Dora Maar Heats Up New York and Paris in Picasso’s Women at Gagosian Madison Avenue and Centre Pompidou

Dora Maar Heats Up New York and Paris in Picasso’s Women at Gagosian Madison Avenue and Centre Pompidou
According to the gallery notes for Gagosian’s current Picasso exhibition, the late great art historian Leo Steinberg claimed that the famous Spanish artist (and infamous Lothario) did not paint a woman “as she presents herself to the world, but how she feels inside.” Dora Maar, Picasso’s mistress from 1935-1942, told her close friend, the writer James Lord: “All his portraits of me are lies. They’re all Picasso’s, not one is Dora Maar.” (James Lord, Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir, 1993, p. 123). Whom do you want to believe: the male art historian or the artist’s mistress and model? I choose to believe Dora. The evidence is clear in the current exhibition Picasso’s Women: Fernande to Jacqueline, A Tribute to Sir John Richardson, on view in Gagosian’s 980 Madison Avenue gallery, New York, from May 3- June 29, 2019.  Comprised of 36 paintings, drawings and sculptures from mostly private collections, the exhibition came about through a “partnership with members of the Picasso family” to honor the memory of their close friend and colleague, British art historian Sir John Richardson, who passed away on March 12, 2019. Sir John’s magna opus A Life of Picasso, volumes 1-3 (the fourth will be published posthumously), based much of its contents on Picasso’s mistresses’ memoirs and oral accounts, which the gallery notes insist “attests to the central role and influence of many women in Picasso’s life.” Richardson, Gagosian’s main curator for Picasso exhibitions, probably considered creating an exhibition about several Picasso women at one time or another during his long career (Richard died at 95 years old). Of the six shows he organized, two were dedicated to specific relationships: Marie-Thérèse Walther (begun in 1927 and lasting until the artist’s death in 1973; Marie-Thérèse committed suicide on October 20, 1977, five days before Picasso would have been 96) and Françoise Gilot (1943-53).  Over the last decade, Richardson brought together enormous amounts of Picasso artworks, archives, documentaries, photos, and artifacts for Mousqueteros (New York, 2009); Picasso-The Mediterranean Years, 1945-1962 (London, 2010); Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’Amour Fou (New York, 2011); Picasso and Françoise Gilot: Paris-Vallauris, 1943-53 (New York, 2012); Picasso and the Camera (New York, 2015); and Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors (London, 2017). However, this one particular Picasso show seems to interrogate the validity of one of Sir John’s main sources, Dora Maar, who is currently the star of  her own retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris (traveling to London’s Tate Modern and Los Angeles’ Getty Museum this year and the next, respectively) through July 29th.  Maar famously observed that once a new woman entered Picasso’s life, everything changed—his art, his home, his literary circle and even his dog. Richardson met Dora Maar through mutual friends living in the south of France, where he shared a home with the collector/curator Douglas Cooper in the Château de Castille. The Richardson-Cooper relationship lasted from 1952 through 1960, when Richardson moved to New York and developed a solid reputation as a Picasso specialist. He worked for Christie’s auction house and Knoedler Gallery, as well as contributed to Vanity Fair, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and Burlington Magazine well into the twenty-first century. His memoir The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Picasso, Provence and Cooper was published in 1999. In his memoir Picasso and Dora, James Lord described an evening at Cooper and Richardson’s château where a dinner party of nine included Cooper, Richardson, Picasso, Dora, Lord, the museum curator Jean Leymarie and his wife, Picasso’s son and chauffeur Paulo, and the British ballet critic Richard Buckle. At one point that evening, the group had settled into the living room, where Picasso made a show of taking Dora’s hand to lead her across the length of this immense space toward a secluded spot. “They went slowly, while the rest of us watched in indiscreet silence. And then they reached the corner of the room, where there was a prolonged pause as we waited for Picasso to murmur into Dora’s ear whatever was too intimate, too personal for us to hear, . . . But all of a sudden, having pronounced not a word, Picasso whirled around on his toe and strode back across the salon, leaving Dora alone in the far corner, where she remained a minute in stark solitude before being obliged to return alone across the breadth of the room without the slightest saving grace….

Lead photo credit : PABLO PICASSO Tête de femme, 1963 Oil on canvas 28 3/4 x 21 5/8 in 73 x 54.9 cm © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Patrick Goetlin. Courtesy Gagosian.

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Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, Ph.D. is an art historian and the director of the New York Arts Exchange, an arts education service that offers tours and lectures in the New York tristate area. She specializes in the study of Cubism and has published on the art criticism of Apollinaire’s close friend, poet/art critic/journalist André Salmon. She teaches art history at Mercy College in Westchester, New York. She published a book with French poet/literary critic Jean-Luc Pouliquen called "Transatlantic Conversation: About Poetry and Art." Her most recent book is a translation and annotation of "Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and 'Young French Painting,'" with an introduction by Jacqueline Gojard.