Surrealism and psychoanalysis in the work of Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff: 1935-1940
Montanaro, Lee Ann
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The story of the collaboration between the psychoanalyst Dr Grace Pailthorpe and the artist Reuben Mednikoff is indeed an extraordinary one. The aim of this thesis is to throw light upon their joint research project between 1935, when they first met, and 1940, when they were expelled from the British Surrealist group with which they had been closely involved since its official launch in 1936. The project that Pailthorpe and Mednikoff plunged into just days after they first met in February 1935 focused on how art could be used as a way of curing mental problems. Paintings and drawings produced ‘automatically’ were used as a means to bring memories to a conscious level. Many personal tensions, obsessions and fears that had lain dormant and repressed were released and detailed commentaries and explanations followed every work they produced in order for the exercise to be fully therapeutic. The aim was to externalise the unconscious and reintegrate it with the conscious. Despite the fact that Pailthorpe’s work was hailed as ‘the best and most truly Surrealist’ by the leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, at the 1936 International Surrealist exhibition in London, which brought the movement to Britain, the couple were expelled from the British Surrealist group just four years later and moved to America into relative obscurity. After their deaths, Pailthorpe and Mednikoff’s drawings and paintings were dispersed and their commentaries never read. My thesis provides biographies of Pailthorpe and Mednikoff before they met. It analyses the work they made together, discussing the impact on their thinking not only of Surrealism but also of psychoanalytic theory, notably the work of Melanie Klein. Apart from this, the thesis also reintegrates the couple into the history of Surrealism in England.