I couldn't make a portrait of her laughing. For me she's the weeping woman. For years I’ve painted [Dora Maar] in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure, either, just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one.—Pablo Picasso1(p122)
Dora Maar (1907-1997), Pablo Picasso's weeping woman (epigraph), collaborated with him in the creation of his masterpiece, Guernica,2 his vivid condemnation of war commissioned for the Spanish Pavilion in the 1937 Universal Exposition in Paris to protest bombing of civilians in Spain. Dora (born Henriette Theodora Marković), a well-known photographer3-5 and member of the Surrealist nihilist group, photographed Guernica throughout its genesis until it was complete (Figure 1). Her profile is found in the woman in the center who holds the lamp that draws attention to the horror that is unfolding. She contributed to the painting of the dying horse that is emblematic of the suffering of the victims. Having lived in Argentina as a child, Dora spoke fluent Spanish, allowing her, unlike Picasso's wife and other mistresses, to easily converse with him in his native tongue. A committed leftist who was vehemently opposed to General Francisco Franco's Nationalist insurrection in Spain, she emotionally engaged Picasso and contributed to his angst about the aerial murder of civilians by the German Condor Legion at Guernica, the legendary capital of the Basque people in Spain. Picasso was intrigued by her intellectual and emotional expressiveness and seemingly could not stop painting her.3
Figure 1.Guernica, 1937. Oil on canvas, 349 × 776 cm. Reina Sofía National Museum, Madrid, Spain.© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY.
Picasso's Guernica draws on his series of etchings, Dream and Lie of Franco, that he began in January 1937.4 Astride a disemboweled horse, Franco is depicted as a monster,“the composite of a scarecrow/jelly fish with enormous tentacles and an elephantine head.”4(p24) In a later frame, Franco raises a pickaxe to the bust of a woman; in another, he gives birth to various snakes and disembodied heads. Franco then is transformed into half monster, half pig. The wounded are shown among burning buildings in a subsequent frame. Franco's head is appended to a horse; he confronts an angry bull. After a hiatus of several months, in June of that year, Picasso completed the last 4 etchings in the series. These final images focus on the victims of the atrocities of war. The fifteenth image is a weeping woman with disheveled hair reaching up in despair; burning phallic shapes are shown behind her. The final etching depicts 2 distraught children, their father dead, who are clinging to their mother.
Dora Maar had helped find the large studio for Picasso in Paris where Guernica was completed. Located at 7, rue des Grands Augustins, the building had been the fictional location of Honoré de Balzac's short story Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece).3 In it, the painter Frenhofer is obsessed with the thought of representing the absolute on his canvas; the more obsessed he becomes, the less recognizable is his subject. He finally destroys his masterpiece and dies. Picasso was intrigued with the idea that he would be Frenhofer's successor.3 In this studio, Dora Maar photographed Picasso at work on Guernica, his eyes burning with passion and anger as he worked. She documented the painting's evolution from all angles, focusing on its transformation from isolated elements, some taken from Picasso's earlier satirical etchings about Franco, as it became a powerful statement about the horror of the indiscriminate killing of civilians to demoralize the Basque people, in total war! Dora lived near Picasso's studio in the late 1930s and during the subsequent Nazi occupation of France.
Dora was demoralized by the Basque tragedy and revealed her abject sorrow to Picasso. In Guernica, he characterized not only the emotional face of Dora (her prominent forehead, eyes, and elongated fingers) but also Marie-Thérèse, his distraught, abandoned, and grieving mistress (rounded face with almond eyes), and his angry wife, Olga (the sharp tongue of the horse). Yet despite the emotions shown in the faces of these women, no tears are shed in Guernica. Picasso toyed with adding a single red tear falling from an eye of the wailing mother who holds her dead child but in the end blotted it out. Thus, the final painting is monochrome gray and documents, in a sense, the first phase of grief: shock and disbelief at one's loss. Tears flow later, and these are mostly shown later in images of Dora (cover), whose tears were there for Picasso to record.
Cover. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish. The Weeping Woman (Femme en pleurs), 1937. Oil on canvas, 60.8 × 50.0 cm. Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom.© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY. Photo credit: Tate, London/Art Resource, New York, NY.
It was Dora who continually reminded Picasso of the tragedy. For months after the painting was sent for exhibition at the Spanish Pavilion in the 1937 Universal Exposition in Paris, Picasso's efforts focused on painting faces of the weeping woman. It was as if, after documenting the disbelief and shock at the events at Guernica, he could not let go of the sorrow and was compelled to grieve the loss of the victims through these archetypal images of a suffering woman. His earlier etchings and paintings show only the face of grief and the tears. Later ones show the weeping woman with a handkerchief seeking to contain and wipe tears away.
