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Dora Maar
Dora Maar

Dora Maar

Country: France
Birth: 1907 | Death: 1997

Henriette Theodora Markovitch, also known as Dora Maar, was a French photographer, painter, and poet who lived from November 22, 1907 until July 16, 1997. Dora Maar had an important role in the life of the famed artist Pablo Picasso, serving as his love partner. Picasso featured her in various paintings, including Portrait of Dora Maar and Dora Maar au Chat. She was the only daughter of Croatian architect Josip Marković, also known as Joseph Markovitch, who studied at Zagreb and Vienna before arriving in Paris in 1896. Her mother was Louise-Julie Voisin (1877–1942), a Cognac native raised in the Catholic religion. The family moved to Buenos Aires in 1910, where the father earned many commissions, including one for Austria-Hungary's embassy. Despite his success, he was "the only architect who did not make a fortune in Buenos Aires." Nonetheless, his accomplishments were recognized, and Emperor Francis Joseph I awarded him a decoration. In 1926, the family went back to Paris. Under the alias Dora Maar, she studied at the Central Union of Decorative Arts and the School of Photography. She also registered at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, both of which provide equal instruction to men and women. Dora Maar actively engaged in André Lhote's workshop, where she met Henri Cartier-Bresson.

During her time at the École des Beaux-Arts, Maar encountered the fellow female surrealist Jacqueline Lamba. Reflecting on their connection, Maar expressed, "I was closely linked with Jacqueline. She asked me, 'where are those famous surrealists?' and I told her about cafe de la Place Blanche." Subsequently, Jacqueline started frequenting the café, eventually leading to her meeting André Breton, whom she would later marry. Dora Maar left the workshop and traveled alone from Paris to Barcelona and then to London. In London, she took images portraying the effects of the economic crisis that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929 in the United States. She returned to Paris and, with the help of her father, opened another factory at 29 rue d'Astorg in the 8th arrondissement. In 1935, she met Pablo Picasso and became his companion and muse. She photographed the last phases of Picasso's colossal masterpiece, Guernica, in his workshop at the Grands Augustins. She also acted as a model for his artwork Monument à Apollinaire, which pays respect to the late poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Maar's earliest known images were from the early 1920s, when she used a Rolleiflex camera on a cargo ship destined for the Cape Verde Islands. In the early 1930s, she opened a photographic studio on rue Campagne-Première in conjunction with Pierre Kefer, a photographer and designer best known for his work on Jean Epstein's 1928 film The Fall of the House of Usher. Maar and Kefer worked together at the studio, largely on commercial photography for ads and fashion magazines. During this time, her father gave financial assistance as she faced the obstacles of establishing herself and earning a living. The studio rose to prominence, displaying fashion, advertising, and nude photography, and achieved tremendous success. Within the studio, Maar crossed paths with the photographer Brassaï, with whom she shared the darkroom. Brassaï once remarked on her "bright eyes and an attentive gaze, a disturbing stare at times."

Dora Maar's work in commercial and fashion photography was heavily influenced by Surrealism, as evidenced by her extensive use of mirrors and harsh play with shadows. She felt that art should transmit the essence of reality by connecting with intuitions or ideas, rather than simply copying the visual qualities of nature. Notably, Dora Maar met Louis-Victor Emmanuel Sougez, a photographer who worked in advertising, archeology, and as the artistic director of the daily L'Illustration. She saw Sougez as a mentor during this time. In 1932, she had an affair with filmmaker Louis Chavance. Dora Maar joined the "October group," which formed around Jacques Prévert and Max Morise following their expulsion from surrealism. Her first publication was in the magazine Art et Métiers Graphiques in 1932, and she had her first solo show at the Galerie Vanderberg in Paris.

The gelatin silver pieces from Dora Maar's surrealist era remain highly coveted by enthusiasts, especially works like Portrait of Ubu (1936), located at 29 rue d'Astorg. These black and white compositions include collages, photomontages, and superimpositions. The photograph features the central character from Alfred Jarry's renowned series of plays, Ubu Roi. Initially showcased at the Exposition Surréaliste d'objets at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris and later at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, the piece gained notable acclaim. Additionally, Dora Maar participated in Participates in Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York during the same year.

During her surrealist phase, Dora Maar found resonance with the political ideologies of the left, leading her to actively engage in political activities. Following the fascist demonstrations on February 6, 1934, in Paris, she, along with René Lefeuvre and Jacques Soustelle, supported by Simone Weil and Georges Bataille, signed the tract "Appeal to the Struggle," initiated by André Breton. Much of her artistic output during this period was strongly influenced by the leftist politics of the time, often portraying individuals thrust into poverty by the Great Depression.

Dora Maar was involved in various leftist groups, including the "Masses," an ultra-leftist association where she first encountered Georges Bataille, as well as the Union of Intellectuals Against Fascism, an anti-fascist organization. She also participated in a radical collective of left-wing actors and writers known as October.

She actively engaged in various Surrealist circles, frequently joining demonstrations, convocations, and café discussions. Dora Maar was a signatory of numerous manifestos, among them "When Surrealists were Right," penned in August 1935, addressing the Congress of Paris that had convened in March of the same year. In 1935, she captured a photograph of the fashion illustrator and designer Christian Bérard. Described by writer and critic Michael Kimmelman as "wry and mischievous, with only his head perceived above the fountain, as if he were John the Baptist on a silver platter."

During the 1980s, Dora Maar created several photograms. Her final years were spent in her apartment on Rue de Savoie, located on the Left Bank of Paris. She passed away on July 16, 1997, at the age of 89. She was laid to rest in the Bois-Tardieu cemetery in Clamart. Posthumously, her experiments with photograms and darkroom photography were discovered.
 

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