Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Elegantly adorned in a silk dress of regal purple and a tricorne hat to match, embellished with a fan-tailed feather, the woman portrayed here is Dora Maar, Picasso's mistress and the muse who most significantly inspired his art during the years 1936 through 1944. Picasso painted this imposing portrait of Dora on 5 August 1942. Among his wartime pictures, "Those of Picasso's works done between 1939 and 1942 are probably the most powerful," Brigitte Baer has declared, "obviously with some failures, but the most beautiful" (Picasso and The War Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, p. 85). Their remarkable qualities originate, of course, in the very hand of the artist, but also in large part from the presence of Dora herself as his subject.
In these paintings, as well as drawings and prints, Picasso transformed Dora's features into an iconic but ever mutable image, the "sum of destructions," as he described his process of working to his cataloguer Christian Zervos (Cahiers d'Art, vol. 10, 1935). In response to the terrible events of the 1930s and 1940s in Europe, Picasso cast Dora as a universal mater dolorosa for those difficult times, a role with which she will always be identified--as, indeed, she continues to speak to us today. "The name Dora Maar, for most true enthusiasts of Picasso's work," Brigitte Léal has stated, "conjures up one of the greatest moments of his creative efforts" (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 385).
If the rambunctious prodigy Mozart had lived in the 20th century and asked Picasso to create the costume and sets for his opera The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night might have worn a mask rather like the crescent lunar visage Picasso has given Dora here. She certainly possesses an astonishing nose, like that of Picasso's Afghan hound Kasbek; the artist once remarked that during this period Dora and Kasbek were his favorite models. Don't attempt to ignore the Pinocchian aspect of her nose, and certainly not its phallic connotations. Or else liken it to a railway semaphore at half-mast, warning stop! danger! And given the climate of Paris under the German Occupation, one may imagine it more sinisterly as the hand-grip and barrel of an officer's Luger pistol. She is surely a woman whose presence, by way of such metaphors and symbolism, has been accorded formidable Protean shape-shifting powers and abilities.
We are here in the presence of a goddess. Dora sits as if she were enthroned--if only on an ordinary cane chair familiar from other of Picasso's seated portraits--like an impressively scaled icon (painted in this instance not on canvas, but on a wood panel, as would suit a cinquecento Madonna) and arrayed against the simple box-like perspective which the artist often used to depict the anonymous interior of a chamber, which here may suggest the architecture of a vast hall fit for a queen. Imagine Dora as Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's queen, in the plays of the Greek tragedians; or Gertrude, Prince Hamlet's mother in Shakespeare's drama. On the other hand, in a more realistic context, she may simply occupy the confines of a small room, cold and prison-like, like many in Paris during the Occupation.
All in all, Dora here embodies in vintage aspect those many distortions and deformations Picasso was wont to bestow upon her, cubist by way of precedent and grippingly psychological in their impact. The signal features are all here, constructed as if in the form of a wood relief--that famous rhinal appendage, the thick shoulder length hair, eyes positioned out-of-place, but which like glowing embers rivet one's gaze. Such harsh treatment notwithstanding, Dora has rarely assumed such an essential demeanor of hieratic nobility, or been so authoritatively monumental in her pictorial presence, as she appears here.
There was, of course, a war going on, which explains much of Picasso's profoundly serious, all-stakes investment in this painting--that second cataclysmic conflict of the 20th century, which, by any measure, in the memory of those survivors who still remain among us, and in all the records and histories that have since been written, was by far more horrific than any previously, and even as bad as anything else one might realistically try to imagine today. Picasso in the later years of his mid-career, for all his accrued fame and wealth, did not take refuge in an ivory tower, or accept offers from America and Mexico for the safety of temporary exile, and experienced the war, both physically and emotionally, in a most personal, subjectively intense way, like anyone else. This is perhaps not so obvious to viewers today. "I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict," the artist explained to the American correspondent Peter Whitney following the Liberation. "But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war's influence. Myself, I do not know" (quoted in Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1946, p. 223).
Dora Maar had been Picasso's chief paramour for the previous half-dozen years, at least in the public eye, because Marie-Thérèse Walter, the mother of his daughter Maya, remained the artist's more tenured household goddess, whose importance in the artist's life remained a closely guarded secret to all but his closest friends. In the fall of 1935, Dora made an unforgettable debut impression on Picasso at the Café Deux Magots, as she repeatedly poked a knife point into the table between the spread fingers of her hand, occasionally nicking the flesh and drawing blood. Picasso saved the stained glove and kept it in a vitrine. The deepening intimacy of Picasso's liaison with Dora coincided with Franco's fascist uprising and the ensuing Civil War in Spain; indeed, the entire history of their close relationship, which lasted until 1944, was tragically and ineluctably set against the backdrop of violence and war.
