Dora Maar: Out of the Shadows

A surrealist soul

By La Galleria Nazionale

Statue de femme (1935) by Maar DoraLa Galleria Nazionale

Dora Maar

Wrapped within the monumental shadow that was Picasso, Dora Maar has long been – reductively – known as his lover and inspiring muse. She was made famous as "The Weeping Woman", the subject of a sequence of paintings by Picasso that immortalised her in her feminine fragility.

But the story of Dora Maar was much more than this: she was a talented painter and photographer, a woman of great beauty, a politically engaged intellectual, actively involved in the Paris of the artistic avant-garde after the First World War.

Henriette Theodora Marković was born in Paris in 1907. She studied at the Ecole Photographique Passy and Ecole d'Art Décoratif Julian – a progressive school that supported the integration of women into the art world.

Later, she frequented the studio of the painter André Lhote in Montparnasse, where she met the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who suggested that she shorten her name.

Dora Maar was born.

The surrealist soul

The urge to capture the reality that surrounded her led her to choose photography as an expressive medium. Her photography in those years was realistic, almost expressionist, but the presence of irony was already evident in her work.

Her inclination to the dreamlike and the improbable naturally lead her towards Surrealism.

Her work also became more refined from a technical point of view during the period she spent as Man Ray’s assistant, who made several portraits of her.

A woman photographer

In 1931, she opened a studio specialising in portraiture, fashion photography and advertising together with the set designer, Pierre Kéfer.

The techniques Maar experimented with were at the forefront for the time, and included perspectival shifts, deformations, double exposures, collages.

Statue de femme (installation view) (1935) by Dora MaarLa Galleria Nazionale

Surrealism and politics

As fascism spread throughout Europe, Dora Maar strengthened her political commitment on the left. Social inequality was the artistic subject that counterbalanced her professional work in the 1930s.

Through photomontages, for example, she de-contextualises the figures in her street photography by inserting them into fantasy architectures, inverting and deforming them in the dark room (Silence, 1936).

The weeping woman

Dora Maar met Pablo Picasso in early 1936. Their relationship lasted 7 years.

Dora was Picasso's companion and inspiring muse, and his monumental shadow gradually began to dominate her. It was an artistically very rich period for the painter who, in 1937, began the great work Guernica.

Dora was allowed to photograph all the stages of study and realisation of the painting, creating a photographic diary that still constitutes a document of great value.

But for Picasso, the photographic medium was not worthy enough and he convinced Maar to abandon photography and return to painting.

Statue de femme (installation view) (1935) by Dora MaarLa Galleria Nazionale

This process led to great conflict, as the great painter criticised and denigrated the work of his partner who, for him, would never be up to that art form.

Dora was destroyed and finally said: "Only I know what he is ... he is an instrument of death ... he is not a man, he is an illness".

"I am the Weeping Woman
I am the green woman in the genius' paintings
I am the very idea of pain, mine, his, the pain of the world”

Statue de femme (1935) by Dora MaarLa Galleria Nazionale

The End

Picasso broke off the relationship in 1943. A new, younger, lover had entered the painter's life, and she was pregnant. Dora was sterile, which led her to depression and hospitalisation in a psychiatric clinic where, in addition to electro-shock therapy, she had the opportunity to experience psychoanalysis with Jacques Lacan.

“Everyone thought I was going to kill myself after being abandoned. Picasso also expected it. The main reason for not doing so was to deprive him of the satisfaction".

Nature moerte au réveil (1938) by Dora MaarLa Galleria Nazionale

Away from the world

Two years later, after the crisis, she retired to Ménerbes, the place where Picasso had given her a house and a series of his paintings, which she would never sell despite her financial difficulties.

She continued to paint for the rest of her life. Her work emancipated itself from Picasso’s shadow and evolved "towards still lifes characterised by stylised forms, with sober and isolated objects", moving more and more towards a purely abstract language.

She spent the last years of her life alone in her home in Paris. After her death in 1997, the discovery in her apartment of a huge amount of previously unseen work brought to light the extraordinary richness of her art in its entirety, making it possible to pay homage today.

Dora Maar
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