When Picasso drew this small but intensely rendered sketch of Dora Maar in late September 1941, the German occupation of Paris was well into its second year. Rationing had been instituted the previous September, and the mounting restrictions on Jews seemed ominous. In May 1941 the French police interned 3,000 foreign Jews living around Paris, and in August, a raid in the 11th arrondissement resulted of in the arrest of 4,000 more Jews, many of whom were French-born. Picasso was concerned for the safety of his lover Dora Maar, who was born in Yugoslavia and was rumored to have been half-Jewish. Picasso, who was famous for his anti-fascist views since he painted Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, had to endure frequent searches of his studio. Brigitte Baer has written, "One might describe this period as a long winter that lasted four years. This cold drove people into themselves, into a total silence...curfew, glacial winter, and fear were the only items on the menu" (in Picasso and the War Years, 1937-1945, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, p. 85).
Although Picasso varied his subjects, including those he incorporated into his remarkable wartime still lifes, his most persistent theme during the war years were heads of women, which were almost always inspired by Dora's features. John Richardson has written, "After World War II broke out, Picasso came to portray Dora more and more frequently as a sacrificial victim, a tearful symbol of his own pain and grief at the horrors of tyranny and war" (in "Pablo Picasso's Femme au chapeau de paille," Christie's New York, sale catalogue, 4 May 2004, p. 113). Baer has called Picasso's wartime women "sinister, hard, rigid, malevolent, sly and ferocious...They snigger cruelly. They are spies, informers, birds of prey, with stiff crow feathers in their hats...Poor Picasso! No doubt he was a little paranoid during those years! But what beautiful paintings he made out of that real but imagined persecution" (in Picasso and the War Years, op. cit., p. 96).
There are actually several sketches on this sheet: a still life on a table appears in the background, and there is the nervous and vigorous treatment of Dora's figure and the armchair. Most remarkable of all, however, are the tightly wound, almost compulsively hatched forms of Dora's face and hat. Here Picasso resorts to the striated treatment he accorded Dora's features in the celebrated "Weeping Women" of 1937 and continued into works done during the next several years. The present drawing marks the reappearance of this technique in 1941. Picasso adapted it for his oil paintings of Dora, in which it appears as striping that defines adjoining planar elements in her features and figure in two paintings done on 5 October 1941, both titled Femme assise dans un fauteuil (Zervos, vol. 11, nos. 320 and 321). In the latter, Dora clasps her hands before her, as in the present drawing. The striping on the first, and the circular pattern on Dora's blouse in the second clearly anticipate the largest and now the best-known of the seated Dora portraits done in 1941, Dora Maar au chat (fig. 1). This sequence of the present drawing and two ensuing oil paintings suggests that Dora Maar au chat was probably executed within a period of a few weeks afterwards, in October or November 1941. Dora's head in the latter has the same configuration of twisted features, with her nose to the left and her mouth at right, as that seen in the present drawing, which may have been the catalyst for this extraordinary autumn sequence of Dora portraits.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar au chat, 1941; Private Collection.