Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Rarely among Picasso's many portraits of Dora Maar has his siren and muse of the late 1930s and early 1940s looked more alluringly appealing than she does in this Buste de femme, painted on 8 December 1937. The warmly intimate and congenial feelings that Picasso reveals in her portrayal here--in which he, for the moment, put aside the brutal deformations he normally wrought upon on his mistress's features--may seem all the more unexpected in light of the profoundly tragic works that preceded it that year. Picasso completed his monumental Guernica in early June. Less than two months before creating the present portrait, he had painted La femme qui pleure (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 73; fig. 1), a devastating evocation of modern womanhood suffering the duress of inconceivably violent times, together with other works in his series of weeping women, and the wrenchingly fraught final state of the etching of the same title (Baer, no. 623; fig. 2). In this latter group of images Picasso forever enshrined Dora as the universal woman of sorrows. Picasso used her visage as a mirror to reflect the troubled events in the world around him, while recording her psychological distress in the face of his own capricious emotions to which he subjected her during their relationship. These potent issues notwithstanding, we see in the smiling and charming woman who sits here what is perhaps the most open and accessible of Dora's many attributable personas, which actually serves to further enhance her complex and multifarious mystique.
As the photographer Brassaï recalled, "It was... at the [café] Les Deux-Magots that, one day in autumn 1935, [Picasso] met Dora Maar, just as Marie-Thérèse Walter was bearing him a daughter, Maya. On an earlier day, he had already noticed the grave, drawn face of the young woman at a nearby table, the attentive looks in her light-colored eyes, sometimes disturbing in its fixity. When Picasso saw her in the same café in the company of Paul Eluard, who knew her, the poet introduced her to Picasso. Dora Maar had just entered his life" (Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, p. 51). Dora was then twenty-eight. She was born Theodora Markovic, the daughter of a Yugoslav architect, whose family name she shortened to Maar. She had grown up in Argentina, and Picasso was delighted to converse with her in Spanish. She was already an accomplished photographer and was interested in becoming a painter as well.
Brigitte Léal has described Dora as having "the face of an Oriental idol, with its marked iconic character, impenetrable, hard, and unsmiling, and whose haughty beauty is enhanced by makeup and sophisticated finery" (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 387). Her inscrutable personality and occasionally bizarre behavior intrigued Picasso from the moment they were introduced. Françoise Gilot recounted an unforgettable incident at Les Deux Magots that Picasso had told her about, in which Dora "was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéd on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with the knife, her hand was covered with blood. [Picasso] was fascinated... He asked Dora to give him her gloves and kept them in a vitrine with other mementos" (F. Gilot, with C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 85-85).
During the winter of 1935-1936, Dora photographed Picasso in his Paris studio on the rue d'Astorg, and Picasso returned the favor in March 1936 with three photographic portraits (fig. 3). These photographs of Dora served as the basis for three heads that Picasso created during the winter of 1936-1937, using the cliché-verre process, in which a drawing on a glass plate is used as a negative to print a photographic positive. Taken together, these works "constitute an 'identificatory' puzzle of Dora's image," Anne Baldassari has written, "the elements of which would be synthesized in canvases over the coming years [as seen in the present portrait] through a new figurative geometry, namely the brutal juxtaposition of eyes seen frontally with a nose seen in three-quarter view" (Picasso and Photography, exh. cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1997, p. 205).
Picasso's incipient relationship with Dora took a decisive turn in August 1936. The artist liked to spend his summer holidays away from Paris in the sun and by the sea. In late March through early May, 1936, Picasso, his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and their baby Maya stayed secretly in Juan-les-Pins, near Cannes, to escape the prying eyes of the artist's recently estranged wife Olga. That summer the poet Paul Eluard and his wife Nusch borrowed a friend's apartment in Mougins, a small village that overlooked Cannes and was only a few miles from the beach. They suggested that Picasso spend his August vacation there as well. Picasso arrived from Paris, with his chauffeur Marcel at the wheel of the artist's commodious Hispano-Suiza motorcar, and took a room at the local hotel, aptly named Le Vaste Horizon. Christian and Yvonne Zervos were already there, and other friends joined them, including Roland and Valentine Penrose, and Man Ray and his companion Adrienne. The poet René Char and the dealer Paul Rosenberg stopped by to visit. When Picasso learned that Dora was staying in nearby Saint-Tropez in the home of a mutual friend, he did not hesitate to call on her. According to Penrose, "After lunch they disappeared together for a walk along the beach. He talked to her with candour, telling her of the complications in his life and the existence of his small daughter, Maya. He also asked her to accompany him back to Mougins" (Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 292).
Back in Paris, Dora in early 1937 helped locate a space that Picasso could use for a large studio. The building at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, was reputed--so Picasso believed--to have been the setting for Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece, his story of the obsessed painter Frenhofer. It was here that in May-June 1937 Picasso painted the famous mural in which he expressed the outrage he and many others felt at the indiscriminate bombing by the German Luftwaffe, in support of General Franco's fascist insurgency, of the defenseless Basque town of Guernica. The finished painting was to be placed on view in the large hall of the Spanish Pavilion, which was scheduled to open in June at the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Dora photographed Picasso at work (fig. 4), and used her camera to document his progress on the painting in seven stages over the course of three weeks.