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" (op. cit., p. 387). Picasso's earliest portraits of Dora, while he was becoming familiar with her features, were naturalistic and flattering--Picasso's women always looked their best in his paintings within a grace period that extended only a short time after each entered his life. Before long, however, Dora's mysteriously intense but inscrutably impassive visage seemed to reflect, in Picasso's mind, the ominous and troubled mood in Europe during the increasingly turbulent years that preceded the Second World War. He then began to inflict savagery on Dora's visage in his paintings, relentlessly deconstructing and reconfiguring her features, first most memorably as the distraught Weeping Woman (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 73; fig. 1), or as La Suppliante raising her arms, beseeching a merciful sign from the cruel host of ancient gods above (Musée Picasso, no. 168).
Picasso's treatment of Dora in his paintings became as much a crime against the norms of conventional pictorial form as it constituted repeated transgressions against the psyche of a loved one. By the time the war had become a daily fact of life, this impulse on his part had practically become an unavoidable habit when painting her. The artist himself later admitted to Françoise Gilot, who late in the war would replace Dora as Picasso's next lover, "For years I painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure either, just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was a deep reality, not a superficial one" (quoted in F. Gilot, with C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 122).
"For a mirror-being like Picasso, a fearful worried person who could not endure 'emotion,' Baer has explained, "[the Occupation] was, though he could not realize it, a psychological ordeal that did not fail to lend a certain tone to his painting... It seems that Picasso could feel his emotions only through the intermediary of a mirror... He discovered his feelings in the mirror of other people's faces, or at least what he projected there, even into those bodies at rest or convulsed--in short, through the intermediary of painting... He had another mirror, like himself somewhat inclined toward catastrophe: Dora Maar. Dora Maar reacted intensely to all the news, followed it closely, and belonged to a relatively well-informed intellectual milieu. She was, like Picasso, melancholic and high strung. He had only to watch her reactions to know what his were, although hers were stronger and dramatized. Nevertheless, it would not make sense to regard his terrified, terrifying, hard, nasty, cruel, spying 'women of the war' as avatars of Dora Maar. He saw these women with his X-ray eyes (like Proust's) in the streets, cafés, and metro, through the distorting mirror of his own passion, anger, mistrust, hatred and rage. These women could express themselves, whereas he, a Latin man who owed it to himself to be 'macho' in the good sense of the word, could not show his feelings" (exh. cat., op. cit., pp. 83, 85 and 86).
The war, as of 5 August 1942, the date Picasso painted this portrait of Dora, had not quite reached the three-year mark, and was going badly for the Allies; there was hardly any good news to be found anywhere to mitigate the despair of the vast populations trapped inside Nazi-occupied Europe. Only Churchill and the British had had thwarted Hitler's plans to invade and conquer their homeland, but German armored columns were then racing across the North African desert with the goal of entering Egypt and seizing the Suez Canal, Britain's lifeline to India and the Far East. As a result of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, America entered the war on the side of the Allies in December 1941, but having only recently begun to reverse the tide of defeat in the Pacific, its growing armies still in training had exercised little impact on the war in Europe. The massive German invasion of Soviet Russia had entered its second year; Nazi armies and their Axis allies had besieged Leningrad in the north and were approaching Stalingrad on the Volga. The first sufficient reasons for any hope at all still lay some months in the offing--the Americans would land in French North Africa in November, as the British achieved a decisive victory at El Alamein in Egypt; and in early 1943 the Soviets encircled an entire German army and forced its surrender at Stalingrad.
The Occupation, more than two years old in August 1942, lasted for another two in Paris until the Liberation in August 1944. "The Occupation was intolerable; people barely survived," Baer has written. "Some have called it a time of purgatory, in the sense that in Purgatory time does not count, nor hope, that lasted four years, in the sense that winter means that Nature is dead. This cold drove people into themselves, into a total silence. People lived under the leaden lid of a stormy, icy sky. Except for bicycles and the Germans' big cars, streets were empty, the intersections full of boards covered with German Gothic lettering. Curfew, glacial winter and fear were the only items on the menu. You never knew what might happen to those you loved. No one talked...silence and suspicion were the watchwords.
"Poor Picasso! No doubt he was a little bit paranoid during those years," Baer observed. "But what beautiful paintings he made out of that real but imagined persecution" (ibid., pp. 85 and 96).
