Profession: Muse

Dora Maar, Sans titre, 1935. Copyright de l’œuvre © Adagp, Paris Crédit photo / Photo credit © Centre Pompidou.

Dora Maar was once the most beautiful and interesting photographer in Paris. Mademoiselle Lili discovered the mysterious woman at Centre Pompidou and wondered why she didn’t tell that macho Picasso to go to hell.

Picasso’s fifth lover, his “weeping woman” and muse, Dora Maar, is probably one of the most famous artist lovers in modern times, preserved for posterity by the genius painter in the most expensive pictures in the world. And, one of the most tragic: When he left her in 1943, she fell into a deep depression from which she never recovered until her death 1997. That was all that I used to know about Dora Maar. But, who was she really? Centre Pompidou now shows that she was much more than simply his muse, and that it is high time to realise that women in the history of modern art were not always merely the companions of their famous men. They were women in their own right. Whilst I studied her expressive photographs and writings – Dora Maar was a pioneer of fashion photography, a key player in the surrealist movement and a keen thinker where politics were concerned – I wondered what in the world possessed her to voluntarily allow Picasso to dominate and degrade her. And, what still today often drives women to give their hearts and peace of mind to successful men with highly dubious character traits.

In 1931, Dora Maar was already an established photographer and artist, and worked alongside great men like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray and Georges Brassaï. Then came that fateful day in 1936 in Café Les Deux Magots when Paul Eluard introduced her to the Spanish painter gigolo who was twice her age. And, the grown woman with dark dramatic beauty turned into an attention-seeking 29-year-old who impressed the star painter with a pretty transparent game: “She wore black gloves with little pink flowers sewn on. She took her gloves off and took a long, sharp knife that she slammed into the table in between her outstretched fingers ...

From time to time, she missed them by a fraction of a centimetre and, before she had finished the game with the knife, her hand was stained with blood”, explained her successor Françoise Gilot later in her book “Life With Picasso”. Picasso kept the blood-stained gloves from this first encounter in a glass case for the rest of his life. He kept them as a trophy – and Dora Maar as his submissive victim who was henceforth subjected to his moods and his career and had to make do with just being the photographer who documented Picasso's oeuvres. It was not until after they separated that she regained the courage to create her own work. When I left school, I wrote in the final edition of my school newspaper that I wanted to become an artist’s muse, and that was meant half-jokingly and half with a thirst for adventure. After this exhibition, I’m happy that my life turned out completely differently. And, now I also know why I never really liked Picasso.

Dora Maar, from 5 June to 29 July in Centre Pompidou Paris

Rogi André/Dora Maar, vers 1937/Épreuve gélatino-argentique29,9 x 39,4 cm/Achat en 1983/Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris/Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle/Copyright de l’œuvre © droits réservés/Crédit photo / Photo credit © Centre Pompidou,MNAM-CCI / Georges Meguerditchian / Dist. RMN-GP