Who is Dora Maar, Picasso's lover, but not only ?
She was the mistress of a Minotaur. Dora Maar ( 1907–1997) only existed for a long time in the eyes of the general public in the shadow of Pablo Picasso, her lover from 1935 to 1943. Their relationship became legendary. However, this intelligent and talented artist, photographer, and painter cannot be reduced to the figure of the mourner created by Picasso. Mystical and melancholic, this friend of Brassaï and the surrealists, is the author of very personal and passionate work.
Born in Paris, Henriette Dora Markovitch spent her childhood in Buenos Aires. Her father, an architect of Croatian origin, having obtained several orders there. She receives a strict education.
When the family returned to Paris, Dora Maar was 19 years old. She takes lessons at the Central Union of Decorative Arts, and experiments with photography and painting by taking lessons at the academy founded by the painter André Lhote. She chooses the pseudonym of Dora Maar and begins to frequent the intellectuals of Montparnasse.
Accustomed to traveling, Dora Maar carried out her first work as a photographer between Barcelona and London, in touch with the economic and social reality of her time. At that time, it was in the spirit of the French documentary photography school and received the support of Emmanuel Sougez. In association with Pierre Kéfer, she opened a first photography workshop and then set up independently on rue d'Astorg, something quite rare for a woman at that time.
A committed intellectual, she approaches the anti-fascist far left. She frequents Brassaï, meets André Breton and Jacques Prévert. She is also the mistress of Georges Bataille. His work as a photographer brings him into the world of cinema as well as that of fashion. But from 1932, she devoted herself to more personal work, marked by effects of distortion and dramatization of reality. She photographs the bodies and creates compositions full of dreaminess and strangeness.
The young woman met Pablo Picasso in 1935, probably through Paul Éluard. Dora Maar is 28, Pablo Picasso 54. They begin an affair, although the painter is still living with Marie-Thérèse Walter. Dora Maar assisted in the creation of Guernica, a vast history painting of which she documents the stages in the Grands Augustins workshop, between May and June 1937.
It was during this period that she began to paint. Her relationship with Picasso was brutal for Dora Maar. After her breakup with the painter in 1943 (he fell in love with Françoise Gilot), she became depressed and conducted an analysis in the cabinet of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who subjected her to electroshock therapy.
In the 1950s, Dora Maar retired to Vaucluse, where Pablo Picasso offered her a property. She became friends with the painter Nicolas de Staël, abandoned photography, devoted herself to painting, experimented with various artistic practices, and turned to religion. This last - and long - part of her life is marked by isolation. She died in 1997.
Her key work
Untitled [Hand-seashell], circa 1934
In the 1930s, Dora Maar's work was strongly influenced by surrealism and theories of André Breton. Reality is evoked in the form of dreams, even hallucinations. Dora Maar likes to play with the aesthetics of the bodies, here a woman's hand attached to a shell as if it were a mollusk. Through photomontage, the photographer explores the unconscious, but also the monstrous.
Dora Maar and Pierre Kéfer, Advertising study for Pétrole Hahn , 1934–1935
In the 1930s, Dora Maar and her friend Pierre Kéfer responded to advertising orders for women's magazines. The spirit of their photographs is inspired by surrealism and dreamlike. Here it is an advertisement for a brand of hair lotions. The hair became a sea, furrowed by a ship, using an ingenious system of overprinting of patterns.
Guernica running, state 1, Paris, Atelier des Grands Augustins, May 1937
It was Dora Maar who discovered for Pablo Picasso this large workshop, which will become associated with the creation of Guernica. At this time, the couple is very accomplice. Pablo Picasso paints Dora Maar while she photographs him. She produced a photographic report devoted to the creative process of this historical and monumental work, inspired by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.