Portrait de Dora Maar de profil dated '18 novembre XXXVI' (lower centre) pen and black ink on blue paper 22.9 x 26.9cm (9 x 10 9/16in). Executed on 18 November 1936
PROVENANCE A gift from Picasso to Dora Maar. Estate of Dora Maar, with associated estate stamp 'DM/ 1998'; Piasa, Les Picasso de Dora Maar, Paris, 28 October 1998, lot 39. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
LITERATURE C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. VIII, Paris, 1963, no. 290 (illustrated p. 137). The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Surrealism 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, p. 296, no. 36-087 (illustrated).
Picasso's portraits of Dora Maar (1907-1997) document one of the most extraordinary artistic relationships of the 20th century. Coinciding almost exactly with the dark years from the beginning of the Spanish Civil War to the Liberation of Paris, they move from the tender early drawings, such as Portrait de Dora Maar de profil, often showing Dora was distracted or deep in thought, through to the violent strength of the Weeping Women series which grew from the creation of Guernica. All are as much insightful psychological portraits of the relationship between the two artists as they are of Dora herself.
Picasso and Dora Maar met in the winter of 1935-36, although like much else about the relationship myths have grown up around the exact details. It seems most likely that they were introduced by a mutual friend, the poet Paul Eluard, at Les Deux Magots in Paris. Picasso greeted her in French, and she replied in Spanish, immediately asserting her connection to his native land. The first step had been taken. Picasso must certainly have known her by sight since she had been prominent as a photographer and muse in Surrealist circles since at least 1934, but this meeting, perhaps stage managed by Dora herself, appears to have been their first contact. Next comes the famous encounter recounted by Françoise Gillot, the lover who supplanted Dora:
'Picasso told me that one of the first times he saw Dora she was sitting in Les Deux Magots. She was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéd on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long, pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with the knife, her hand was covered in blood. He was fascinated ... He asked Dora to give him her gloves and kept them in a vitrine with other mementoes' (F. Gilot with C. Lake, Life with Picasso, London, 1965, pp. 85-86).
This tangible sense of Duende, the essentially untranslatable Andalusian concept of heightened emotion and fatalism, with a touch of the diabolical, as defined by Lorca in the 1930s, must have been powerfully attractive to Picasso. Dora had been born in France but spent most of her early life in Argentina, where her father practised as an architect, and so spoke fluent Spanish. She returned to Paris in 1927 and trained as both a photographer and painter. By 1936, her Surrealist photographs had become defining images of the movement, notably the Portrait of Ubu, a mysterious creature (later revealed to have been an armadillo foetus) representing Alfred Jarry's antihero, and the collage 29, rue d'Astorg, both of that year.
At the time of their meeting, Dora was 29 and Picasso was 54. He was still in the process of separating from Olga, his first wife, and Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistress since 1927, had borne him a daughter, Maya, the previous September. His portraits of Marie-Thérèse often present the opulent blonde as a passive young girl, sleeping or crowned with a circlet of flowers. They are strikingly different from the intense portraits he was to make of Dora as a muse and ally.
James Lord, who met the couple in Paris in 1944, gives a striking description of Dora: 'Her gaze possessed remarkable radiance but could also be very hard. I observed that she was beautiful, with a strong straight nose, perfect scarlet lips, the chin firm, the jaw a trifle heavy and the more forceful for being so, rich chestnut hair drawn smoothly back, and eyelashes like the furred antennae of moths.' (J. Lord, Picasso and Dora, a memoir, London, 1993, p. 31).
Although echoes can be discerned earlier in the year, Picasso's first overt portraits of Dora appear in August 1936, when they were together at Mougins above Cannes on the Riviera with a group including Paul and Nusch Eluard, Roland Penrose and Man Ray. The last portrait of Marie-Thérèse that year is dated 28 July. Then, in a drawing dated 1 August, Dora appears, standing at the door of the studio, wearing a scarf, calmly observing the enthroned central figure of the artist as a classical god crowned with laurels (C. Zervos, op. cit., no. 295). For the rest of the year Picasso's work is filled with Dora: she appears 30 times from August to December, an obsessive portrait-taking that must reflect the intensity of the relationship.
The outside world could not be held at bay, however. Franco's failed coup of 17 and 18 July 1936 precipitated the Spanish Civil War, and Picasso was symbolically named honorary Director of the Prado by the Republican government. Dora's Spanish background clearly drew her into Picasso's reaction to this crisis. He encouraged her to grow her hair long, and as in the present work wear it plaited in the Andalusian style, paired with a ruff collar which echoes traditional Andalusian costume. This association deepened in May and June 1937, when Dora was on hand during the painting of Guernica, Picasso's anti-war masterpiece, in which she appears in the guise of the weeping woman. Dora had found Picasso the studio in the rue des Grands Augustins in which it was painted, and her photographs of the evolution of the composition, the only record he allowed to be made, had a demonstrable effect on his creative process.
As John Richardson has noted, a new lover precipitated a sea change in Picasso's work, in this case from the overtly sexual images of Marie-Thérèse to the psychological intensity and wide-eyed intellectual engagement with Dora, as an artistic ally, as seen in Portrait de Dora Maar de profil (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. I, London, 1991, p. 5). The evolution from these tender intimate drawings to the harsh and dramatic images of the later years documents the effects of the war and life in Paris under occupation. Dora became an embodiment of the anxiety and uncertainty of the times. Coupled with this was Picasso's own voracious character, as John Richardson noted, lovers were 'incinerated in the furnace of Picasso's psyche' (interview with Peter Conrad, The Observer, London, 8 February 2009). By 1944 the relationship had faltered, and Picasso had already met Françoise Gilot. Although Dora never quite became a recluse, this brutal desertion precipitated a breakdown. For the remainder of her long life she tended the flame of their artistic relationship and remained surrounded by the drawings, pictures and sculptures that Picasso had given her. These were dispersed in the legendary estate sale in Paris in 1998 at which Portrait de Dora Maar de profil was acquired by the present owner.
Her attitude to the portraits was, however, always ambivalent, as she told James Lord in the 1950s, 'They're all Picassos, not one is Dora Maar ... Do you think I care? Does Madame Cézanne care? Does Saskia Rembrandt care?' (quoted in J. Lord, op. cit., p. 123).