Dora Maar is Antonio Saura's powerful tribute to the art of his compatriot, Pablo Picasso. Painted in 1983, this brooding, jagged portrait borrows from the older master's greatest subjects--the tortured character of his war-time muse and lover--and renders her anew. The distorted and striated visage of Dora Maar was directly inspired by Picasso's 1939 portrait Femme au chapeau bleu, in which she was portrayed as a conglomeration of geometric forms and bold contour lines. This unsettling image provided an ideal framework for the aggressive gestural abstraction that Saura characteristically anchored to formal archetypes. The artist adopted his violently expressionist style in the 1950s, but unlike most of his peers in the contemporary Art Informel and American Action painting movements, he consistently applied it to the figure and to traditional Spanish themes, including Crucifixions, nudes, and portraits, the latter often of historical figures such as Goya and Philip II.
Dora Maar was an important new subject for Saura, who had recently made a triumphant return to oil painting after a decade of dedicating himself to works on paper and writing. Significantly, he chose to tackle this theme just two years after publishing Contra el Guernica. Libelo, his scandalously satirical response to the much anticipated 'return' of Picasso's Guernica to Spain in 1981. The booklet inveighed against the outpouring of "stupidity" marking the painting's arrival in Madrid and the government's failure to properly recognize the origins of that famous representation of the Spanish Civil War. Dora Maar herself was indelibly linked to Guernica as she not only photographed its process of creation, but also served as one of the painting's models, making Saura's timely revival a poignant reminder of painful memories.
This is an apperceptive appropriation of a subject with complex cultural significance. Saura has harnessed the subversive and emotional charge of the original, as well as the peculiarities of its structural forms, and transmuted them into something wholly unique. He has taken possession of Dora Maar's abstracted features with his thickly laden brush to penetrate the mystery of her place within the dark history of humanity, and the artistic legacy of which she is a part. For Saura has ultimately used Dora Maar to measure himself against the past. Just as Picasso created new art based on the work of Velázquez, Delacroix, and Manet, Saura has wrestled with the cubist's example and the very origins of abstraction. The result is an image of tragic and monstrous beauty that stands amongst his greatest achievements.