Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou

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Picasso’s Weeping Woman as Artist Instead of Muse: Dora Maar’s Retrospective at Centre Pompidou
Out of the shadows and into the limelight, Picasso’s primary model for the Weeping Woman, series, Dora Maar, finally gets her due as an artist in her own right, the star of her first solo retrospective exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou, closing July 29, 2019.  Imagine Dora’s delight had she lived to receive such accolades in the heart of her hometown, Paris, where she was born 122 years ago. Composed of over 400 works in clusters of various media that generously display her artistic talents, this introduction to Dora Maar’s life and art presents a portrait of the modern early 20th-century female eager to make her mark professionally yet torn between her desire for success and a genuine, committed relationship. Often, she will fail at one or the other. For Dora Maar, the decisive moment for her career arrived when she allowed the Spanish master Pablo Picasso into her life. His attentions also brought his condescending opinion of photography, the art form in which she excelled. In this respect, the exhibition Dora Maar not only offers an opportunity to fully explore a relatively unknown body of work, but also asks an enduringly vital question for all aspiring artists, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation: can the influence of a romantic partner in the arts destroy one’s established or promising artistic career? In this particular case, your opinion of the work will determine your answer. Born Henriette Théodore Markovitch (also spelled Marković), she became Dora Maar around 1926, when she studied at the City of Paris School of Photography at the age of 19. She was born in Paris on November 2, 1907 to a Croatian architect, Joseph Markovitch (Josip Marković, 1874-1969) and a French woman from Tours, Julie Voisin (1877-1942). In 1910, the family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where her father received commissions, including one from Emperor Franz Josef I for the Austro-Hungarian Embassy. As we see in the family photographs displayed in albums, Dora Maar enjoyed a financially comfortable existence. She spoke French and Spanish fluently, which served her well during her romance with Picasso. She also spoke and read English. When the family returned to Paris in 1926, she attended the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs and the École de Photographie. She also studied at the Académie Juilien and André Lhote’s atelier, where she met the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Dora Maar considered the French commercial photographer Emmanuel Sougez (1889-1972) her mentor. Her first commission was a book on Mont-Saint-Michel written by art critic Germain Bazin. She collaborated with the stage-set designer Pierre Kéfer in 1931. From that experience they formed a business partnership, set up at first in his parents’ garden in Neuilly and then moving to their own studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première, lent by the Polish photographer Harry Ossip Meerson (1910-1991), younger brother of the cinema art director Lazare Meerson (1900-1938), who had worked with Kéber at Film Albatros studio in the mid-1920s. Harry Meerson also lent out his darkroom to the Hungarian photographer Brassai (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984), who became Dora Maar’s close friend. Her contact with Brassai brought her into the Surrealist circle. The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio produced glamorous, innovative images for advertising and portraits, becoming part of the booming industry of commercial photography in glossy magazines. It was a fertile context for Dora Maar’s imagination. Her perspective on the modern women of the 1930s produced models oozing with elegant sensuality. Cool, natural, sometimes athletic, sometimes aristocratic, the Kéfer-Dora Maar female gave off a whiff of eroticize insouciance that emanated from Dora’s own disposition. This conceptualization of contemporary beauty fed the appetite for luxury and leisure time activities, despite the Great Depression. It was a fantasy for some, a reality for others. During this period of working intensely with Pierre Kéfer, Dora had affairs with the filmmaker Louis Chavance (c. 1932-33) and the erotically transgressive writer Georges Bataille (late 1933-1934). The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio closed in 1934.  In 1934, Maar travelled alone to Barcelona and London, shooting photos of ordinary people as she wandered through the poorer parts of these cities. Most of her images featured the downtrodden. By 1932, she had joined the Surrealist social circles. These photo-journalist images reflect the Leftist political activism Dora Maar cultivated on her own and shared with her Surrealist friends. Upon returning to Paris, Dora’s father helped…

Lead photo credit : Rogi André (Rozsa Klein), Dora Maar, vers 1937 Silver Gelatin Print, 29.9 x 39.4 cm Purchased in 1983, Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle © DR Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Georges Meguerditchian / Dist. RMN-GP

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Purchase College in Westchester, New York. She has recently published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art."


  • Beth S. Gersh-Nesic
    2019-07-31 09:15:44
    Beth S. Gersh-Nesic
    Thank you so much, Michele, for your very kind comment. The exhibition will be at the Getty next Spring -Summer 2020, so maybe you'll consider seeing it there, then (?) I hope so. Meanwhile, please read Mary Ann Caws biography. The prose is a pleasure to read and the photos are excellent. Also, James Lord's memoir "Picasso and Dora" is a great "beach book"- deliciously gossipy.