Dora Maar (1907-1997) was one of Picasso’s most influential mistresses and muses. But simply to describe her as that is to belittle a woman who was a successful and acclaimed photographer in her own right.

Dora Maar photographed by Man Ray

Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch in Paris (her father came from the former Yugoslavia), Maar studied art. She became a busy photographer with her own studio, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jean Renoir, Man Ray and Georges Bataille. Pictured: Dora Maar photographed by Man Ray in 1936.

Her own work was inspired by surrealism and also political activism; she captured haunting images of the poor in Barcelona, Paris and London. Then she met Picasso in 1935.

During their nine-year relationship Maar photographed Picasso at different stages of the creation of his masterpiece, Guernica and was painted by him, often in tears as the model for his great Weeping Woman cycle. Their relationship was stormy.

Female bather by Dora Maar

Many critics feel that Picasso wrecked Maar’s career by encouraging her to give up photography, at which she excelled, and to focus on painting in a pale imitation of his own style.

Like Camille Claudel the sculptress and mistress of Auguste Rodin, she was overshadowed and diminished by her more famous lover. Maar realised this herself, once saying, “I wasn’t Picasso’s mistress, he was just my master.” Pictured: Female Bather by Dora Maar, circa 1935.

When they split up she suffered a nervous depression, was hospitalised and psychoanalysed by Jacques Lacan, before finding comfort in the arms of the Catholic church. Perhaps out of vestigial guilt or an attempt to continue to control her, Picasso bought her a large, beautiful 18th century house in Ménerbes.

Maar divided her time between there and Paris, living as a virtual recluse while continuing to paint. The images she produced there were much bleaker than those of Eakin or Downing. After her death this house was bought by Nancy Negley, an American philanthropist and resident of Houston and Ménerbes, who established an art foundation there.

Dora Maar house in Menerbes

Administered by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Brown Foundation Fellows Program provides residences of one to three months for painters, scholars and writers and opens its doors to the public at intervals for them to meet the visiting artists.

Newsflash: 16 May 2017: A portrait of Dora Maar, painted by Picasso sold for $45m yesterday in Christies New York. It had many years ago been in the hands of the Nazis but had found its way into the ownership of a NY industrialist, who has now parted company with the piece.




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