Maar studied painting at the Union des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and at the studio of André Lhote, author of Traité du Paysage. She then pursued courses at the École de la Photographie de la Ville de Paris and became a professional photographer, opening a studio in Neuilly with Pierre Kefer in 1931. Maar first photographed views of the Mont Saint-Michel, street scenes in Barcelona, fashion models for the couturier Jacques Heim and nudes for the racy review Secrets de Paris. After a brief liaison with Georges Bataille at the end of 1933, she took an active part in surrealism. Her photos are irreplaceable in documenting the history of the movement, including photos of members of the group at the windows of the Sphinx-Hotel, the "surrealist action" of Benjamin Péret and Wolfgang Paalen, on the threshold of the Galerie Gradiva, and portraits of André Breton (always in profile), Jacqueline Lamba (including a series of the artist seated nude on her bed), René Crevel, Yves Tanguy, Léonor Fini, etc. Her photo 29 rue d'Astorg (the address of her studio in 1934) was one of the surrealist postcards published by Georges Hugnet. In 1934 she had an exhibition at the Galerie de Beaune with a catalog introduction by Paul Gilson. On April 3,1934 André Breton, who was organizing an event with the Czechoslovakian surrealist group, wrote to her, "From Prague, the surrealists send you the tribute of their admiration and their affection (here a great success)." Maar signed the group tract When the Surrealists Were Right and caused a sensation at the surrealist exhibitions in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, in 1935 and in London in 1936 with her photo Le Similateur, a figure in convulsions in an upside-down room of a castle; and Portrait of Ubu, its face an armadillo fetus. Beautiful and elegant, she charmed everyone around her, as Marcel Jean attested: "One day in 1936 Dora Maar came into the Café Blanche with her hair falling down over her face and the shoulders of someone who had survived a shipwreck. At the surrealists' table almost everyone expressed their admiration."
It was at Mougins, France, in the summer of 1936, that the liaison began between Maar and Picasso, who was there with Man Ray and the Penroses. Picasso's first painting inspired by Maar dates from August 10,1936. It was Maar who found him the studio at 7 Rue des Grands Augustins, where from May to June 1937 she photographed the entire process of the creation of Guernica. Maar made glass negatives and prints with Picasso and under his influence resumed painting. Their relationship, however, was stormy and he painted his extraordinary series La Femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman) because he often reduced her to tears. In 1939 his portraits of her became increasingly monstrous—up to La Femme se peignant (Woman Combing her Hair) in June 1940—and in January 1941 he wrote his play Le Désir attrapé par la queue (Desire Caught by the Tail), giving her the role of frail Anguish, who cries out in the first scene, "Oh! I'm so bored..." It was a trial for a woman whose singular beauty so enchanted her friends to be thus disfigured, even for the sake of a masterpiece. Picasso sculpted a classical head of Maar to compensate for the impression of mental cruelty that resulted from the paintings in which he had deformed her. As soon as he met Françoise Gilot, in May 1943, Picasso neglected Maar, who had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized at Sainte-Anne. Paul Éluard took care of her and entrusted her to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. After her recovery, she devoted herself exclusively to painting, exhibiting her pictures at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in 1944, and again at Galerie Pierre Loeb in 1946. Withdrawing in 1954 to the house in Ménerbes, France, given to her by Picasso, Maar sought solace in religion and went through a mystical period. Her first retrospective was organized in 1995 at the Bancaixa Foundation in Valencia, Spain, but the overview of her full activity in surrealism was provided by the monumental exhibition, along with a detailed catalog, Dora Maar Bataille, Picasso and the Surrealists at the Galeries de la Vieille Charité in Marseille.
Born 1907 and died 1997 in Paris.
Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, Oil on Canvas, 1937