Dora Maar

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Dora Maar
Dora Maar
Dora Maar
Born November 22, 1907
Tours, France
Died July 16, 1997(1997-07-16) (aged 89)
Paris, France
Known for muse, partner of Pablo Picasso,
subject of Guernica painting, many others

Dora Maar (November 22, 1907 – July 16, 1997), born Henriette Theodora Marković, was an Argentinian-raised photographer of French and Croatian descent, with further known artistic work in poetry, and painting; she is most widely known as Pablo Picasso's muse of nearly a decade (beginning late 1930s), including for his widely known pieces Guernica and The Weeping Woman. Maar painted some minor elements of Guernica, and she became better known in the art world via her photographs of the stages of Picasso's execution of the masterwork in his rue des Grands Augustins workshop. After the Picassso years she turned to analysis, and eventually to Roman Catholicism, and is famously quoted as saying, "After Picasso, only God." Maar spent her last years living between Paris and a house that Picasso had given her, in Provence. She displayed her paintings through the 1990s, with a last show two years prior to her death. She died at the age of 89 years in Paris, and is buried alongside family at Clamart Cemetery in Hauts de Seine.

Early life[edit]

Dora Maar was born Henriette Theodora Marković on November 22, 1907 in Paris; her father, Josip Marković, was a Croatian architect,[1] her mother, née Julie Voisin, was of a French Catholic family from Tours.[2] The Marković family left for Buenos Aires, Argentina when the child, known as Theodora, was three years old, so that her father could execute commissions for the Austro-Hungarian Embassy and other prominent buildings there.[2]

At school and at home in Argentina, left-handed Theodora was made to write and partake in normal daily activities with her right hand (like most children of her time); despite this regimen, she did her drawing and painting left handed, and she continued this her entire life.[2] There, she also learned to speak Spanish and French fluently, and to read English.[2] Later in life, Maar would confide in her longtime friend and professional colleague, James Lord, that her time in Argentina was less than content—relating her parents marital strife, a lack of personal privacy, and that she viewed her father as unsuccessful (despite decoration by Emperor Franz Josef for his Embassy work).[2][3]

The Marković family returned to Paris in 1926, when Theodora was 19, whereupon she trained at school for photography and thereafter entered the Académie Julian, which was known to offer women "the same training as male students [received] at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts"; in this same period, Theodora Marković chose the shortening of her name to the form by which she would thereafter be known.[2] During and immediately following her training, Dora Maar spent time on both photography and painting, with an eventual emphasis on photography leading to its full-time pursuit (as a result of encouragements during her training).[2]

Professional enterprises[edit]

The following lists present details of known professional artistic enterprises in which Dora Maar participated in various phases of her life.

Before 1935


  • Painted minor elements of Guernica (1937) for Picasso.[4]
  • Photographed successive stages of Guernica completion in Picasso rue des Grands Augustins workshop.[4]
  • Produced photographic portraits of Picasso.[citation needed]
  • Exhibited painted still lifes in 1944 that, in the words of Brassäi were "extremely austere"" and " of Picasso's formidable influence… recall[ing] nothing of her friend's colours or any of the periods of his work", and that, in the words of painter and rival Françoise Gilot, "excelled in a chiaroscuro... missing in Picasso..." that captured ordinary object's "terrible solitude and [the] void that surrounded everything."[2]

After 1946

  • Painted stark Provençal landscapes and still lifes, made detailed drawings of countryside (vines, trees, hills, lanes, houses).[4]

Life with Picasso[edit]

Dora Maar met Pablo Picasso for the first time while serving as a set photographer for director Jean Renoir; poet Paul Eluard made the introduction to Picasso, who was then 54 years old (to Maar's 28), and was likely dressed in a usual frumpy way (baggy trousers, odd waistcoats over sweaters and shirts with bent collars, worn old suit, beret and long scarf, keys fastened to belt and money held by safety pin to inside of jacket).[2] Picasso had recently fathered a daughter, Maya, by his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, while separated from his first wife, Olga Khokhlova.[2] Mary Ann Caws, professor and Maar biographer, says "Dora vividly remembered their brief meeting on set; Picasso did not."[2] Andrew Fox, a Picasso curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, describes Dora Maar's more memorable 1935-1936 introduction to Pablo Picasso at café Les Deux Magots, with poet Paul Éluard again making the introduction: that Maar was "a tall, striking woman who was [already] a gifted photographer, poet and painter," and that her Spanish was perfect, making her attractive to Picasso; when Maar stretched out a hand out onto the table, rapidly jabbing a sharp knife between each of her fingers, Picasso is said to have been mesmerized; Maar "cut herself in the process, and Picasso kept the bloodstained gloves she wore that day as a relic of their first meeting."[4] Fox contrasts gentle, passive Marie-Thérèse Walter with "intellectually and emotionally challenging" Maar, noting that:

Picasso developed unique pictorial vocabularies for each mistress and often emphasized their differences. In Seated Woman in Front of a Window (1937)... Walter is rendered with pastel tones and sensual curves. In Portrait of Dora Maar (1937)… the artist’s new lover is portrayed with acidic colors and angular forms.[4]

