Dora Maar has always been an inspiring figure for me. Smart, talented, ahead of her time. The Tate Modern presents an in-depth retrospective of her work, revealing that the woman known for making surrealist photographs and being the muse of Picasso was much more than that…
Today, DOYOUSPEAKLONDON invits you to discover the true Dora Maar!
Henriette Théodora Markovitch, born in 1907, preferred to be called Dora. She was raised between Argentina and France. She learnt painting in Paris, but in her early twenties, encouraged by a few mentors aware of her talent, she decided to focus on photography.
In 1932, when opening her first studio, she officially became Dora Maar, photographer. Little by little, she made a name for herself.
She got an eye for the unusual, which she transcribed into her inventive photographies in the fashion and advertising fields, as well as into her social documentary projects. Her work took an important place in the surrealism movement. And several of her creations have gained recognition over the years, for their audacity, pertinence and expertise, which you can easily see in the first rooms of the exhibition.
The interesting fact revealed by this exhibition is that Dora Maar is mainly remembered for her surrealist photographies while she actually devoted most of her life painting (described later in the exhibition). But she created such a breakthrough as one of the few female surrealist photographers that it is highly understandable…
Dora Maar artistic connections
Dora Maar “seized all professional opportunities created by the interwar boom in advertising and the illustrated press”.
In the 30s she collaborated with several male artists from photographer Brassaï (whom she shared a darkroom with), to fashion photographer Harry Ossip Meerson (she was his assistant) or with director and film-set designer Pierre Kéfer.
Dora Maar did a photo report in London in the 1930s (above), as she did in Paris and in the Costa Brava (in the Catalonian region of Spain), as a Street Photographer. She was driven to witness the society (especially the people devastated by the 1929 economic crisis). I was particularly moved by these pictures as they seize an atmosphere, a context, the funny or sad expressions in the faces … they truly depict reality. Surprisingly, this series is far from Dora Maar’s usual experimentations in the darkroom or collages, but they’re my favorite photographs from her….
Though many prints of this London report were signed ‘Kéfer–Dora Maar’, Maar was usually the sole author. At the end of their partnership around 1935, Dora Maar opened her own studio in Paris to be able to work independently.
Maar and Picasso
Dora Maar is certainly more famous for being Picasso’s muse than for her own work, even if her role alongside Picasso was much more important. Actually, it was rather a mutual collaboration. She met Pablo Picasso in the winter of 1935–6, which was the highlight of her career. Pablo Picasso said from this period that it was the “worst time of his life”, as he had not sculpted or painted for months.
The couple inspired one another as Maar taught Picasso the cliché verre technique (a method combining photography and printmaking) and Picasso, in turn, encouraged Maar’s to get back to painting. This exhibition finally restores the truth regarding the exact relationship between Picasso and Maar and we clearly understand why the exceptional talent and personality of Dora Maar had an influence on Picasso.
At this time Dora Maar became less interested in photography and developed her techniques in painting. First, she adopted Picasso’s cubist style before finding her own one.
Dora Maar followed and documented Picasso’s work on painting Guernica, which he did in response to the 26 April, 1937 aerial bombing of the Basque town, during Spanish Civil War.
The exhibition shows a video presenting the evolution of this painting, which is very interesting and gives a few details, like the fact that historians have long speculated about the electric lamp in Guernica being inspired by one of Dora Maar’s studio lights (which Picasso used to illuminate the canvas as he worked).
There are also a few voice recordings of Dora Maar, where you can feel her temperament and understand her personal conception of art.
Dora Maar’s later years
In the 1940s Dora Maar focused on her paintings. From 1945, she divided her time between Paris and her new home in Ménerbes (South of France), where “her new friendship with poet André Du Bouchet (1924–2001) led to creative collaboration”.
She developed new techniques like engravings and also from this time, she copied the natural elements either in ink, oil or watercolour.
This series of paintings is particularly beautiful: I love her thick brush strokes, the choice of colors and the mix between blurred and sharp elements in the same painting.
In the 1980s, she returned to photography, but at that time, she was more interested in making abstract images in the darkroom and experimented with hundreds of photograms (camera-less photographs).
Dora Maar died on July 16, 1997, at 89 years old. She was creative her whole life and in various ways. Much of her work was even only discovered after her death. But she will continue to inspire us …
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found inspiration here. If you are planning to visit Dora Maar exhibition at Tate Modern very soon (it ends on 15th March), please share your experience and opinion on DOYOUSPEAKLONDON’s blog!
To go further:
Tate Modern: Bankside, London SE1 9TG