Having enjoyed his stay and the company at Mougins the previous summer, Picasso decided he would return there after Guernica had been moved and installed, and the pavilion opened to the public. In 1961 the artist bought a house near Mougins, and spent his final years there. He was looking forward to this summer holiday, and immediately following the delayed opening of the Spanish Pavilion on July 12, Picasso departed for Mougins, with Marcel again driving the Hispano-Suiza, which held a large trunk filled with luggage and painting materials. At Picasso's side rode Dora, together with Kazbek, his new Afghan hound. The Eluards were already at the Vaste Horizon, and they were again joined by Man Ray and Adrienne, as well as Penrose, who had recently separated from his wife and arrived with his new love, the statuesque photographer Lee Miller, who had been a student of Man Ray.
Dora had by this time become a regular player in the artist's intricately compartmentalized love life. Picasso separated from his Russian-born wife Olga in 1935; he would not follow through with a divorce, however, which would have required that he turn over a substantial number of valuable paintings to her as part of a settlement. Picasso now had the luxury of trysting with two mistresses, with the attendant complications of dividing his time between each of them and his art. Since 1927 he had been in love with Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom he met while she was still a teenager in front of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris. Marie-Thérèse became Picasso's nurturing and classically beautiful blonde sun goddess, in her acquiescent way bringing a revived sense of physical joy to the middle-aged artist's love life. Picasso cherished their daughter, Maya, who was born in 1935. Dora quickly became just as essential to the artist's happiness when she arrived on the scene--Picasso welcomed her intelligence, sophisticated sense of style and knowledgeable interest in art--but in contrast to the sunny and athletic Marie-Thérèse, Dora assumed the role of the artist's darkly enigmatic and creative lunar goddess--she figured as his surrealist muse. Pierre Daix has observed that "Dora was added onto Marie-Thérèse... Dora would be the public companion, Marie-Thérèse and Maya continued to incarnate private life. Painting would be shared between them... Each woman would epitomize a particular facet of a period rich in increasingly dramatic repercussions" (Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 239). Marie-Thérèse played an important part in Picasso's formulation of the imagery in Guernica; Dora, on the other hand, became the subject of the Weeping Woman series (fig. 2). John Richardson has written:
"Picasso had no hesitation in using Marie-Thérèse's image as the incarnation of peace and innocence at the mercy of the forces of evil in this supreme indictment of war as well as of totalitarianism... She is the desperate girl running from left to right across the foreground... She is also the light-giving girl clutching a lamp emerging from an upper window. The mother wailing over her dead child can also be identified with Marie-Thérèse... By contrast, Dora largely inspired the Weeping Women paintings, a separate series that should not be identified too closely with Guernica... The source of Dora's tears was not Franco, but the artist's traumatic manipulation of her. Picasso's obsession with her had intensified, but to judge from portrayals of her, it precluded tenderness. Marie-Thérèse was submissive out of love; Dora out of a Sadean propensity" (L'Amour fou: Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, exh. cat, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, pp. 45-46).
For each woman, the presence of the other was necessarily a problem, and Picasso appears to have enjoyed playing on the jealousy of the two rivals, as a means of keeping both of them. Françoise Gilot retells in her memoir Picasso's description of the moment in which Marie-Thérèse, with Guernica in the background, finally met Dora--an encounter Picasso had hoped to prevent. Confronting her rival, Marie-Thérèse turned to Picasso and demanded, "'Make up your mind. Which one of us goes?'... I [Picasso considered] liked them both, for different reasons: Marie-Thérèse because she was sweet and gentle and did whatever I wanted her to do, and Dora because she was intelligent...I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they'd have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. It's one of my choicest memories" (Marie-Thérèse and Picasso quoted in op. cit., 1964, pp. 210-211).
The second summer in Mougins was as enjoyable as the first, enriched by the opportunity for deepening friendship among Picasso and his guests. Penrose, in his first-hand account of events during Picasso's second summer holiday in Mougins, recalled how "Picasso's energy, in no way sapped by the ordeal of Guernica, expressed itself not only in his physical enjoyment of the unfailing sunshine but also in the constant invention of his mind. Unlike the previous visit, when he had been content to make drawings in a small room with no more than the strict essentials, he installed himself in the only room with a balcony in the hotel. When he emerged on to the terrace for meals he would tell his friends, who were then occupying the whole hotel, what he had been doing. Sometimes he painted a landscape... but more often he had made a portrait. As a reaction to his recent preoccupation with tragedy, he was seized with a diabolical playfulness. The 'portraits' were most frequently of Dora Maar, but at other times his model was Eluard or Nusch or Lee Miller. The paintings were strangely like their models but distorted and disguised by surprising inventions" (op. cit., p. 311). Intriguingly, there is also a portrait of blond-haired Marie-Thérèse, wearing her familiar beret, dated 9 August (Picasso Project, no. 37-175). She normally stayed with Maya at a house in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, outside Paris, which the dealer Vollard had lent Picasso. According to Daix, "This might be a souvenir or a stirring of guilt or might indicate a secret meeting (op. cit., p. 254).
