In celebration of Nancy Cunard’s birthday (10th March 1896)

Photograph of “Portrait of Nancy Cunard” by John Banting [1930s; location currently unknown].


A few notes here inspired by hearing Anne de Courcy discussing her book “Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: The Paris Life of Nancy Cunard” (2022; Weidenfeld & Nicolson) at The London Library last evening.

The photograph on the jacket of Anne de Courcy’s book (the hardback version) was taken by Curtis Moffat and is now, amongst others, in the V&A Collection

Curtis Moffat was the husband of Nancy Cunard’s close friend Iris Tree, and it was with Iris that Nancy first experienced London’s modernist art scene in the 1910s, whether at The Cafe Royal – Nancy and Iris are portrayed in Adrian Allinson’s painting [1916; private collection, more info. Tate]

amidst the artists and bohemians, we see Nancy right in the foreground and Iris further back to the left in the red hat; or they could be seen at The Cave of the Golden Calf night club (image from the Daily Mail archive) and more especially at The Eiffel Tower restaurant which Nancy would call “our spiritual carnal home” (the drawing here is by Nina Hamnett, another close life-long friend of Nancy’s):

“Those old nights of drinking, solitary thinking
At the corner table…

I think the Tower shall go up to heaven
One night in a flame of fire, about eleven.
I always saw our carnal-spiritual home
Blazing upon the sky symbolically…
Wherein we found no lack
Of wits and glamour, strong wines, new foods, fine looks…”

from Nancy Cunard’s poem: “To the Eiffel Tower Restaurant”


Already I have gone on a diversion (I’m stopping myself going even further), but perhaps part of this blog post is to “announce” (how formal that sounds) to the world my project “Nancy Cunard: An Uncommon Viewer” which is very much about Nancy’s interests in visual art – as viewer, muse, patron and collector – and which I will develop here on in a series of ‘research posts’.

Here and now, though, I just wanted to share a couple of photographs of Nancy’s Paris – the subject of Anne de Courcy’s book – for in the mid-1920s Nancy made her home in a ground floor flat on the corner of rue le Regrattier, Ile Saint-Louis:

To quote from Anne Chisholm’s brilliant biography “Nancy Cunard” [1979; Sigdwick & Jackson, p.97], the flat overlooked

“the river towards the left bank and with a splendid view of Notre Dame… [Nancy] brought over books and furniture from England and engaged a Breton maid, Anna [Calloch], who also cooked for her. The sitting room, small but beautifully proportioned, with two windows opening onto the view of the river, had smoky red walls above black wainscotting, a plum coloured velvet sofa, and walls hung by some of the artists she had recently discovered”.

There is a magnificent photograph by Man Ray of Nancy in her sitting room in the Pompidou archive:

and tantalisingly, we can just see a painting or two on the wall – both Anne Chisolm and Anne de Courcy note that Nancy’s collection included work by Chirico, Tanguy and a Picabia.

And Anne de Courcy describes:

“the narrow dining room had an oak table, a scarlet lacquer cabinet… and green-panelled walls on each side of the bookshelves.” It was here that Nancy entertained her many friends old and new, writers, poets and painters, including Marie Laurencin whose painting “Les Bergeres” [1922, private, c/o Christies] Nancy owned:

The other photograph from my trip to Paris ‘in search of Nancy Cunard’ I wanted to share is the doorway of her publishing house The Hours Press (15 rue Guenegaud), here alongside a photograph from 1929:

Again, it is the links with artists that fascinates me, for Nancy’s publications were uniquely and beautifully illustrated by artists such as the Surrealists John Banting and Len Lye. Indeed The Hours Press was just around the corner from the Galerie Surrealiste.

So, on the anniversary of her birthday, there is plenty to do as we explore “Nancy Cunard: An Uncommon Viewer”.

Oh, okay, one more photograph from those heady, exciting, glittering Parisian days, again by Man Ray [1924; Pompidou]