Of Picasso's many muses, few had as much influence on his artistic career or personal life as the mesmerising and intelligent raven-haired French photographer, painter and poet Dora Maar.
Portrait of Dora Maar named "Femme assise, robe bleue", which Picasso painted for his birthday in 1939, was sold at Christie's auction on May 15, 2017 for $ 45 million
Their relationship, though intensely passionate, was far from perfect and went through shifting tides of anguish and callousness. During one promenade along the Pont Neuf, Maar and Picasso had a bitter altercation. The artist reproached his mistress for having prevailed on him to give a work of art in exchange for a cabochon ruby ring. In the heat of the moment, young woman silenced her lover by taking the ring from her finger and hurling it into the River Seine.
Later regretting her rash actions, she haunted the spot where the riverbed was dredged for several days in hopes of recovering her ring – but it was lost for good. Picasso, ultimately regretting having upset his impulsive paramour so deeply, made a ring designed and crafted by his own hand.
Left: Dora Maar
The fact that a ring should have been at the heart of this dramatic episode is somewhat fitting, as the hands the ring would have adorned were always central to the tempestuous relationship of the two lovers. There is the legendary story of one of their first encounters. Dora Maar seated at a neighbouring table in the fabled Parisian Café Les Deux Magots and was repeatedly driving a small knife between the fingers of her gloved hands into the wood of the table, sometimes missing and drawing blood. Picasso, instantly entranced by this dangerous game, introduced himself and by the end of the evening had asked for her black gloves as a memento.
1.2. Pablo Picasso, "The yellow shirt (Dora Maar)" (1939). New National Gallery, Berlin
Quite aside from the intensity of their personal relationship, Dora Maar played a critical part in Picasso’s artistic career. More than just a muse, she was a formidable personality and an artist in her own way. In tandem with the Spanish painter, she was like a sparring partner. Most importantly of all, perhaps, she was a part of his life during the period of his greatest political engagement – the Spanish Civil War. She was a photographic witness to his monumental mural Guernica, and even painted some of the vertical strokes on the horse in a minor but symbolic contribution. Her features were also introduced into the woman holding up a lamp.
Maar was forced to make great sacrifices to keep their relationship going despite both of their hot-tempered personalities and the bouts of depression and self-criticism that stemmed from living in shadow of genius Picasso.
Left: Pablo Picasso, "Weeping Woman" (1937). Tate Modern, London
Throughout their affair, Picasso continued to see his former lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, mother of his child Maya. Then in 1943, Picasso met Françoise Gilot, 20 years younger than Maar and 40 years younger than him. Maar’s state of mind became increasingly unstable as her jealousy mounted and by 1946 their final separation was inevitable. Maar suffered a complete mental collapse, followed by a nun-like seclusion where she focused only on art and religion. Her decision to keep this ring, among other mementos and paintings from Picasso, indicates that her powerful feelings for the artist never truly ceased.
Portrait of Dora Maar will now be offered as part of Sotheby's inaugural Actual Size sale on 21 June in London, with an estimate of £300,000-500,000.
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Based on materials of artdaily.com. Title illustration: Sotheby's