Maar, Dora (1907–1997)

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Maar, Dora (1907–1997)

French artist, mistress of and model for Picasso, whose countenance adorns the walls of museums and pages of art books throughout the world . Born Theodora Markovitch on November 22, 1907, in Tours, France; died on July 16, 1997; buried in Clamart, a small town south of Paris; only child of a Yugoslavian father (an architect) and a French mother; studied painting in Paris at the École d'Art Décoratif, Académie de Passy, Académie Julien, and with André Lhote.

Subject of numerous of Picasso's portraits, including Bust of a Seated Woman, which sold at auction for $3 million in 1995.

Dora Maar was born in 1907 near Paris but grew up in a contentious household in Argentina, where her father worked as an architect in Buenos Aires. "My father is the only architect who failed to make a fortune in Buenos Aires," Maar told James Lord. "All he got was a decoration from the Emperor Franz-Joseph for having designed the Austro-Hungarian legation." There was constant strife between parents, and between mother and child.

Before turning 20, Maar reappeared in Paris. Beautiful, bright and sexually progressive, she lived the life of a bohemian, hanging out with artists and writers in the cafes of Montparnasse, taking up with the married Parisian writer Georges Bataille. She studied painting but, self-critical and unsure, then took up surrealist photography; her first exhibition was held at the Galerie de Beaune in Paris in 1937. When Maar met Pablo Picasso in the spring of 1936, he was past 60, separated from his wife Olga Khoklova , and had a mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter . During their ten-year affair, Picasso drew and painted scores of portraits of Dora and her dark eyes, including Dora in a striped blouse; Dora with cigarette holder; portrait of Dora, 1937; and portrait of Dora, 1944.

Maar was now well into her 30s, and the conflicts with her mother continued. "There were times when I even wished my mother would die. We had such appalling disputes. And no faith to save her, no will, nothing to make her ruthless. Unlike me. Without ever knowing what she wanted from life, she knew she hadn't received it…. And yet it was awful when she diddie." It was after the Germans had invaded France in World War II. "One night we were talking on the telephone, arguing terribly, and then suddenly she stopped talking. It was during the Occupation, and after the curfew. When I went around the next morning, I found her dead on the floor with the telephone in her hand."

At war's end, Picasso abandoned Maar for Françoise Gilot , a woman 40 years younger than himself. (Gilot would be superseded by model Jacqueline Roque , who eventually became his wife.) Maar, who had been deeply involved with the painter, suffered a nervous breakdown, becoming hysterical in a movie theater. Removed by police, she was taken to Sainte Anne, a psychiatric hospital, and given electroshock. Soon, a friend of Picasso's managed to get her into a private clinic. With the help of analysis, a smattering of Buddhism, and a return to her Catholic roots, Maar took charge of her life. "Dora excelled in conversation," wrote Lord, "possessed a very well organized mentality, and could marshal ideas with tactical expertise. It was religion, its nature and necessity, that most engaged her conviction and passion."

For the rest of her days, she lived alone, a legendary recluse, working at her own painting, sometimes in her flat in Paris, sometimes in a large empty house Picasso had purchased for her long ago in Ménerbes, Vaucluse. So successful was Maar in withdrawing from society, people in the art world were generally amazed when periodically they learned she was still alive. She died, age 89, in 1997. "Look at that tree," she once said to Lord during a drive in the countryside. "To you it is just a tree, commonplace as can be. If Picasso painted it, it would become an object of veneration. To a person who has faith, it is a miracle in itself."


Lord, James. Picasso and Dora. NY: Farrar, Straus, 1993.

related media:

Julianne Moore portrayed Dora Maar in Surviving Picasso, a Merchant-Ivory film based on Françoise Gilot 's memoir, starring Anthony Hopkins, screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1996).

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