Picasso and Dora departed from Mougins in mid-September (fig. 5). Back in Paris, he resumed working in his rue des Grands-Augustins studio, and in October commenced the series of weeping women, culminating in the powerful image that, like his anti-war mural, has become a modern icon (fig. 1). He completed it on the day after his 56th birthday; it was his most tragic and wrenching image of Dora. Penrose purchased it from him for 250 pounds sterling.
With the supreme effort he had devoted to Guernica, now six months behind him, and having recently worked through the catharsis of the Femme qui pleure pictures, Picasso returned to a familiar and far more congenial subject, the Femmes assises, picking up a thread that he had been treating frequently since the middle of the decade. An ongoing group of Femmes au chapeau became a related theme, inspired by the different kinds of head ware that each of his mistresses preferred, simple and demure for Marie-Thérèse, or stylishly extreme, sometimes even bizarre for Dora, to which Picasso added inventions of his own. The seated portraits had begun with paintings of Marie-Thérèse, and went on to spotlight the other women in Picasso's life, increasingly Dora, and including those connected with certain close male friends, most notably Nusch Eluard, and Lee Miller, stars of the lively circle which congregated around Picasso during his summer holidays on the Côte d'Azur from 1936 through 1938. He continued to paint Marie-Thérèse on numerous occasions. In fact, During early December 1937, the portraits of Marie-Thérèse in fact outnumber those of Dora, and in some cases Picasso painted both mistresses in similar poses, where they display look-alike features, as if Picasso were deliberately mingling attributes of his two women. In some cases it is only from her blonde hair that we can be certain the subject is Marie-Thérèse, while raven tresses unmistakable denote Dora. There is no question, however, that the more dramatic and overtly sexualized portraits depict Dora, now the leading star in Picasso's eye as his primary paramour and object of obsessive desire. Picasso relented from his most strenuous treatment of Dora in early December (fig. 6). These are, as Daix has described them, "his most beautiful portraits of Dora; the most tender and calm. Picasso always kept them" (ibid., p. 254). These relaxed but finely felt portraits recall the pleasant events and warm feelings of the recent summer in Mougins, and are probably intended in some measure to summon up pleasant memories in a world turning increasingly doleful and savagely violent. In the present Buste de femme, Dora wears a fine evening dress, and has readied herself cosmetically for a night somewhere on the town, although the large splash of rouge on her cheek suggests more a fiery operatic Carmen than a more sedate partner to share in some evening entertainment. Only ten days later, however, on 18 December, Picasso returned to form and cast Dora in her familiar role as the woman of sorrows, wringing her hands in lamentation as if straight out of a Greek tragedy, in La Suppliante (fig. 7).
The Femmes assises and Femmes au chapeau series (fig. 8) became the basis for Picasso's ongoing line of female portraits, henceforth featuring mainly Dora--but also including Marie-Thérèse, although less frequently than before--which he painted on the eve of and during the Second World War. Daix has written: "[Dora] was the woman during the summer months when war threatened to break out over Danzig and Poland, Spain lay crushed beneath Franco's boot, and the Rome-Berlin Axis was imposing its rule through almost all of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Picasso worked well in her company because of the understanding and sympathies which had united them since Guernica." There remained, however, a nagging issue for the painter with two mistresses: to whom was he most devoted, which of them did he truly love? Daix raised the question, "But how to reconcile pairing with Dora and the tenderness he felt for Marie-Thérèse and Maya?" (ibid., p. 259). Each woman would serve him in their way--this would have been Picasso's response, although this was too tenuous an arrangement to last indefinitely. When after the war came to an end in 1945, it turned out that Dora had to go, suffering a nervous breakdown for her trouble, while Picasso would continue to look after Marie-Thérèse and Maya. It was then the right moment for a third woman to emerge as a complete lover and partner for Picasso. She, as it turned out, had everything going for her. She was young, beautiful, intelligent, strong and artistic: Françoise Gilot.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Le femme qui pleure, Paris, 26 October 1937. Tate Gallery, London.
Barcode: 2885 3381
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, La femme qui pleure, I, 1937. Sold, Christie's New York, 1 November 2011, lot 2.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar de profil, Boisgeloup, March 1936. Picasso Archives, Musée Picasso.
(fig. 4) Dora Maar, Picasso painting "Guernica", Grands-Augustins studio, Paris, May-June 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris.
Barcode: 2885 3374
(fig. 5) The departure from Mougins, September 1937: Picasso, Dora Maar, Roland Penrose (with Lee Miller partly hidden behind him) and Nusch Eluard. Photograph by Man Ray.
Barcode: 2885 3350
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Femme assise, Paris, fall 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, La Suppliante, Paris, 18 December 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris.
Barcode: 2885 3367
(fig. 8) Dora Maar, Paintings from Picasso's Femmes assises and Femmes au chapeau series in the artist's studio at 7, rue le Grands-Augustins, Paris, late 1938-early 1939. The present Buste de femme is visible in the middle row, right of center.
Barcode: 2897 5380