Hence, Maar became the rival of Picasso's blonde mistress, Walter, with whom he had newborn Maya;[citation needed] Picasso would later fondly recall an incident where the two women encountered one other at his studio, demanding that he choose between them, but being urged instead to fight it out, "which led to their wrestling on the floor."[4] Picasso often painted beautiful, sad Dora, who suffered because she was sterile,[citation needed] and called her his "private muse."[attribution needed] For him she was the "woman in tears" in many aspects.[citation needed]

Maar went on to paint minor elements of Guernica (1937) for Picasso, and photographed the successive stages of its completion in his workshop on the rue des Grands Augustins, which, alongside other photographic portraits of Picasso,[citation needed] made Maar better known in the art world.[4] Maar and Picasso also studied printing with Man Ray.[citation needed][when?]

During their love affair, she suffered from his moods, and hated that he took a new lover, Françoise Gilot, in 1943; Picasso and Paul Éluard sent Dora to their friend, the psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, for psychoanalytic treatment.[citation needed]

Maar kept her Picasso paintings for herself until her death in 1997, as souvenirs of their extraordinary affair.[citation needed] Among them was a 1915 drawing of Max Jacob that Picasso had left as a goodbye gift in April 1944; Jacob had been Picasso's close friend, and had died in a transit camp at Drancy after his arrest by the Nazis. He also left to her some still lifes and a house in Ménerbes in Provence.[citation needed]

Maar in Picasso's works[edit]

Works in which Dora Maar appear in Picasso's corpus include The Weeping Woman (1937), Guernica (1937), Dora Maar au Chat (Dora Maar with Cat; 1941), and Tete de femme [Dora Maar] (Female Head; plaster-model, 1941; bronze-cast sculptures, 1950s), as well as Dora Maar (oil on canvas),[when?] and Dora Maar (bronze sculpture, face).[when?]

Two Picasso art works depicting Maar were stolen in France in 1999. First, an oil on canvas, "Dora Maar", was stolen from a boat on the French Riviera; the boat's crew members were arrested and Lloyds offered a €540,000 reward. The painting is currently registered with the FBI's National Stolen Art File. The second stolen "Dora Maar" is a bronze sculpture representing her face, taken from a public square in Paris on 1 April 1999.

Post-relationship punishments[edit]

As described by Maar's biographer, Picasso especially (Maar to a lesser extent) sought ways to inflict pain on the other after their relationship ended in 1946 (despite Picasso's knowledge of Maar's nervous breakdown). Examples cited by Maar include:

  • An occasion, in or around 1946, at an exhibition of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, where Picasso (with new mistress Françoise Gilot) happened upon Maar and proposed lunch at Chez Francis, and where "Picasso insisted on telling [Maar]… how marvellous Françoise was: 'What a mind! I've really discovered somebody, haven't I?'" and where Picasso refrained from laughter at Maar but freely offered laughter to Gilot.[2]
  • Picasso happening upon Maar at the Café de Flore shortly after, inviting himself and Gilot to Dora's studio, and there insisting Dora declare to Gilot that all "was all over between them," where, after complying, Dora turned to Picasso and said "You've never loved anyone in your life. You don't know how to love."[2]
  • A 1954 gift from Picasso of an "elaborately packaged chair made of steel rods and coarse rope" that was "both ungainly and uncomfortable," about which Picasso is quoted as having said "Isn't it the ugliest thing anybody ever saw!".[2]
  • A return gift from Maar of a rusty shovel blade, about which Picasso is reported to have said, "Adorable Dora. She would have had to select something just right."[2]
  • In an attempt to humiliate, Picasso sending Douglas Cooper, an art collector, critic, and editor of a facsimile of a 1906 Picasso sketchbook, to Maar to review, over Maar's tearful reluctance, a further sketchbook for possible reproduction, a sketchbook that Picasso knew to contained close-up drawings of the area of Maara's groin.[2]
  • An undelivered small parcel wrapped in tissue paper bearing the label "pour [for] Dora Maar" found by a Canadian physician among Picasso's belongings in 1983, containing a small silver ring "resembling a flat signet... engraved [with] initials P-D [Pour Dora…]" which, to the physician's "absolute amazement and horror" was made unbearable as the ring had within its circle a large spike.[2]

After Picasso: Return to art[edit]

After her long relationship with Picasso ended, Maar struggled to regain her emotional footing. Her mother had also died unexpectedly in 1941, leaving Maar without family or long-time close friends. Even so, she had one-woman exhibitions of painting in Paris at Jeanne Bucher (1943) and Pierre Loeb (1945). Maar's life was further complicated by the sudden death of her best friend, Nusch Éluard, wife of the poet Paul, in 1946.

She eventually returned to her previous social circle, which included famous society hostesses and art patrons such as Marie-Laure de Noailles and Lise Deharme. She also found solace in Roman Catholicism. The author Mary Ann Caws quotes Maar as saying, "After Picasso, God."[full citation needed] After a period of semi-monastic life devoted to mystical experience,[according to whom?] Maar began exhibiting her paintings again during the 1950s.