There were shortages of all kinds, decent food could only be found on the black market at prohibitive prices, and Picasso found it impossible to obtain enough fuel to heat the cavernous rooms in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, in which he decided to reside as well as paint and sculpt for the duration, having closed his apartment on the rue de la Boétie, to be within short walking distance of Dora, Marie-Thérèse and Maya, lest he run afoul of the strict curfew regulations.
At the beginning of Occupation, Picasso could expect the worst, with only his reputation as the world's most famous living artist to protect him. He was known to anyone who recognized his name as the artist who had created Guernica. The mural had been shipped before the start of the war to New York, then exhibited in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago before returning to New York for the retrospective Picasso: Forty Years of his Art, which Alfred H. Barr, Jr. had organized at the Museum of Modern Art. This exhibition subsequently travelled to nine cities across America. Picasso was of course even more visible on his enemies' radar. There was always the danger that Franco's fascist government in Spain, and the Nazis whose Condor Legion warplanes had bombed Guernica, might want to persecute the unrepentant "degenerate" artist who had so blatantly opposed them. Franco's men moreover held Picasso accountable, in his position as the acting head of the Prado under the deposed Republican regime, for allegedly having removed precious art works from Spain for safekeeping outside the country. There were fears that Franco might seek to extradite Picasso from France, or send agents to forcibly bring the artist back to Spain, or even murder him, as the Italian dictator Mussolini was reported to have done to his enemies still hiding out in France. As a precautionary protective measure, Picasso filed for French citizenship, but was turned down on second review for his youthful anarchist associations, and not having served France during the First World War.
While the Occupation authorities and their French collaborators did not prohibit Picasso from painting--amazing enough in itself--the artist was not allowed to publicly show his work. The Gestapo once barged into his studio, after which Picasso notified a French policeman with whom he was friendly: "They insulted me, called me a degenerate, a communist, a Jew. They kicked the canvases. They told me, 'We'll be back'" (quoted in G. van Hensbergen, Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth Century Icon, New York, 2004, p. 139). The Gestapo did not return, but nonetheless kept his studio under close surveillance. Picasso also had to put up with unwelcome visits by German officers who professed to an interest in art, notwithstanding the official entartete ("degenerate") and forbidden status of his work and the sanctions that had levied against him. Such encounters led to the oft-cited anecdote that when shown a post card reproduction of Guernica, a German officer asked, "You did that, didn't you?" "No," Picasso curtly replied, "you did." After the war Picasso mentioned in an interview that this exchange was "more or less true. Sometimes the Boches would come to visit me. Pretending to admire my paintings. I gave them postcards of my Guernica picture saying: 'Take them along, souvenirs, souvenirs!'" (quoted in ibid., p. 139).
"From 1940 until the liberation of Paris, Picasso remained a figure completely surrounded by mystery and obscurity," reported Jerome Sackler, then a soldier in the U.S. Army, who interviewed Picasso in two sessions after the Liberation (quoted in ibid., p. 131). All sorts of rumors had surfaced about Picasso: he was working with the Resistance, or conversely the Germans were protecting the artist and even extending special treatment to him. Pierre Matisse, the son of the painter and a dealer in New York, wrote to his father, then living in Nice, that he had read a newspaper account stating Picasso was in a concentration camp, awaiting extradition back to fascist Spain. Many assumed that he was, for one reason or another, no longer alive.
Picasso was more worried about Dora than himself. Like the artist, Dora, originally Henriette Theodora Markovic, was foreign-born, she in Croatia, with a French mother. There was a rumor circulating that she was part-Jewish; such stories, falling on the wrong ears, could quickly result in the Gestapo detaining the unfortunate person for questioning, and then worse. Mass arrests of Jews first took place in in August 1941; deportations of foreign Jews to death camps began in May 1942, and in December Hitler ordered the arrest of all Jews and other enemies of the Third Reich.
Picasso soon discovered that he had perniciously hostile detractors among his fellow Parisians, who took advantage of the back-biting, scapegoat-seeking and treacherous climate of the Occupation to rain down aspersions on his character and his art. Reactionary critics used the collaborationist press to unleash on Picasso the animus they had long pent up against the success of modernism in French painting. Even a well-known painter, the erstwhile Fauve Vlaminck, joined in to excoriate Picasso, blaming him in an published article "for having led French painting into a deadly impasse...having led it into negation, helplessly and finally to its death" (quoted in A. Baldassari, Picasso: Life with Dora Maar, Paris, 2006, p. 246). Picasso never responded to these accusations and taunts; fifty-one artists, dealers, art critics and historians signed and published a statement in his defense.
