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Claude Levi-Strauss handwritten letter (1950)

Claude Levi-Strauss handwritten letter (1950)

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The renowned ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss authorizes the pioneer magazine Neuf to photograph a mask that interests the surrealist André Breton.

Handwritten letter from Claude Levi-Strauss to Robert Delpire of Neuf magazine. One page. In French. 21cm x 26.8cm. Paris, May 20, 1950. Excellent condition. The two images of masks are merely illustrative, the first represents the cover of issue 1 of Neuf magazine and the second most likely shows the mask object of this letter. Single piece.


(...) I authorize with pleasure to photograph the mask that interests Mr. Breton. Therefore, it would be prudent for him [the photographer] to confirm his visit by telephone, calling me at my house during lunchtime or at the Museum of Man.

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908 - 2009) exerted a decisive influence on the human sciences in the second half of the 20th century. His best-known work, Tristes Tropiques , was written as a result of two expeditions to observe the indigenous peoples of Brazil, between 1935 and 1939, and made him known worldwide. The discovery of Brazil and the meeting with the Indians who inhabit it, Caduveo, Bororos, Nambikwaras and Tupi-Kawahibs were "the most important experiences" of his life. At that moment he did not feel comfortable, having the impression of disturbing the Indians and he really began to analyze his discoveries years later, in the United States, where he had taken refuge during the Second World War. His methodology and conclusions revolutionized modern ethnology.

Robert Delpire (1926 - 2017) was a fifth-year medical student when he created a new art magazine for the medical profession, entitled Neuf, which ran for 9 publications from 1950 to 1955. Neuf magazine was initially reserved for the medical profession, many writers of the time began practicing as doctors (including Céline, Segalen), while others (including Cendrars, Breton and Aragon) began medical studies without finishing. Delpire was also interested in surrealism and ethnography, inviting André Breton to be one of the magazine's editors. Breton has agreed to write an article on some Pacific Northwest masks for the first issue of the magazine. A Haida mask, from his personal collection, made the cover of this first issue, another (the object of this letter, check out the third image) was photographed and used as an illustration inside the magazine.

Claude Levi-Strauss and André Breton (1896 - 1966) had met in 1941, on a boat, fleeing the war to the United States. Both collectors of primitive art, their friendship grew on the streets of New York. Back in France, Lévi-Strauss easily joined André Breton's small group of friends who, very early in the morning on weekends, went to haggle at the flea market in Saint-Ouen. Levi-Strauss said: "In contact with the Surrealists, my aesthetic tastes were enriched and refined. Many things that I would have rejected appeared to me in a different light".

A letter written by someone famous and mentioning another famous person is often valuable. This letter from Levi-Strauss talking to André Breton about masks they both collected is a good example of these particularly interesting associations.

In this case, an additional interest (the icing on the cake!) is this photograph for the first issue of the pioneering magazine NEUF, from June 1950. Furthermore, the ethnologist was working in Paris and we can appreciate the heading of the letter from the Laboratorio de Etnologia de Current Men and Fossil Men, from the Museum of Man.

Entirely handwritten and in excellent condition, this letter will attract the attention of collectors who know the exceptional work of Claude Levi-Strauss on Brazil and ethnology.

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