Sex, fetishism and taboos

These were themes that fascinated the Utrecht surrealist artist Moesman. Surrealism is generally seen as a male art movement. Some of the best-known names are Dali, Magritte and Ernst. But there were female surrealist artists as well.

When Moesman discovered surrealism towards the end of the 1920, he was hooked immediately. He took it as an opportunity to indulge his sexual fantasies on the canvas – with the excuse that the images were produced by the subconscious, for which he couldn’t be held responsible.

“I never treat animals cruelly, but I wouldn’t mind torturing a beautiful woman who likes to be tortured”, said Moesman in 1966. Clearly, he was attracted to sadomasochism. But that was a huge taboo at the time.

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Moesman’s women seldom show a personal identity. Their faces are usually turned away from the viewer, or they are masked, or their faces are replaced by things like a keyhole or sea anemone.

Man Ray

The surrealists revolted against the prudish morality of their time and the traditional male-female relationships. At the same time they weren’t bothered by the unequal position of women within their own movement. In their art works, women were depicted as a sex object or treated as a fetish.

Still, the surrealist movement did count a number of women among its ranks, particularly from the 1930s on. They, too, explored the themes of eroticism and sexuality with abandon. In Leonor Fini’s paintings, women are depicted as free-spirited and independent individuals. Here, a man lies naked at her feet.

Surrealism was a spark that ignited these women’s self-awareness and assertiveness. In the 1940s, the American artist Dorothea Tanning offered a fresh and critical perspective on the predominantly male and European surrealist approach . Her ‘soft sculptures’ are made of textile filled with ping pong balls and seem surprisingly contemporary.


Sarah Lucas plays with our ideas about gender, sexuality and identity. It is immediately apparent that this humanoid form refers to Tanning’s ‘soft sculptures’.

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Viviane Sassen created a series of new collages especially for this exhibition. They are based on the ‘exquisite corpse’ technique: a creative game that surrealists were fond of playing. Body parts are connected in ways that produce odd hybrid creatures. A new type of woman?

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The Tears of Eros

Moesman, Surrealism and the Sexes

Discover the contemporary in surrealism in The Tears of Eros: Moesman, Surrealism and the Sexes. Johannes Moesman (1909-1988) was the only Dutch artist to be formally ranked among the surrealists. This exhibition contextualizes his oeuvre with that of his famous international peers, including Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Max Ernst. Furthermore, and for the first time in the Netherlands, female surrealists such as Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini will feature prominently. The Tears of Eros presents work by contemporary artists including Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing, Paul Kooiker and Viviane Sassen, reinforcing surrealism's continuity into our time.

Moesman depicted his fantasies at a time when sexual nonconformity was very much a taboo subject, especially in the Netherlands. The surrealists were eager to address themes of sex as a way of escaping from the suffocating conservativism of their time. Almost one hundred years after the birth of surrealism, we still contend with complex social issues centered around shifting power relations between men, women, and other, such as the #MeToo movement, gender nonconformity, and reproductive rights. How did the surrealists depict their views on the masculine and the feminine? And what is our reaction today to their representations of sexuality and gender?

A surcharge of € 3,50 is applicable for this exhibition.

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Featured artists

Anna Aagaard Jensen, Hans Bellmer, Janneke Berendsen, Jacques-André Boiffard, Victor Brauner, Gerard Byrne, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Dinos & Jake Chapman, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Óscar Domínguez, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Julio Gonzalez, Jane Graverol, Anthony Everhardus Grolman, Jacoba Haas, Willem van den Heuvel, Claas Hille, Jozef Hoevenaar, Sanam Khatibi, Jan van Kleef, Jeroen Kooijmans, Paul Kooiker, Felix Labisse, Willem van Leusden, Sarah Lucas, René Magritte, Roberto Matta, Lee Miller, Emiel Van Moerkerken, Johannes Anthonius Moesman, Johannes Hendrikus Moesman, Pierre Molinier, Gerrit van ’t Net, Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, Anthon Gerard Alexander Ripper van Rappard, Wilhelm Ritterbach, Marquis de Sade, Viviane Sassen, William Seabrook, Cindy Sherman, Pieter Stortenbeker, Jindřich Štyrský, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen, Clovis Trouille, Raoul Ubac, Willem Wagenaar, Gillian Wearing, Louis Wijmans, Unica Zürn.

Fondsen en sposnoren De tranen van Eros.jpg


Afaina de Jong


  • Borstentros : Sarah Lucas, Titti Doris (Kunstwerk v/d week), door Stefan Kuiper, (De Volkskrant, 21 februari 2020), V13
  • De geest moet waaien : enkele avonturen van scheidend conservator Marja Bosma, geheel naar waarheid opgetekend uit een haperend geheugen, Marja Bosma, Centraal Museum (Utrecht, 2023), 40 p.
  • Moesman: Surrealisme en de seksen, met bijdragen van Tessel M. Bauduin, Marja Bosma, Nina Folkersma, Maia Kenney ; hoofdredactie Marja Bosma, Nina Folkersma ; eindredactie Elvie Casteleijn, Hans Schopping ; vertalingen Gerard Forde (N-E), Sanne Oorthuizen (E-N)., WBOOKS, Centraal Museum (Utrecht, 2020), 144 p.

Collection in this exhibition

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