Home Arts Unpublished works by Dora Maar discovered at auction are exhibited for the first time

Unpublished works by Dora Maar discovered at auction are exhibited for the first time

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When Dora Maar died in 1997, there was more interest in the Surrealist photographer’s personal Picasso collection than, well, Dora Maars. The proof is in the auction records. When parts of Maar’s estate came up for auction, buyers bid more eagerly for the works of his friends and ex-lovers.

“She had such a large collection of Picassos and Cocteaus and all those well-known figures that her own works were sold head-on, somewhat willy-nilly,” says Gwen Strauss, executive director of Maison Dora Maar. in Menerbes. “I know people who bought drawings from him, almost for nothing, at the time.”

This was before the notoriety of his work was revived by exhibitions such as his 2019 traveling retrospective which was presented at the Center Pompidou and the Tate Modern. Some Maars sold “willy-nilly” have since resurfaced, sometimes ending up in caring hands.

Such was the case when French journalist Brigitte Benkemoun bought a vintage Hermès pocket diary on eBay a few years ago, to replace the one her husband had misplaced. When he arrived, Benkemoun found the address book section was used — and full of an enviable who’s-who of mid-twentieth-century names. Her detective work identified Maar as the original owner, and she recorded the gripping story of this time-traveling adventure in her book. Looking for Dora Maar (Getty Publications, 2020).

A similar story is that of two French private collectors who bought a treasure trove of unattributed sketchbooks at auction about five years ago. “The artwork was presented as anonymous, but they knew exactly what they were buying,” says Benkemoun, whom they approached after learning she had accidentally purchased Maar’s address book. Researchers have since confirmed that these sketchbooks were by Maar.

Now this treasure trove of drawings, poems and paintings on whatever paper Maar could find (including envelopes, torn tickets and an Air France notebook) will be on public display for the first time. They will be exhibited in the La Mob exhibition space at Maison Dora Maar in Provence, which opened to the public in 2021, bringing Maar’s works back to where she created them in the 19th-century townhouse where she lived on and off for over 50 years. A catalog of the collection is published in parallel by Éditions Dilecta.

“It really covers a part of Dora Maar’s life that we don’t know as much about,” Strauss says of the treasure, which covers her time with Picasso, their breakup and her life in Ménerbes as she moves away from photographs and embraces painting.

One of the sketches is a double portrait of the artist couple. “I have never seen a drawing of her and Picasso done by her,” Strauss says. “She has always been rendered either by him or even by Françoise Gilot, as a kind of destroyed, and these are the interpretations that Dora Maar has of him.” Another highlight is Maar’s transcription of a telephone conversation she had with Picasso, with dialogue so rich that the curators, French cultural agency CreativeTech, have produced an audio performance of the conversation with real actors. , available to visitors.

Visitors may emerge from the exhibition eager to browse auctions for their own unallocated Dora Maar treasures, but Strauss thinks they are increasingly unlikely to be found. Fortunately, Maar’s works are now increasingly well known.

“Now people start saying pretty quickly, ‘oh that’s a Dora Maar,'” Strauss says. “While before it was, ‘oh, who could that be?'”

Dora Maar: Workshop Secrets, La Mob, Menerbes, June 17-November 30

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