Guernica was a central exhibit in the 2-story Spanish Pavilion devoted to protesting Franco's attacks. In addition to Guernica, there were exhibits, photomurals, photographs, and screenings of films documenting the war by internationally known writers and filmmakers. The films graphically showed the destruction of the countryside and the suffering of the people in Spain. When the Paris event ended, there was considerable interest in displaying Guernica outside France. When plans were made to exhibit Guernica at the Burlington Galleries in London from October 4 to 29, 1938, a series of Picasso's weeping women were sent to accompany it to place it in context. The most prominent of these was The Weeping Woman (cover), completed in October 1937. It was the culmination of Picasso's paintings of the weeping woman. Roland Penrose purchased it from Picasso for£250 in November of that year and kept it until his death in 1982. It hangs today in the Tate Museum, London.
Penrose described the Weeping Woman 's brilliant contrasting colors, red, blue, green, and yellow. Penrose wrote that because bright colors are not associated with grief, this“face where sorrow is evident in every line is highly disconcerting.”3(p117) Suddenly on a clear market day, an unsuspecting woman wearing a red and blue hat with a blue flower on it is the subject of and witness to a bombing attack. The painting shows her response to a tragedy that came without warning. Her grieving face is literally fragmented by her emotions. The white handkerchief, now transparent, reveals the“agonized grimace on her lips” and“bleach[es] her cheeks” with the pallor of death. The viewer's eye focuses on the jagged area in hard blue and white around the mouth where her teeth clench the handkerchief. Her knotted hands fumble and“join the tear drops that pour from her eyes.” Her eyes, like those of Dora Maar, are“rimmed with black eyelashes; they nestle in shapes like small boats that have capsized in the tempest, emptying out a river of tears.” The tears stream along the contour of her cheek to her ear. We see in her eyes the terror of this day when delight has been transformed into“unbearable pain.”3(p117)
Dora Maar was a confident, intelligent, and creative woman when she met Picasso. Picasso thought she had the“miranda fuerte, that strong look,”3(p120) that elicits unease. She took life seriously and her left-wing antifascist views were well known. Picasso did not always paint Dora as an anguished weeping woman. He documented her beauty, too, and her signature long red fingernails in Dora Maar Seated (Figure 2). Sitting in a relaxed pose, she pushes back her hair. The blackness of her coat is“glistening with blues and greens.”3(p120) Her face is shown facing both frontally and in profile. Her eyes, one red and the other blue, are apparently drawn on the same side of her face, unsettling the viewer. The use of red, pink, green, yellow, and mauve highlights her vitality, energy, and self-confidence.
Figure 2.Dora Maar Seated, 1937. Oil on canvas, 92 × 65 cm. Musée Picasso, Paris, France.© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY. Photo credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, New York, NY.
Dora painted her own Weeping Woman in Red Hat,3(p129) nearly identical to that of Picasso, in response to his painting of her (cover). It was not done in imitation but was a complementary work of art. An artist, she painted cubist images of Picasso's face, too,3(p128) just as he did of her. She continued to work as an artist and exhibited long after the end of her relationship with Picasso.
During her 8-year involvement with Picasso (1935-1943), Dora found herself in competition with Marie-Thérèse for Picasso's attention. He visited Marie-Thérèse and their daughter, Maya, 2 afternoons a week. Then in 1943, 62-year-old Picasso found a new mistress, 21-year-old Françoise Gilot. Just as he had separated from his wife, Olga, years before (they never divorced) for the 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse, he left the mature Dora Maar for a younger woman. Dora was shocked; initially she could not believe he would leave her for a woman of such an age that she could be his granddaughter. Dora became distraught and depressed. Her friends were afraid she would commit suicide. One day, she was found sitting naked outside her apartment on the steps,6 and on another occasion, she had a hysterical outburst in a movie theater. The police were called, and she was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility where she had a series of electroshock treatments.6 Her friends insisted that Picasso do something. Jacques Lacan,7 an eminent French psychoanalyst, was called in and arranged for her transfer to a private clinic; later he became her analyst. After psychoanalysis, Dora turned to religion. After a relationship with Picasso, who seemed to view himself as godlike, she became a devout Roman Catholic; she was a recluse in her later years.
Years earlier, Dora said that she would marry Picasso if he proposed the right way,3 but that was not to be. She and Picasso remained in touch with one another after they separated but rarely saw one another. On one occasion, she sent Picasso, by now a documented communist, a book about the lives of the saints. Picasso seemed genuinely pleased with birthday gifts from her and reciprocated with gifts to her. But those he chose were not always kind. After Picasso's death, a wrapped gift to Dora, never sent, was found among his possessions. When efforts were made to deliver it to her, she refused to accept this last gift from him. She was wise to decline. The gift was a ring, beautiful on its surface, but with a spike through its center so it could never be worn!
Gilot F, Lake C. Life With Picasso. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1964:122
Caws MA. Picasso's Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar. Boston, MA: Little Brown; 2000
Freeman J. Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications; 1994
Baldassari A. Picasso: Life With Dora Maar: Love and War 1935-1945. Woodman U, trans. Paris, France: Flammarion; 2006
Lord J. Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir. New York, NY: Farrar Straus& Giroux; 1993
Lacan J. Ecrits. Fink B, trans. New York, NY: WW Norton; 2005