genitalia.