Everyone knows of Pablo Picasso. Many people know of his turbulent love life. Only a few know about the Croatian woman who shaped a huge part of his work and the scene of surrealism in general. In this post in the series of “Influential Croatian Women”, we will dive into the biography of this mesmerizing muse.
Dora Maar has been in a relationship with Picasso for almost a decade. During that turbulent relationship, Dora Maar was his muse and a motive that oozed over his cubist portraits. But the relationship with the charismatic painter also had a significant downside and left a big mark on her already hypersensitive personality. Due to increasing insecurity began to neglect her artistic work, which undeservedly, remained forever in the shadow of Picasso and his work.
Dora Maar was born in 1907, in Paris, as Henrietta Theodora Markovic to a Croatian-French family.
Her father was a famous Croatian architect, Josip Markovic. Because of his work in Buenos Aires, Henrietta spent a lot of her youth on the relation Argentina-France. But later, she returned to Paris to study and engage in art as Dora Maar. Early works by Dora Maar are the result of her personal, political and artistic interests. She was one of those people who are aware of everything that is happening around them, which is clearly read from her photos of everyday life from the streets of Paris, Barcelona, and London. A huge part of her interest revolved around marginalized social groups which resulted in frequent motives in her photographs of poor, hesitant or blind people.
In the mid-30s of the last century, she found herself in the epicenter of the booming Surrealist movement. She worked with André Breton and Paul Eluard, and her photographs contained more and more unreal magical elements with some of them becoming the symbol of the surrealistic movement. Soon she crossed paths with Picasso at the age of only 29 and they started their relationship. There are photos of Picasso by Dora where she recorded the emergence of the famous Guernica.
Picasso opposed photography as an art form which led Dora to give up photography and turn to painting although she still photographed as a hobby. Some of her photos have obvious cubist influence which shows her face and mind split between independence and Picasso’s need to be submissive.
The relationship was far from idyllic and her mental health suffered a lot. Picasso had multiple affairs and she had given up the only thing she ever loved- art, just to prove her love to the legendary painter.
To portray her personality of that time, even Picasso once said that he couldn’t paint a smiling Dora as she was always a “weeping woman” in his eyes. Dora’s fragile personality is the consequence of various factors that had been following her for entire life due to relocation, distant parents and heavy, even physical battles with her mother and mostly the fact that she could not have children. After their break, Dora experienced a nervous breakdown, which caused her to be treated with electroshock therapy. Later, she turned to mysticism and became a burning believer, completely isolating herself from the world. Just before her death in 1997, she held an exhibition.
All the pain she experienced during life is visible on her often extremely dark photographs and collages.
Unfortunately, her contribution to art, culture and the position of women could have so much more impact if only she hadn’t become insecure in her artistic talent due to the turbulent relationship with the famous painter and womanizer.