Dora Maar’s vast and prolific artistic career is often overshadowed by her role in Pablo Picasso’s life, as both his muse and mistress. While she was the inspiration for many Picasso works, such as Weeping Woman, Maar was a highly successful painter and photographer well before meeting the art legend.
Born Henriette Theodora Markovitch in 1907, the artist was raised between Argentina and France. Maar was affluent and studied painting at one of Paris’s most progressive art schools. While painting was her first love, Maar turned to photography after modeling for Man Ray’s photographs. She quickly mastered the medium and in 1931 opened a photographic studio with set designer Pierre Kéfer under the name ‘Kéfer -Dora Maar’. There they specialized in portraits, nudes, landscapes, fashion photographs, and photomontages that became widely successful. Maar also spent time traveling to document harsh social conditions that were both radical and political for the time.
During the 1930s, female photographers gained commissions that had historically been awarded to men. Maar’s commercial photographs were innovative, experimental, and dramatic. Maar became an inspiration. Among her friends and lovers were icons such as Georges Bataille, Yves Tanguy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and André Breton. Running with the prominent surrealist circles at the time, Maar was applauded for her creations of staged images, darkroom experiments, exotic photomontages.
Maar was also Picasso's principal model, and he often represented her in tears. Maar boosted Picasso's understanding of politics and taught him skills in photography. Maar also introduced Picasso to the method of combining photography and printmaking, also known as the cliché verre technique.
When the 1940’s rolled around Maar was plagued by a series of traumas. Her father left Paris for Argentina, her mother died suddenly, and her relationship with Picasso ended. The difficulty of this time is reflected in some of her work.
Today, many recent exhibits pay homage to Maar, presenting her as an artist in her own right. Most notably Haus der Kunst, Munich, Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseille, The Centre Cultural Tecla Sala, Barcelona, The Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Tate Modern, London.
Dora Maar died on July 16, 1997, at 89 years old. Up until the end, Maar created a vast and varied range of work and is remembered for her contributions to surrealist art.