On 16 September 1943 Picasso received a summons to report for a physical examination and questioning in preparation for deportation to Germany as a forced laborer. This document appears to have been a forgery, a cruel prank; Picasso did not respond to it. The German authorities had actually before then come to an agreement among themselves that Picasso, even as the creator of the anti-fascist mural Guernica, could be intimidated to keep him in line, but short of some major transgression on his part, he would not be touched. Doing harm to Picasso, an artist of supreme international stature, would have handed the Allies a propaganda victory that the Nazi architects of the New Order in Europe could ill-afford.
"Most contemporary witnesses agreed with Eluard [the famous poet who worked in the Resistance] that, during the Occupation, Picasso was 'one of the rare painters to have behaved properly'...Picasso indeed preserved the dignity that his friends so admired." He simply followed the guidance of Jean Texcier's Conseils à l'occupé, a short manual on proper behavior under the Occupation which "recommended a civilized comportment toward the occupier without, however, initiating any contact" (quoted in G.R. Utley, op. cit., p. 73). "I am not looking for risks to take," Picasso explained to Françoise Gilot later during the war, "but in a sort of passive way I don't care to yield to either force or terror. I want to stay here because I'm here...Staying on isn't really a manifestation of courage; it's just a form of inertia...So I'll stay, whatever the cost" (quoted in F. Gilot, op. cit., p. 46).
Staying on, Picasso painted. His admirers looked upon the artist's work in the studio as a form of resistance, although he never saw it that way--painting was simply what he did, no matter what the circumstances. He got off to slow start in 1940, while staying in Royan on the Atlantic coast--he wanted to remain, during the Battle of France, as far as he could from the onslaught of Hitler's Panzers, keeping Dora, Marie-Thérèse and Maya out of harm's way. The Royan period of late 1939-1940 was notable for some fine heads of Dora, but even more riveting are the still-lifes of flayed sheep's heads he purchased to feed Kasbek. The masterwork of this period is the large seated nude of Dora, seen dressing her hair (Zervos, vol. 10, no. 302; fig. 2).
Following the defeat of France and the beginning of the Occupation, Picasso returned to reside permanently in Paris during August 1940; Marie-Thérèse and Maya followed later that year or early in 1941. Getting his interests in order was Picasso's leading concern of the day and took up much of this time, and in early 1941 he devoted a major effort to writing his first play, a farce titled Le désir attrapé par la queue (Desire Caught by the Tail), whose characters obsess with the lack of heat, the shortage of food, and the desire to find love in a time of war.
His play finished, Picasso began an extensive series of studies for the painting he had in mind which would depict a reclining nude woman asleep in a darkened cell-like interior, as if such hibernation might be the only way to survive the trials and tribulations of the Occupation. It was not until 10 May 1941 that Picasso painted a major composition of undeniable power, one of the finest of his wartime still-lifes, Nature morte au boudin (Zervos, vol. 11, no. 112), which powerfully embodies the anxieties he gave voice to in his recent play. The earliest in a line of Occupation Doras to have been painted in Picasso's Paris studio were already underway, reaching their initial peak that summer in Femme au chapeau assise dans un fauteuil (Zervos, vol. 11, no. 374; fig. 3) and Femme à l'artichaut (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 1; fig. 4).
During the winter of 1941-1942, Picasso concentrated on the sleeping nude, which had been in every way shaping up, as he intended, to constitute his most significant wartime statement in paint on canvas. A notable Dora painted in late February 1942 is Femme au corsage bleu (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 7; fig. 5). During the early spring Picasso executed a brace of famous still-lifes showing a bull's skull on a table, dated 5 and 6 April 1942 (the former, fig. 6; the latter, Zervos, vol. 12, no. 35; Pinacoteca de Brera, Milan). After nearly a year and a half since the conception of his initial idea, Picasso completed on 4 May 1942 the large composition of the reclining nude, in which he included a second woman who holds a lute while regarding the sleeping figure. He titled it L'Aubade, alluding to the traditional genre of a morning song in the poetry and songs of the medieval troubadours (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 69; fig. 7). Picasso completed a second reclining nude, in more twisted and tormented forms, caught up in deeply troubled sleep, on 30 September (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 156).
Between these two sleeping women, almost exactly three months following the first and a month-and-a-half before the second, Picasso painted the present Portrait de femme (Dora Maar) on 5 August 1942. It is one of two portraits of Dora the artist painted that day; the other (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 111) is a close-up of the head, without hat, and about half the height. He painted a third portrait of Dora the next day, Femme en gris (Paris) (Zervos, vol. 13, no. 50; fig. 8). Picasso painted each of these three pictures on a wood panel, as well as a fourth portrait he completed on 9 August (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 114).
