Eileen Agar

Eileen Agar at home in 1990, where her Artist's Lives recording took place.
Eileen Agar at home in 1990, where her Artist's Lives recording took place. Courtesy Cathy Courtney. Image not licensed for reuse.


Eileen Agar

Eileen Agar produced artworks using collage, painting, photography and sculpture. In 1936 she was invited to exhibit her work at the International Surrealist Exhibition by the organisers, Roland Penrose and Herbert Read. It was only as a result of this invitation that Agar realised she was a Surrealist. For Agar, ‘Surrealist’ meant ‘the element of surprise, in whatever you do’. To hear Eileen Agar speaking about Surrealism, listen to her life story interview on British Library Sounds.

Exhibitions of Eileen Agar’s work include Surrealism Today at Zwemmer Gallery (1940), a solo show at the Redfern Gallery (1942), retrospectives at Birch and Conran (1988) and at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (1999 – 2000), Eileen Agar: An Eye for Collage at Pallant House Gallery (2008 – 2009), In Focus: Eileen Agar – Bride of the Sea at Jerwood Gallery (2017) and Dreaming Oneself Awake at Redfern Gallery (2017).

Agar published her autobiography in 1988, written in collaboration with Andrew Lambirth, and was elected Royal Academician in the same year. In 1990 she was recorded by Cathy Courtney for Artists’ Lives. Her life story can be heard on the British Library Sounds website. A written summary is available on the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

Biography and education

Eileen Agar was born on 1 December 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a Scottish father and American mother. The family moved to England in 1911. Agar studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art under Rex Vicat Cole during World War I, and in 1924 attended Leon Underwood’s Brook Green School of Art where she met Blair Hughes-Stanton and Gertrude Hermes.

Agar attended the Slade School of Fine Art from 1925 – 1926 under Henry Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer and Walter Westley. During this time at the Slade, male and female students were segregated for life drawing classes. Agar’s vivid recollections of learning to draw under Henry Tonks can be accessed on Voices of art. She also studied for two years in Paris, where she learnt about Surrealism among other modern movements.

Eileen Agar died on 17 November 1991 in London, aged 91. Upon her death she donated her photographs to Tate Archive.

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