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August 22, 2020

Pére Ubu by Dora Maar, 1936

What kind of creature is in this photograph? Is it a big monster or something smaller? This photograph by artist, Dora Maar, is of a baby armadillo before it is born. Notice the texture of its skin and its long fingers.

(Photo © Estate of Dora Maar)

The surrealist artist Dora Maar is better known as Picasso’s dark-haired model and companion in the late 1930s than for her astonishing works. Her incarnation of the bestial nature of man is titled after the infamous and absurd dictatorial antihero of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi (1896). Maar’s imaginative evocation of the pear-shaped, breast-plated Ubu in the monstrous reality of a baby armadillo is one of the most compelling and repellent of surrealist photographs.

Dora Maar first saw Pablo Picasso at the end of 1935 when she was taking promotional shots on the set of the Jean Renoir film The Crime of Monsieur Lange. She was captivated by him, but they did not formally meet. Maar was introduced to Picasso a few days later by their mutual friend Paul Eluard at Cafe des Deux Magots.

Picasso was intrigued by Dora’s seductive and masochistic behavior, which served as inspiration for many of his works throughout their relationship. Their liaison would last nearly nine years, during which time Picasso did not end his relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter, mother of his daughter Maya.

Dora Maar is very well known for her role as Picasso’s lover, subject, and muse. As such, he painted many portraits of her. In the majority of these paintings, Dora Maar was represented as a tortured, anguished woman. The most well known of these portraits is “The Weeping Woman”. Picasso was very inspired by the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War, and he thought of Dora Maar as a living depiction of the pain and suffering that people experienced during this time. Dora did not appreciate Picasso’s depiction of her in this way. When asked about his portraits of her, she said “all portraits of me are lies. They’re Picassos. Not one is Dora Maar.”

Her liaison with Picasso, who physically abused her and made her fight Marie-Therese Walter for his love, ended in 1943, although they met again episodically until 1946. Thus, on 19 March 1944, she played the role of Fat Anguish in the reading, at the home of Michel Leiris, of Picasso’ first play, Desire Caught by the Tail, led by Albert Camus. In 1944, through the intermediary of Paul Éluard, Dora Maar met Jacques Lacan, who took care of her nervous breakdown by administering her electroshocks, which were forbidden at the time. Picasso bought her a house in Ménerbes, Vaucluse, where she retired and lived alone. She turned to the Catholic religion, met the painter Nicolas de Staël (who lived in the same village), and turned to abstract painting.

Maar spent her last years in her apartment in Rue de Savoie, in the Left Bank of Paris. She died on 16 July 1997, at 89 years old. She was buried in the Bois-Tardieu cemetery in Clamart. Her experiments with photograms and dark-room photography were only found posthumously.


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