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Dora Maar retrospective displays full range of talent of Picasso's muse

media Photo portrait of Dora Maar circa 1937 by Rogi André,at the Dora Maar retrospective Dora Maar, Centre Pompidou, June 2019 © DR Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CC I / Georges Meguerditchian

Pablo Picasso immortalised French artist Dora Maar in several of his portraits during their eight-year relationship in the 1930s. His fame however overshadowed her talent as a photographer and painter. A new Paris exhibition of her life's work sets the record straight.

The Georges Pompidou Centre in the French capital has a rather well-stocked and growing photography archive. In this collection you will find works by very well-known 20th century surrealists like Man Ray, and also, lesser known, Dora Maar (born Henriette Theodora Markovitch).

From studio photography to landscape abstraction

She began in the 1930s as an advertising photographer, her clients including top fashion houses like Chanel or Schiaparelli. Soon, she co-owned a studio and went on to portraits, experimenting with photographic developing and 'montage' techniques.

Nude photography also featured at this time. Her carefully contrasted works were reproduced in art reviews as well as erotic magazines. She also studied people she met in the streets of Barcelona, Paris and London, and made series of images focussed on poverty and exclusion.

Photos with the artist in the foreground at the first Dora Maar Retrospective in France, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Pablo Picasso came into her life in the mid-1930s as her lifestyle and talent led her to mix in arty, particularly surrealist, circles from her youth.

One of Dora Maar's surrealist photos from circa. 1936, '29 Rue d'Astorg', on show at a retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris © Adagp, Paris 2019 Photo © Centre Pompidou MNAM-CC I /P. Migeat

After their couple fell apart, she honed her painting and drawing skills.

In her later years, she experimented with abstract painting and photography, and died at the age of 90 in 1997. She was one of the artists who could claim that they had shaped the 20th century.

Damarice Amao is the co-curator of the exhibition. She shared some talking points with RFI's Rosslyn Hyams.

Almost nothing personal

Dora Maar's personal life is not the subject of this exhibition. However it hints at possible bisexuality, in showing an extract from the 1947 George-Henri Clouzot-directed top police thriller, Quai des Orfèvres (Goldsmith's Quay). In the film, the character Dora Monier is a photographer, who takes commissions for vaguely erotic poses. Clouzot's cousins were good friends of Maar, and he knew her quite well.

There is also the suggestion that Maar's work was affected by, for example, the relationship with Picasso, and the exhibition shows how she could have influenced the Spanish master's major work of the time, 'Guernica'.

Dora Maar photographed the work-in-progress on Pablo Picasso's grey, black and white painting 'Guernica', 1937, at the Dora Maar Retrospective, Pompidou, Centre, Paris, June 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Picasso's bust of Maar uncovered

Maar was in the headlines recently because the famous 1938 Picasso portrait of her, 'Buste de Femme' stolen in 1999 from a Saudi businessman, was traced and retrieved by a Dutch art detective.

The exhibition ends in Paris on 29 July, moving to London's Tate Modern from November 2019 to March 2020. It will be in the Getty Center in Los Angeles from April to July 2020.

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