In short

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Grace Coddington, 1959 by Lord Snowdon, as reproduced in Grace: 30 Years of Fashion at Vogue. Also posted by Grace Coddington on her Instagram.
Grace Coddington, 1959 by Lord Snowdon, as reproduced in Grace: 30 Years of Fashion at Vogue. Also posted by Grace Coddington on her Instagram.

The character of Madeleine Gide had everything to seduce Pupa Neumann. I write “the character” since the real Madeleine Gide is only present, here, because of what she represents: purity pushed to the extreme, associated with sadness or perhaps an acute sense of sacrifice.

The real Madeleine Gide was André Gide’s cousin and never consummated her marriage to him. He loved her with a love too pure to allow him to touch her, reserving that for the boys. If he discriminated pure love from impure love, what was it about this woman who stayed married to him, accompanied him, protected him, loved him? Destroying her beauty to devote herself to others and to domestic tasks? Renouncing any kind of life?

Pupa Neumann’s Madeleine is always very beautiful. She exudes fragility and grace through her pure complexion and her poses. She is sometimes sexual, sometimes not, showing her inner struggle. We find a young, resigned woman, with an opalescent skin, straight hair; in other prints, a shameless woman, very sexy, swooning, or holding a medal – religious? – between her teeth. Her arms are swans, her hair, a clue to her state. Sometimes she spits. And sometimes she becomes a little girl playing with a kind of rattle. She plays, but she is frozen. Madeleine is a clockwork doll who accepts her fate. Her hair is no longer natural, and the photographer has added ribbons that have lost the lightness of ribbons that fly in the wind when a little girl runs. These are heavy, immobile, and show their weight and a lack of movement.

In the end, the photos where Madeleine is the most alive are also the most worrying. Pupa Neumann reveals a sexual Madeleine, perhaps  secretly in her fantasy world. A Madeleine in a bra with a little princess’ headband, who is also a little girl who has found a toy rabbit.

The power of this series of photos is to ask ourselves about women in general, who are, of course, free to be mistresses, women who like sex or who dream about it, or are disgusted, amused, surprised or even very wise . Child like women ,  or very sharp or perverted little girls, a special kind of doll. Pupa Neumann’s Madeleine certainly gives us a taste of our own demons or in any case, obliges us to ask ourselves who the are women asleep within us.

Nathalie Fiszman

Nathalie Fiszman is a writer and editor at the publishers Le Seuil, in Paris, France.


Pupa Neumann, La Madeleine de Gide
Until 10th January 2017
61 avenue Montaigne
75008 Paris

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Pupa Neumann

Born in 1965, she lives and works in Paris, France.

Pupa Neumann : Daydream

The Big Gallery is a fledgling gallery based in the village of Saint Paul, having inaugurated Pupa Neumann’s "Daydream" photographic exhibition last week. The works will be visible until January 16, 2016, and are introduced by a text by the singer Arthur H, which follows.