London’s Tate Modern is displaying the work of the unique and fascinating Dora Maar. Allowing the public to gain an insight into the context in which her art was developed: in a career spanning over six decades. Her eye for the weird and wonderful emulates into all forms of the art she produced, from photography, paintings to photograms.


Dora Maar was a french painter and photographer who had profound involvement in the surrealist movement in the mid 20th century. Born Henriette Théodora Markovitch in 1907, the impact of the artistic nature of her parents allowed her explore and develop her personal interests from an early age. Educated in Paris’ most progressive and distinguished art schools, the extent to her self expression was not confined to a canvas. Her talent and particular style set her apart from others, and with encouragement, decided to pursue photography at a professional level. Opening her own studios, often alongside other known photographers in Paris, her work quickly gained recognition for its technical finesse, with her ability to create original images through advanced techniques. Often being commissioned for magazines and advertising: depicting fashion, nudity and surreal photography, unusual for many female photographers during this period. Her political point of view brought her closer to other surrealist artists; she began to use her work to disclose the social inequalities across Europe and as well as her own views. These links allowed her to encounter her most known art partner, Pablo Picasso. The notable important influence and effect of each others artistic approach within both their works, is what Maar is widely remembered for. Sadly, her work both before and after her infamous affair with Picasso is often outweighed or overshadowed. This exhibition carries a chronological timeline of her work and transition through mediums and subject matters to the end of her career in 1990s.


The titled ‘Dora Maar’ exhibition is divided in a nine-room layout. Each room depicts it’s own period or transition in her life and work by unearthing political contexts, artists she worked with, professional commissions, personal assignments and growth as an artist. The exhibition opens with her early development in the the beginning of the 1930s, with self-portraits and portraits of those dearest to her. Mostly gelatin silver print on paper, which was a method commonly used throughout her photographic career. From the start, one can see and resonant the style that was particular to Maar and continued to be used in her later carer. Throughout the gallery, the experimentation and developments in innovative techniques used, which allowed Maar to gain publicity, can been identified. Often working closely with well-connected directors and photographers, allowed her to expand her way of working to reach different outcomes: giving her the position of a surrealist photographer. The surrealist outlook is heavily contained in her photographic career. Both presenting the unusual, fantastical and fanciful aspects of art and life, alongside the harsh realities. Room 3 shows how her work expressed her left-wing and anti-fascist stance and engagement in politics through her art, though she maintained that she was not a communist. This shared vision and perspective of the surrealists, lead to Picasso’s and Maar’s introduction through mutual creators. Room 6 and room 7 clearly expresses the impact their working and inmate partnership had. It is widely known that Picasso used the influence of the women in his life to advance himself artistically, which could later be transcribed into his artwork. Maar, supposedly, highly contributed to his new political vigilance at the commencing of the Spanish Civil War: impacting on the meaning behind his later works - most notably his acclaimed, ‘Guernica’.  She introduced him to darkroom techniques and he drew her from memory in many of his paintings of that period. Their collaboration and influence on each other’s work is highly noticeable, the exhibition demonstrates as such. After her eight-years of working with Picasso, Maar changed medium from photography to paintings, more specifically landscapes. In the mid 1950s abstraction and action painting was her preferred method. Unlike before, presenting harshness of war and oppression through dark tones, she used gentle colour schemes, that perhaps reflected the changing in her personal life and working style. However, she rarely exhibited or showed these to anyone, making it a less known feature of her career as an artist. The last room displays her amalgamation and rectifying of both painting and photography in a new form of expression. Her photograms highlight how throughout the whole of her career, she was exceedingly innovative and used all her experiences to create profoundly unique and stimulating work, personal to her style. 


What is so wonderful about this exhibition is that it does not ignore the undeniable interaction of Maar and Picasso on one another, as both an artist and as a person. But it allows Dora Maar to be remembered as a sublime photographer and painter in her own right, without being tarnished as one of Pablo Picasso’s mistresses. It is dedicated to informing you about Dora Marr as an artist as a whole. Art collector David Raymond stated that, “as many should see them as wish to see them, you cannot just lock them up, it’s not fair to the work and people, because we all need to be inspired,” when discussing exhibiting her work. The transition and transformation of her work throughout her life is truly fascinating, and so would urge anyone able to visit (ending 15th March 2020) to do so. 


Margot Phillipson