Most people, if they think of Dora Maar at all, remember her as the subject of one of Picasso's most persistent and variegated portrait series. There is Dora Maar the elegant woman of the world in Femme à la résille (Woman with a Snood) of 1938, one of a group of brightly coloured portraits of the sitter done in that year in which she is wearing bizarre headgear. This Dora Maar is fashionable, Parisian, resolutely anti-archetypal, confronting the viewer with a sinister perkiness. In addition to the multicoloured cone-shaped hat, she sports an up to the moment snood, a jacket with epaulets and a boldly figured blouse. Her eyelashes and pupils are red, her face patterned with colour to indicate the presence of make-up. Yet in the series of 'Weeping Women' created the year before, a series related to Picasso's many studies for Guernica, Dora figures as the incarnation of universal anguish, tears piercing her cheeks, her fingernails sharp as knives, her mouth contorted in an angry howl in one version. In another image from the series, the artist combines the chic Parisienne with the icon of pain: in Weeping Woman of 1937 she wears a complicated red hat topped with a flower but her features are twisted into a mask of suffering and she thrusts her fingers into her mouth as though stifling a scream.
LRB 4 January 2001 | PDF Download