• gerard van weyenbergh

But where did Dora Maar go?

But where did Dora Maar go? Shows the poor knowledge of some experts in art.

Return to the gruesome affair of the Head of Dora Maar (1941), a bronze sculpture by Pablo Picasso, mysteriously disappeared from a Parisian square in March 1999 then reappeared in a town hall in Val-d'Oise.

The regulars of the district know this face well. They have often met the impassive gaze, massive cheeks, and voluntary nose in the small Laurent-Prache square, adjoining the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Placed in the center of the garden, this bronze woman imposes for a good reason: the sculpture was made by Picasso himself and represents one of his muses and lovers, the painter and photographer Dora Maar, muse of the movement surrealist that he met on the Deux Magots terrace, in 1936, through Paul Éluard!

"To Guillaume Apollinaire", we read on the pedestal.

In 1959, Picasso gave this bronze head, drawn in the 1950s by the founder Valsuani from a plaster cast from 1941, to the City of Paris to adorn this memorial erected in honor of his poet friend. More than a tribute the sculpture embodies a whole mythical part of the district's history. Isn't it quite near there, rue des Grands Augustins, that Dora, in the heart of the literary and artistic circle of Saint-Germain, took Pablo's first photographs at work in her studio?

Forty years later, on March 31, 1999: the statue has vanished! Weighing 80 kilos, the work was unsealed from its base overnight, then passed over the square's gate without warning residents. However, it is difficult to resell a stolen Picasso. Did the criminals take it to recover the metal or make copies to sell on the black market? Could this be a simple alcoholic challenge? Or an act sponsored by a dishonest collector? Apart from a few cans of beer found on the ground, the police have no leads.

In April 2000, a certain Ange Tomaselli, aged 72, visited the Château de Grouchy, the town hall of Osny in the Val-d'Oise, and made an incongruous encounter there: at the top of the monumental staircase, right in the middle of the hall, he comes face to face with an imposing woman's head, which this museum regular immediately identifies as a Picasso! Surprised to see one there, the man knocks on the door of Osny's director of cultural affairs. That, a Picasso? Impossible, he replies. This statue, the municipal police found it at the bottom of a ditch, in an undergrowth adjoining the castle's park!

The work is "not particularly beautiful" for the head of cultural affairs, probably "not very important".

The story is puzzling. In April 1999, the work covered with earth and moss was taken to the town hall's cultural service and then cleaned, revealing a woman's face "powerful, very strong". But no one seems to know who the artist is or where she came from. Strangely, reporting the find to local authorities does not trigger any connection with the Parisian theft. The work is "not particularly beautiful" for the head of cultural affairs, probably "not very important". Mayor Christian Gourmelen finds it interesting and decides to exhibit it in his hall.

But the local elected official refuses to believe this visitor who assures him that it is a Picasso close to the style of Three Women at the Fountain (1921), a canvas from the artist's Ingresque period. Doesn't the object bear a signature or the mark of a founder? insists Tomaselli. Nothing to do: nobody wants to listen to this sparkling retiree, who returns pitifully home. Months pass, until in February 2001, our informed visitor recognized, dumbfounded, the sculpture in an art book mentioning the theft. Excited, he called the town hall of Paris, which initiated proceedings against the mayor of Osny, he is finally forced to admit that he has unwittingly been guilty of receiving stolen goods! In July, the Head of Dora Maar takes the road to Paris in a truck from the Picasso Museum.

On December 18, 2001, the statue was reinstalled on the sly in its square. The method, without ceremony or publicity, is intriguing. Now, some residents are convinced that it is no longer the same Dora Maar but a copy! The size does not seem completely the same to them, the color has changed - from green-gold, it has become brown. Even Tomaselli, her benefactor, does not recognize her. A logical explanation is given: these are the effects of a restoration restored to its original color and patina. The artist's son, Claude Picasso, confirms. Finally, residents are delighted to find their muse. Even if for some, there will always be a shadow of a doubt.

© Beaux Arts

Picasso art expert
© Mary Ann Caws