TThe story of Pablo Picasso’s first meeting with Dora Maar has become a legend. Maar, who was then 29 years old, was seen sitting by herself at Les Deux Magots. There, she engaged in a game wherein she used a small knife to stab the wood. Her hand became stained with blood and she missed some of the targets. Maar, who is almost thirty years older than Picasso, wanted to attract Picasso’s attention. This sadistic and sensational knife game was a success. It doesn’t matter if the legend about their meeting is true, but it does illustrate their nine year affair that was creative, emotional, and turbulent.
It’s through that turbulent, romantic relationship that Picasso’s famous portrait of Maar, as The Weeping WomanIt is frequently viewed. But this muse’s story is one of more than just a crying woman, at the mercy of Picasso. It’s one in which she developed a strong anti-fascist worldview that impacted the older painter’s style and subject matter, resulting in one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history.
Arriving in Paris at the age of 19, Maar studied at the progressive École des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian and École de Photographie, where she developed an imaginative and atmospheric style of black-and-white photography. She soon established herself as a prominent photographer associated with surrealism, exhibiting at the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London alongside Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Eileen Agar and Paul Éluard. Maar worked also as a photojournalist, commercial photographer and entrepreneur. By 1931, she had opened her own studio with the set designer Pierre Kéfer, taking on significant commissions for portraits, fashion magazines and advertising campaigns.
Maar’s talent as a photographer played a hugely significant part in her relationship with Picasso. Early in their affair, they worked alongside one another in her darkroom, where she taught him complex photographic processes, such as cliché-verre, meaning ‘glass picture’, which involves drawing handmade negatives on glass. Picasso was able to make a series unposed portraits by following her instructions.
Picasso’s famous portrait was created in this first, artistically prosperous stage of their marriage, one year after they met. The Weeping WomanDora Maar is easily identifiable with her shoulder-length, black hair and large eyes. She also has painted fingernails. “Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman,” Picasso notoriously said. Picasso painted and drew Maar, often afflicted with tears, more than 60 times. Picasso made Maar weepy by many means.
Subscribe to the TIME History weekly newsletter and you’ll get all your historical fix.
Maar was outspoken and at times antagonistic. It led to heated arguments between Picasso and Maar. This tension was further heightened by Maar’s womanizing tendencies. Picasso took great pleasure in creating competition between the women of his life, including Maar and another woman and muse he was involved with, Marie-Thérèse Walter, with whom he had a 2-year-old daughter.
Still, Maar’s tears should not be seen through the lens of her relationship, and abuser, alone. Too often patriarchal narratives view women as partners and place romantic identity above all other. In the case of Maar, this reductive reading denies a more potent force at play—by the time that she met Picasso, the photographer had developed strong political beliefs that informed her art, and would soon impact her partner’s as well.
Maar converted to left-wing politics, just like so many poets, surrealist artists and philosophers in the 1930s. In fact, she became one of the Left’s most involved activists—a radical move for a woman at a time when women were still largely excluded from politics in France; they only gained the right to vote in 1944.
French politics split as the Great Depression of 1933 hit. People were divided between a extreme right-wing League and a Left-wing that was united against fascism. Maar was amongst those who signed the Left’s ‘Appel à la lutte ’ (‘Call to the struggle’) manifesto; advocating for a social revolution.
Maar was then involved with the Contre-Attaque, which called for violence and force, not theoretical debate in the fight against Fascism. A passionate member of the group, she signed their manifesto as well as ran their phone line.
Maar’s deep commitment to left-wing ideology can be found in her social-documentary photography from the 1930s. Maar traveled from Paris to London and Barcelona to photograph laborers, unemployed people, children in poor neighborhoods, and those living on streets. She captures the humanity and suffering of the people affected by the Great Depression in photographs that invite viewers to share their compassion.
Picasso was influenced by Maar’s left-wing viewpoints when he met her politically active. Picasso began to share her sympathy and followed in Maar’s creative footsteps, becoming absorbed in the subject of human suffering. This lens is what we need to look through. The Weeping Woman. His famous painting of the same name, which he completed only weeks earlier, must be taken into consideration. Guernica.
In October 1955, visitors to Munich’s Picasso Exhibition, Germany look at Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, ‘La Guernica.
