Marseille: Centre de la Vieille Charité, 280 pp., #42.00
Dora Maar, la ofrenda misteriosa
Dora Maar: Picassos Weinende
Dora Maar, born Markovitch and sometimes called “the Weeping Woman,” has long been regarded as the most enigmatic of the women who were longtime mistresses or wives of Pablo Picasso. Until now, that is: the retrospective exhibition devoted to Maar, first in Munich, now in Marseille—showing her own photographs and paintings as well as portraits of her by Picasso—and several recent publications give a new sense of what an interesting and accomplished person she was. The richness of the exhibition, whose curator is the Barcelona critic Victoria Combalía, allows us to evaluate Maar’s own artistic work for the first time.
Maar and Picasso were together for about ten years, beginning in 1936, but to see her life and work solely in light of his biography and art is to do her an injustice. Before she met Picasso she worked as a professional photographer and moved in Surrealist circles, and she pursued a career as a painter for almost two decades after she broke up with him. Nevertheless, although she exhibited her paintings in the 1940s and 1950s, Maar was reluctant to draw attention to herself, and the details of her past seemed likely to be forgotten. Her last years, until her death at the age of eighty-nine in 1997, were spent alone, either in the seclusion of her Paris studio or in the house that Picasso had acquired for her in Ménerbes (the hill town in Provence made famous by Peter Mayle). Only after the sale of memorabilia and art-works from her estate in 1998–1999 did many aspects of the life she had kept secret become public.
The most informative of the new studies devoted to Maar is the forthcoming book (published in Spanish, French, and German) by the Argentinian writer Alicia Dujoune Ortiz. She unravels the many myths that surround Maar, and her research has turned up much new information about Markovich’s childhood in Argentina (her family changed the spelling of Markovitch to Markovich to avoid being thought of as Jews in Buenos Aires) and her schooling in both Buenos Aires and, from the age of thirteen, Paris. She writes with much originality and authority about Maar’s relationships with writers and artists, especially about her affair with Picasso.
Dujoune Ortiz also discusses Maar’s interest in mysticism, especially when she was involved with the Surrealists and during her later years, when she was a fervent Catholic. In her modest essay on Maar, the German journalist Tania Förster includes interviews with Maar’s friends, including Balthus, and she rightly questions the accuracy of many earlier accounts of Maar’s relationship with Picasso. In contrast to both of these, the lavishly presented book by Mary Ann Caws, a noted authority on Surrealism, is disappointing. While Caws provides insight into the work of literary Surrealism, including Maar’s own poetry, her analyses of Maar’s photographs and paintings are unconvincing (she attributes Maar’s “awkward” approach to form as a result of being left-handed) and the …