The Evolution of Eileen Agar’s Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse

1 July 2021

Christina Heflin, Royal Holloway, University of London

bouillabaisse, n.

     –– A dish of Provençal origin, composed of fish stewed in water or spiced white wine [1] 

Amongst her paintings, photographs, collages and sculptures, one work that has become iconic within the œuvre of British Surrealist artist Eileen Agar (1899 – 1991) is a fanciful-looking hat that she is often depicted wearing, The Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse. My academic research at the Tate Archives on Eileen Agar’s papers kept bringing me to this hat. Photographs and clippings indicating its different statuses kept me intrigued, and as I was starting to form my own research topic on the artist, I grew more and more aware that there was something magical about it. Symbolic of the light-hearted nature with which she generally approached her work, this object is, however, more than just a silly piece of millinery decorated with bits and bobs. Initially conceived around 1936, it is thanks to the documentation at the Tate, her autobiography A Look at My Life  as well as a few news reels made over the span of her career put side-by-side that there is evidence of the evolutionary nature of the Bouillabaisse hat.

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