Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Robert Valançay correspondence
Date (inclusive): 1921-1978
Collection number: 950057
3 linear feet
Getty Research Institute
Special Collections and Visual Resources
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1688
Abstract: Collection comprises ca. 1600 letters (ca. 1921-ca. 1978) sent to Robert Valançay, the French poet and critic, from artists
and writers of the surrealist group. Twelve letters are from Valançay. The collection includes a translation in manuscript
by Valançay, 5 manuscripts by others, printed ephemera, and ca. 50 photographs, most presumably taken by Valançay.
Language: Collection material in French
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Robert Valançay correspondence, 1921-1978, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 950057.
Robert Valançay, born in 1903, was a poet, translator and literary critic who worked with and admired many of the artists
and poets of the surrealist group. His literary achievements are all the more remarkable as he held a "day job" with Shell,
translating as well as making documentary films for the company for many years.
In the thirties, he seems to have published at least two volumes of poetry
Flot et jusant and
Oiseau nitre; another collection,
Mots deserre-freins which assembled many of the early poems, appeared in 1972. However, Valançay seems to have been most appreciated and sought
after for his translations. Indeed, he was considered the official translator of Max Ernst and Hans Arp.
Scope and Content of Collection
Letters to and from Robert Valançay represent the personal and professional correspondence still in Valançay's possession
upon his death. They span a period of over 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s and treat a wide variety of literary issues
that likewise concerned much of the French avant-garde. Among the prominent surrealist and Dada artists and poets who figure
in this archive are Hans Arp, Hans Bellmer, André Breton, Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Jean Crotti, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst,
Raoul Hausmann, Maurice Heine, Richard Huelsenbeck, Georges Hugnet, Marcel Jean, Guy Lévis, Mano, Pierre de Massot, Amédée
Ozenfant, Meret Oppenheim, Henri Parisot, Pastoureau, Roland Penrose, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Guy Rosey, André Salmon, Yves
Tanguy and Jacques Villon.
Valançay's activities can be divided into his poetic efforts and his work as a translator. As a young man, he seems to have
been involved with a group of Norman poets whose most famous member was a Charles Théophile Féret. The letters from Féret,
Charles Boulen, Fernand Fleuret, Napoléon Roinard are concerned with the promotion of Norman literature and they clearly consider
Valançay an ally in their campaign. This group of writers also encouraged Valançay's poetic aspirations, congratulating him
on the publication of various articles and volumes of poetry. By 1930, Valançay had made the acquaintance of many of the French
poets associated with surrealism. The collection includes letters from André Breton, Blaise Cendrars, René Char, Paul Eluard
and Georges Hugnet. Valançay was a close friend--they use the "tu" form of address--of both Eluard and Hugnet; the Hugnet
letters are particularly warm and express the anxiety of living in war-time Paris.
Valançay's interest in translation may have been ignited by his German teacher Maurice Boucher who was himself a poet and
translator. In the more than 60 letters that Boucher sent Valançay, we witness the development of his career. The correspondence
begins as a mentor relationship with Boucher offering encouragement and criticism--sometimes extremely technical--of Valançay's
poetic efforts and then, over time, changes into a cordial collegiality. As their translator, Valançay was a close friend
of Hans Arp, Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer and received a good deal of correspondence from all three men. The Bellmer letters
detail a very difficult period, the war years, in the life of their author, offering a vivid autobiographical account of Bellmer's
struggle to continue his artistic pursuits despite circumstances. The Ernst and Arp letters concern more professional issues
that occupied artist and translator alike.
Valançay received some 70 letters from Henri Parisot who edited
L'Age d'or and was associated with the publications
Les Quatre Vents and
Les Cahiers du sud. Parisot solicited Valançay's help in preparing a volume of German poems translated into French, entitled
Anthologie de la poésie humoristique. The collection also includes Valançay's manuscript translations, presumably for this volume, of poems by Paul Celan, Heissenbüttel,
Erich Fried, Wilhelm Busch, Christian Morgenstern and Joachim Ringelnatz.
Apart from the aforementioned correspondence, there are interesting letters from other artists, critics and editors associated
with surrealism such as Marcel Jean, Francis Picabia, Raoul Hausmann, Maurice Heine, Guy Lévis, Pierre de Massot, Ozenfant,
Meret Oppenheim, Pastoureau, Yves Poupard-Lieussou, Raymond Queneau, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Guy Rosey, Yves Tanguy and Jacques
Villon. The Valançay letters also include a significant number of lesser known critics, editors and translators that, from
a social historian's point of view, potentially offer a valuable source for the reconstruction of this artistic and cultural
The Valançay letters also contain about 50 photographs; most were presumably taken by Valançay. There are three pornographic
postcards which may have come from Paul Eluard's infamous collection. Finally, some 50 letters and cards, despite the best
efforts of the cataloguer, remain unidentified.
Arp, Jean, 1887-1966
Bellmer, Hans, 1902-1975
Breton, André, 1896-1966
Eluard, Paul, 1895-1952
Ernst, Max, 1891-1976
Hausmann, Raoul, 1886-1971
Huelsenbeck, Richard, 1892-1974
Hugnet, Georges, 1906-1974
Massot, Pierre de
Oppenheim, Meret, 1913-
Ozenfant, Amédée, 1886-1966
Ray, Man, 1890-1976
Richter, Hans, 1888-1976
Tanguy, Yves, 1900-1955
Villon, Jacques, 1875-1963