Dora's hats had long since become a regular feature in Picasso's depictions of her, functioning as a symbolic extension of her inner angst. The present portrait features the classic look of Dora wearing one of her signature hats--partly real, partly artist-invented--a motif which Brigitte Léal has called her "most provocative emblem... In its preciousness and fetishistic vocation, the feminine hat was, like the glove, an erotic accessory highly prized by the Surrealists. Thus Paul Eluard [declared]... 'A head must dare to wear a crown'" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, pp. 387, 389 and 392). In 1954, a decade after their relationship had come to an end, Picasso and Dora met in a rare encounter at a dinner party hosted by Douglas Cooper and John Richardson. In the moments before she arrived, as Richardson has related, "the artist reminisced about Dora--at first affectionately--how the steadfastness of her gaze reflected her intelligence, and how her outré sense of fashion had inspired the surrealist hats trimmed with fish and fruit and sardine cans that figure in many of his portrayals of her--such a contrast, he said, to the tam o'shanter from Hermès that he gave to her rival Marie-Thérèse. Hats differentiate the two rivals in his work. Did the craziness of Dora's hats, by Albouis or Schiaparelli, imply a certain craziness in the sitter? Yes, he thought it did" (The Sorcerer's Apprentice, New York, 1999, p. 206).
The most notable among the last pictures that Picasso painted of Dora before he grew apart from her, as he began to focus his ever-roving amorous intentions on an aspiring young painter named Françoise Gilot, is Femme au corsage de satin (Portrait de Dora Maar), 9 October 1942 (Zervos, vol. 12, no. 154; fig. 9) In its penultimate state, it would have been the artist's wartime painting which most directly expressed the effects of the Occupation on the citizens of Paris. However, according to Gertje Utley, Picasso painted out the prison bars, a bread ration and a water jug he had earlier worked into the composition on the right hand side (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 75). As quoted above, Picasso said "the war is in these paintings," but his references to the Occupation were always implicit, by means of private metaphor or allegory, never directly stated--he did not see the need to illustrate any aspect of the war as overtly as others might, which could easily result in art as propaganda, and very quickly become dated. The power of his wartime paintings has endured precisely because he avoided the obvious, and mined deeper veins of understanding and compassion.
Witness on these pages the wartime faces of Dora Maar, brave, courageous Dora, beautiful Dora, even if fearful, perhaps close to tears. She wrote the following poem just as the strenuous sessions in which she posed for L'Aubade were drawing to a close. Have you ever heard Dora speak? ...not through the way Picasso has painted her, but in her own voice, for herself, in her own words? Here is Dora Maar--(the following quoted in A. Baldassari, op. cit., pp. 234-235)--exhausted but resilient:
"Tall buildings, facing the sun, the even sky are visible from the bedroom at the summit of the landscape I don't move That's how I used to do it before; I weighed everything down oppressed by solitude, the thing was to imagine love Time passes Today, a Sunday at the end of the month March 1942 in Paris the songs of pet birds are like the flames burning calmly in the silence. I despair But it's not actually me The tall buildings facing the sun, the even sky I can see them from my bedroom at the summit of the landscape I don't move That's how I've always done it I weighed everything down Today this other landscape on this Sunday at the end of the month of March 1942 in Paris the silence is so deep that the songs of the pet birds are like little flames quite visible. I despair But let's leave all that."
Dora Maar, circa 1941, photograph by Rogi André; Cabinet des Estampes et de la Photographie, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. BARCODE:28862819
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, La femme qui pleure, Paris, 26 October 1937. Tate Modern, London. BARCODE:28862871
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Nu assis aux bras levés, Royan, June 1940. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Femme au chapeau assise dans un fauteuil, Paris, summer 1941. Kunstmuseum Basel.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Femme à l'artichaut, Paris, 1942. Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Femme au corsage bleu, Paris, 27 February 1942, Museum Folkwang, Essen.
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Nature morte au crâne de boeuf, Paris, 5 April 1942. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, L'Aubade (Nu alongé avec musicienne), Paris, 4 May 1942. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
(fig. 8) Pablo Picasso, Femme en gris (Paris), 6 August 1942. Private collection.
(fig. 9) Pablo Picasso, Femme au corsage de satin (Portrait de Dora Maar), Paris, 9 October 1942. Private collection.