Meet the Surrealist Rita Kernn-Larsen

Magda Michalska 12 September 2022 min Read

When you hear the word Surrealism, you probably think Dalí, Magritte, Ernst… But can you think of any female artists? Today you’ll meet one of them, Rita Kernn-Larsen, who is sadly barely known even in her native Denmark.

Disappointing Denmark

Rita Kernn-Larsen, Searching for the Moon, 1936-37, private collection.
Rita Kernn-Larsen, Searching for the Moon, 1936-37, private collection. Arthive.

Rita Kernn-Larsen was born in 1904 in Hillerød to a well-off family. She lived in an old castle, had servants and attended a private school. As a young girl she was taught sewing by her maid, and this is probably how her passion for art began. She left for Oslo in Norway to attend a drawing school, then returned to Denmark to study in Copenhagen. Yet, disappointed with the teaching methods at the Academy, she moved to Paris in 1929.

Passionate Paris

Rita Kernn-Larsen, Self-Portrait (Know Thyself), 1937,Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Rita Kernn-Larsen, Self-Portrait (Know Thyself), 1937, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

In Paris, Kernn-Larsen plunged into the middle of the artistic bohème: she met Pablo Picasso, Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst and Fernand Léger, the latter became her teacher. As she recalled, the Surrealist period “was wonderful. Yes… It really was the best time for me as an artist.” She also met her future husband there, a Jewish-born journalist and art dealer, Isaac Grünberg. In the mid-1930s she traveled back to Denmark to hold her first solo show and stay in touch with Danish Surrealists.

Long-Lasting London

Rita Kernn-Larsen, The Party, 1937, Museum Sønderjylland
Rita Kernn-Larsen, The Party, 1937, Museum Sønderjylland, Jutland, Denmark.

In 1938 Rita was invited to London by Peggy Guggenheim to hold a solo show in Guggenheim’s new gallery Guggenheim Jeune. She came specifically for the exhibition but was forced to stay over as the war broke out soon after. As she recalled, the war years meant the end of Surrealism for her.

It all turned real. Suddenly you’d wake up in the morning [during the Blitz] and see a chair hanging in a tree or someone’s hand lying on the ground. Surrealism is in the subconscious. Suddenly everything was there for all to see.

Rita Kernn-Larsen.

Slow South of France

Rita Kernn-Larsen, The Women's Uprising, 1940, Kunstmuseet i Tonder
Rita Kernn-Larsen, The Women’s Uprising, 1940. Arthive.

After the war, Rita moved with her husband and daughter to Saint Jeannet, in the South of France, where she lived until 1992. Her art moved towards nature and abstraction, she illustrated several children’s books and she experimented with pottery, ceramics and collage. She died in 1998.



(Sur)reality in the Photography of Kati Horna

Kati Horna (1912-2000) photographed both the real world and the surreal. She was a modern photographer who used her camera to document a civil war...

Natalia Tiberio 17 January 2023


Gradiva: What Did Freud and the Surrealists See in Her?

A woman who walks. That’s what Gradiva (the name of an anonymous woman from an antique bas-relief) means, as given by a fictional character...

Magda Michalska 27 April 2020


10 Most Famous Rayographs by Man Ray

Man Ray is one of the most famous artists of the 20th century! Here, I would like to pay tribute to his rayographs and the inspirations he drew from...

Errika Gerakiti 18 November 2022


The Surrealistic World of Dora Maar

The name Dora Maar reminds most people of Pablo Picasso. But apart from being his muse and lover, she was first and foremost an ambitious and...

Michel Rutten 2 January 2023