Maar's poetry is notable for its themes of near-religious meditation. Caws, in her 2000 book on Maar,[full citation needed] quotes several pieces such as one entitled "5 November", thought to have been written in 1970:

Pure as a lake boredom

I hear its harmony
In the vast cold room
The nuance of light seems eternal
All is simple I admire
the full totality of objects.[attribution needed]

Others poems were more openly religious:

The soul that still yesterday wept is quiet -- it's exile suspended

a country without art only nature
Memory magnolia pure so far off

I am blind
and made from a bit of earth
But your gaze never leaves me
And your angel keeps me.[attribution needed]

Towards the end of her life, she renounced her earlier association with surrealism, though she remained involved in the art world through exchanges with upcoming artists, e.g., Patrice Stellest, and she worked to defined the principles of the Trans Nature Art movement.

By the 1980s, she had few friends left, but still wrote poetry and returned to photography. An exhibition of her paintings in 1990 at the Marcel Fleiss gallery was a success, as was another in Valencia, Spain in 1995, just two years before her death.

Photographic career[edit]

Maar supported herself in the 1920s and 1930s as a commercial photographer with portraits and advertisements, and pursued street photography and avant-garde experimentation in her spare time. Maar's first photography exhibition was at the Galerie de Beaune in Paris, in 1937. She was prominent in Parisian art and photography circles. In her photographs, Maar imbued blind beggars and impoverished children with unusual dignity; made distinctively austere Surrealist collages, montages and setup images (a pair of shoes seemingly walking on a beach); and created two haunting works using the ceiling of a cathedral, turned upside down.

She captured on film "street surrealism":[according to whom?][citation needed] a discarded doll hanging from a nail on a wood fence, a group of tussling children with an extra pair of legs, etc.[citation needed] Her photographic work has a distinctive formal clarity and emotional directness.[according to whom?]

Personal life[edit]

Although she had other male friends in her life, such as the gay writer James Lord, a close friend who lived with her in the house in Provence in the 1950s, no one replaced Picasso.[according to whom?]

She spent her last years living between Paris and Provence in the house Picasso had given her. She died at 89 years of age in Paris on July 16, 1997. She is buried with her family at Clamart Cemetery in Hauts de Seine.

Posthumous events[edit]

On 3 May 2006, one of Picasso's portraits of her, Dora Maar au Chat (Dora Maar with Cat) was auctioned at Sotheby's at a closing price of US$95,216,000, making it the world's second most expensive painting ever sold at auction;the winning bidder was anonymous, but is known to have been bidding on behalf of a Russian buyer.[citation needed]

Continuing influence[edit]

In the arts[edit]

The Brown Foundation Fellows Program is based in Maar's former home in Ménerbes, France, and provides residencies of one to three months for mid-career professionals in the arts and humanities to concentrate on their fields of expertise.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Cecil Jenkins published "Dora versus Picasso" in 2014, a fictional account of the relationship between the muse and the artist.[citation needed]


  1. ^ At that time, Croatia was part of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia; see that article for political background.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Mary Ann Caws, 2000, "A tortured goddess," The Guardian (online), see [1], accessed 22 March 2015.
  3. ^ With regard to the privacy issue, the Caws article cited for this sentence describes Theodora's room as having "a glass door covered by a curtain to the outside, so that she could be spied on at any time and could never be entirely alone." Regarding her father's success, Caws describes Maar's description to James Lord of her father as "the only architect who failed to make a fortune in Buenos Aires".
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Andrew Fox, 2011, "Picasso: The Women Behind the Artist," de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (online, curator blog), July 20, 2011, see [2], accessed 22 March 2015.

Further reading[edit]


  • Andrew Fox, 2011, "[ Picasso: The Women Behind the Artist]", de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (online), July 20, 2011
  • Carol Vogel, 2006, "[ Mystery Bidder Spends $95 Million on a Picasso]", The New York Times (online), May 4, 2006.
  • Mladen Urem, 2006, Janko Polić Kamov, Dora Maar i hrvatska avangarda [in Croatian, "Janko Polić Kamov, Dora Maar and Croatian Avantgarde"], Rijeka, Croatia:Rival, ISBN 9536700069.
  • Alicia Dujovne Ortiz, 2003, Dora Maar: prisonnière du regard [in French], Paris:Bernard Grasset, ISBN 2246607914.
  • Donald Goddard, 2004, [ Reviews: Dora Maar: Photographer], New York Art World (online).
  • Mary Ann Caws, 2000, Dora Maar with and without Picasso, London:Thames & Hudson, ISBN 0500510091, see [3], accessed 22 March 2015.
  • Mary Ann Caws, 2000, "Picasso's Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar, New York:HBG Little, Brown (Bullfinch), ISBN 0821226932
  • James Lord, 1997, Picasso and Dora: A Memoir, New York:Phoenix, ISBN 075380249X.


  • Cecil Jenkins, 2014, Dora versus Picasso, Leicestershire, U.K.:Matador, ISBN 9781783062577, see [4], accessed 22 March 2015.

External links[edit]