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Finding aid for the Robert Valançay correspondence, 1921-1978
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Robert Valançay correspondence
    Date (inclusive): 1921-1978
    Number: 950057
    Creator/Collector: Valançay, Robert
    Physical Description: 3.0 linear feet (5 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    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.
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    Language: Collection material is in French

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Robert Valançay correspondence, 1921-1978, Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession no. 950057.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1995.

    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 Fontaine, 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 milieu.
    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.

    Arrangement note

    The papers are organized in 2 series: Series I. Letters received, 1921-1978; Series II. Manuscripts and photographs, 1932-1978.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Valançay, Robert

    Subjects - Topics


    Genres and Forms of Material

    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    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
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Massot, Pierre de
    Oppenheim, Meret, 1913-1985
    Ozenfant, Amédée, 1886-1966
    Parisot, Henri
    Poupard-Lieussou, Y. (Yves)
    Richter, Hans, 1888-1976
    Tanguy, Yves, 1900-1955
    Villon, Jacques, 1875-1963