7 Incredible works by Dora Maar

Emma Lewis, assistant curator at the Tate Modern, talks us through some of the photographer, painter and poet Dora Maar's most intriguing works of art. 

The Years Lie In Wait For You, c.1935

Dora Maar The years lie in wait for you

Around 1934, Dora Maar worked on beauty product advertisements for clients including Ambre Solaire and the hair care brand Pétrole Hahn.

To create this photomontage, Maar sandwiched together two negatives and printed them as one unified image.

The woman is Maar’s friend Nusch Eluard (1906–1945). The second negative is an image of a spider’s web. She likely made this work to advertise an anti-ageing cream, a conclusion drawn in part from its title, but it is not known where this image was eventually published.

 

Untitled (Fashion Photograph, Evening Gown by Jacques Heim for Madame Jacques Heim), 1934

Dora Maar Untitled photograph

Maar became part of a generation of women who seized the new professional opportunities offered by advertising and the illustrated press.

Around 1931, she set up a studio with film set designer Pierre Kéfer specialising in portraiture, fashion photography and advertising. The Kéfer-Dora Maar studio carried out its first fashion commissions in 1932 for Heim, couturier Jacques Heim’s fashion magazine.

After she opened her own studio at 29 rue d’Astorg—located in a neighbourhood known for haute couture—Maar’s fashion commissions multiplied. She won commissions from Chanel, while fashion designers Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli and Jacques Heim were among her regular clients.

Maar’s collaboration with Heim resumed in the 1950s, when they commissioned her to produce textile designs and logos. She also authorised them to produce a scarf under her name.

 

Pearly King Collecting Money for the Empire Day, 1935

Pearly King photograph

During the 1930s, Maar was active in left-wing revolutionary groups led by artists and intellectuals. Reflecting this, her street photography from this time shot in Barcelona, Paris and London captured the reality of life during Europe’s economic depression.

This particular photo was taken in London. The charitable tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens, which continues today, originated in Victorian London. They evolved from "Coster Kings and Queens", elected leaders of London’s street vendors, who traded independently but collected for fellow traders who had fallen on hard times.

The pearly buttons were an imitation of fashionable dress in nineteenth-century high society.

 

Portrait of Ubu, 1936

Dora Maar

This is one of Maar’s most enigmatic surrealist images. "It’s a real animal, but I don’t want to say which one, because it would strip it of its mystery", said Maar of this subject in 1994.

In the past, it has been described as a found object of vegetable origin. The consensus today is that it is, in fact, an armadillo foetus. The title was inspired by Alfred Jarry’s absurdist play Ubu Roi (1895), whose savage and ridiculous anti-hero Pére "Ubu" was appreciated by the surrealists.

 

The Pretender, 1935

The Pretender by Dora Maar

One of Maar’s most widely circulated photomontages, The Pretender featured in the major surrealist exhibitions that took place in cities including New York, Amsterdam, Tokyo and London between 1935 and 1938.

Maar re-used an image of a boy from a street photograph she had shot in Madrid. New research has established that the backdrop is taken from a plate depicting the Orangery in the Palace of Versailles, from the album Château de Versailles, Architecture et Decoration by Albert Chevojon (1907).

Maar turned the vaulted ceiling upside down and retouched over the windows. The result is an oppressive space that appears to be in an endless circular motion.

 

The Conversation, 1937

the conversationist

This loaded scene is the only time we know that Maar addressed the nature of her relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909–1977).

Picasso and Walter had been lovers since 1927 and had a daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso (born 1935). Picasso remained close to Walter throughout his relationship with Maar. He continued to depict her—as well as sometimes the two women together—in his canvases.

 

La Grand Range, 1958

La Grand Range

After the Second World War, Maar began dividing her time between Paris and the South of France. During this period, she explored diverse subject matter and styles before focusing on gestural, abstract paintings of the landscape surrounding her home.

Though these works were exhibited to acclaim in London and Paris into the 1950s, Maar gradually withdrew from artistic circles. As a result, the second half of her life became shrouded in mystery and speculation.

This painting was included in the last solo exhibition of Maar’s lifetime, at Leicester Galleries, London, in 1958. "These landscapes, the result of [Maar’s] recent change of style, are marked by a sensitive and very individual talent," wrote art critic John Russell for The Times. He noted their "vastness, loneliness and, above all, their sense of place".

 

All the pieces above are featured in the Tate Modern's Dora Maar exhibition, which runs until March 2020. Book tickets here