• gerard van weyenbergh

Turmoil on the sale of an unpublished collection by Dora Maar

Curators deplore the dispersion and the terms of the sale by Artcurial of this set of photographs.

It is an unprecedented and exceptional photographic collection of Dora Maar that Artcurial is selling on June 27 and 28, in Paris, at the request of her heirs. Exceptional because these hundreds of period silver prints printed by contact and each laminated on crystal paper sleeves containing their original negatives, belong to an unknown archive meticulously compiled by the photographer.

Exceptional also because this fund, covering the period 1930 until the summer of 1940, recounts the intimate universe of Dora Maar, her artistic complicities and the different aspects of her work during this period. All genres are included: self-portraits, portraits (in particular of Picasso), nudes, street or fashion photographs, reports for magazines, experiments and studies of light or forms.

“This rediscovery of such a substantial set of negatives and contact prints from the period represents a considerable contribution to the knowledge of Dora Maar's photographic work. Certain subjects will make it possible to fill in the gaps and bring new pieces to the puzzle in the analysis of this photographic production” , underlines Antoine Romand, the expert in charge of the sale.

But, and this is the whole problem, the dispersion of this collection of 356 lots will deprive historians of a precious collection. “Presenting a collection in this form prevents institutions from acquiring it as a whole ,” regrets Sylvie Aubenas, director of the department of prints and photography at the National Library of France. " We can not do anything. We can only disagree. This is a very detrimental case for the history of photography and its actors, and for the constitution of heritage funds and studies” .

The other concern for conservators is the extreme fragility of these cellulose nitrate negatives, which require good conservation conditions which the purchaser will not necessarily respect.

This cut-out sale also includes an unprecedented feature that worries both curators and dealers: each lot, in addition to the negative and its original contact print, includes a posthumous edition in 5 copies in a single format 30 x 40 cm with the consent and under the control of the rights holders. A first copy (1/5) accompanies the original negative sold with the possibility for the purchaser to make from this same negative copies 4/5 and 5/5 under the control of the rights holders, the latter reserving copies 2 /5 and 3/5.

"It's serious for Dora Maar and the work done on the work," says Sylvie Aubenas. "Because it's a freedom taken with his work and the original negative to make as much money as possible". The rights holders will in fact have access not only to the proceeds of the sale but also to nearly 1,500 prints that they will be able to put back on the market. "It's a bad signal sent as if you can do what you want from the negatives and a factor of confusion on what distinguishes this type of print from an author's print" . Even if guarantees are given, nothing says that they will be kept in the long term. Seen in Le Journal des Arts - Christine Coste

Video of the photos in auction