Georg Goebel/Picture Alliance/Getty Images
GuernicaIt is one of the strongest and most moving anti-war artworks in existence. Picasso, a Spanish citizen, depicted in this massive mural of seven meters wide his anger at Guernica’s bombing on 26 April 1937 by German and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War.
Market day was the time that fascist forces used to brutally bomb civilians with their aerial bombers. Many defenseless people, including children, had gathered in the streets of the small town in Spain’s Basque Country. Picasso painted the pain of these victims in human terms, rather than just focusing on the fighter jets and the armed troops.
Dora Maar was the one who discovered a large studio big enough to allow Picasso to paint in. Guernica in. She was able to access a place on Rue des Grands-Augustins near Notre-Dame through her left-wing network. The building was the former headquarters of the ‘Contre-Attaque’ group, of which Maar was a loyal member. After hearing anti-fascist speech here, Maar identified the building as the ideal place for Picasso’s epic protest painting.
Picasso was joined by Maar in the studio. This allowed her to see every stage. GuernicaHe was painted for 36 days. Picasso was working, and she took photographs of him. Picasso was born. Her subject.
Maar’s images also highlight the immense influence that her black-and- white photography had on the artist. Picasso chose a monochromatic color palette consisting of gray, white, and black to paint, which is a stark contrast to Picasso’s earlier vibrant approach. Guernica. The stark, dramatic style of his photography created an eerie vision of fallen and fleeing human figures.
The top of the canvas shows a bright light bulb that looks like an evil eye. It illuminates war victims and exposes their suffering. Maar can be photographed Guernica, she also painted some of the hairs on the horse’s back, at Picasso’s request, and modeled for one of the women. The painting’s extreme left shows a mother holding her child’s lifeless corpse, with her head tipped back. This image is among the most memorable and devastating in the entire painting. Picasso is painting this woman for the first-time.
Continue reading: The Real History Behind Picasso’s Guernica
Only one week later, you’re done! GuernicaPicasso’s first painting was also created in this very studio. The Weeping Woman. Maar remembers Maar telling Maar that she worked tirelessly to complete the canvas in just a few days. She then dated the completed work as Oct. 26, 1937. Picasso’s exploration of the human condition was deepened and continued with this piece. Maar recalls that the crying woman who fled Guernica became a grief-stricken woman. Picasso’s Weeping Woman cries and cries, with no end in sight. The lines in her eyes are jagged and indicate anguish. Her black gown is the universal symbol for mourning. You can confirm that the painting looks like this: Guernica, is an anti-war statement, take a close look at the woman’s eyes: you can see the silhouette of a warplane in place of each pupil.
The Weeping WomanThis is a vivid representation of the immense anguish that war can cause. It encapsulates Maar’s compassion for human suffering, which she had photographed continually, and sympathetically, in her own work. In this portrait, it’s almost as if she is crying in grief at others’ pain.
Speaking out about his portrayal of Maar, Picasso revealed, “For years I gave her a tortured appearance, not out of Sadism, and without any pleasure on my part, but in obedience to a vision that had imposed itself on me.” That vision encompassed the photographer’s political sympathies and anti-fascist stance, which he had grown to share.
While The Weeping Woman can be read as a reflection of Maar’s distress within an abusive relationship, the muse herself refuted this intimate reading: “All [Picasso’s]My portraits are lies. Not one is Dora Maar.” She meant more to Picasso than tears, and she knew it.
Resolute in her beliefs, articulate and persuasive, Maar was instrumental in encouraging Picasso’s political awareness, which culminated Guernica. She played an integral role in the creation of this epic mural—emotionally, creatively and even practically. Picasso’s depiction of the tragic suffering caused by war became yet more palpable in his next protest piece, The Weeping Woman.
Far from a forlorn, love-stricken muse at his mercy, Maar changed the trajectory of Picasso’s practice: she deserves credit for the cataclysmic role she embraced in his career. This is what it looks likeThe Weeping Woman is Maar’s compassion, intelligence and political activism, all of which profoundly inspired Picasso’s anti-war art.
This article was adapted from Muse: Uncovering the Hidden Figures Behind Art History’s Masterpieces Ruth Millington. Pegasus Books. Copyright © 2022 by Ruth Millington
Read More From Time