Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

by Adrian Darmon

Pablo Picasso
Dora and the Minotaur


Weeping Woman
(Study for Guernica)

$6.7 million

Dora Maar with
Green Nails

$4.18 million

Dora Maar
on the Beach

$2.09 million

Dora Maar with
a Crown of Flowers


Dora Maar with
Disheveled Hair


Dora Maar and an
Antique Figure



Two Animal Heads


The White Lap-Dog

Five Studies
on Matchboxes



Dora Maar
Portrait of Picasso
   The two-day sale of the Dora Maar estate at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris, Oct. 27-28, 1998, attracted over 1,000 people on its first day but failed to register astronomical bids for its rare paintings by Picasso.

The French government shares responsibility for this result, since it delayed delivering export licenses for the art works until only 72 hours before the sale. The problematic French practice regarding art export dissuaded many American buyers from coming to Paris. The total result for the first evening session, FF150,860,000, inclusive of the buyer premium ($27,430,000) -- was quite disappointing in view of the legendary provenance of the works.

French art dealer Marc Blondeau also noted the negative effect on the sale of the withdrawal of several interesting pieces, such as the portrait of Max Jacob, the splendid Dora Maar and the Minotaur and a series of paper cuttings. All are due to enter French museums as part of a deal to allow other works to be exported.

The best price came for Weeping Woman (Study for Guernica) (1937), which fetched 37 million francs ($6.7 million) against a top pre-sale estimate of FF20 million.

Still, as Blondeau noticed, the painting, which went to the Apedoros Gallery of Zurich, would have reached a higher price in New York. "This proves that Paris is not the right place to sell masterpieces," he added.

Most oil paintings fared (relatively) badly. Dora Maar with Green Nails (1936) went to Berlin dealer Heinz Berggruen for 23 million francs ($4.18 million) against a top presale estimate of FF30 million, and the buyer was elated not to have faced a stronger challenge. Dora Maar on the Beach, which is illustrated on the cover of the catalogue, only fetched 11.5 million francs ($2.09 million) against a top estimate of FF12 million.

Drawings sold well
Most of the drawings sold quite well, though their estimates were ridiculously low. A color portrait of Dora Maar crowned with flowers went for 4.7 million francs ($854,000) against a top presale estimate of FF1.8 million. A penciled portrait of a pensive Dora Maar was bought for 3 million francs ($545,000) by dealer Bernt Schultz of Zurich and Berlin. Shultz also purchased Dora Maar Asleep for 3.8 million francs ($690,000). The highest bid was for Dora Maar with Disheveled Hair, which went for 5 million francs ($909,000) to Berggruen.

Strangely enough, Dora Maar and an Antique Figure, a drawing showing Maar coming home from her shopping to be greeted by Picasso as a charismatic Greek demigod, only fetched 1.6 million francs ($290,900) despite its historical importance. This drawing summed up the relationship between the young photographer and the then-55-year-old master. It was produced on Aug. 1, 1936, a few days after Dora had become Picasso's mistress.

Before the sale, a New York dealer had said that he hoped for "electricity." A few hours later he was disappointed. "This sale is disastrous because there were no French buyers. Paris will never challenge New York," he added ruefully.

Despite the high prices, many observers considered the event a flop. Paris dealer Daniel Malingue noted that most of the paintings were sold for less than their real value.

The second day
Prices for Picasso's drawings and paper cuttings went skyrocketing during the second day of the sale, Oct. 28, 1998. Many of the works carried tantalizing estimates ranging from as little as $1,000 to $10,000.

Bidders battled throughout the auction for many little pieces. A pencil portrait of Dora with a knot of hair went to the Simon Dickinson Gallery of London for 2.1 million francs ($381,800), against a top presale estimate of FF300,000.

This bid signaled the start of some intense duels. A rather erotic nude, done in Dec. 1938 and titled Adora, sold for 1.1 million francs ($200,000). Its presale estimate was FF80,000-FF100,000.

Torn, burnt and cut papers sold at prices beyond all expectations. These unique little items were created by Picasso exclusively for Dora. However, most of these pieces were pre-empted by the government and will end up in state museums.

Two torn papers showing two animals (their features burnt in with a lighted cigarette) were pre-empted at 60,000 francs ($10,900) against an estimate of FF3,000. Another one representing a goat went for 100,000 francs ($18,180). A strangely unformed image of a small white lap-dog topped them all at 150,000 francs ($27,270).

Among the other "souvenirs" were five studies on matchboxes that sold for 1.1 million francs ($200,000) against a low estimate of FF40,000. Pebbles engraved by Picasso also made some sensational prices. A portrait of a weeping woman scratched into an irregular piece of terra-cotta sold for 360,000 francs ($65,450). A bone pendant-amulet showing Maar's profile went to Richard Rodriguez, the French collector who discovered Basquiat, for 170,000 francs ($30,900) against a presale estimate of FF30,000.

Jewels once created by Picasso to calm down the tempestuous Dora were also much coveted. One chiseled ring with a portrait of Dora with disheveled hair went for 650,000 francs ($118,180) and a rectangular watch inserted in a chromium-plated metal ring engraved with a Cubist portrait of Dora fetched 380,000 francs ($69,000) against a top presale estimate of FF40,000.

Meanwhile, a small sculpture in wood and plaster showing a bird standing on a wire sold for the incredible price of 2.1 million francs ($381,800) against a top pre-sale estimate of 70,000 francs.

Auction fever animated the crowd throughout the second session, much to the satisfaction of the auctioneers. It is likely that the historical items in future sales, such as photographs and books, will be hotly contested.

There will be six series of sales in all to disperse Dora Maar's collection from Oct. 27 until Dec. 7. Contrary to earlier reports, Maar had in fact sold some works during her lifetime, including 92 photos bought in 1990 by the 1900-2000 gallery in Paris.

Dora's heirs
Until a few months ago French officials thought that the entire Maar collection would go to the state. Dora Maar, who became a pious Catholic during the last 40 years of her life, had left no will. But two genealogists searched for possible heirs and eventually found two distant cousins, one aged 90, a relative of Dora's mother living in France's Touraine region, and the other aged 93, from the family of her father, living in Croatia.

The heirs will receive 40 percent of the net proceeds of the sale after a deduction of death duties. A cut of 30 percent of the heirs' share goes to the genealogists. In addition, Picasso's heirs are entitled to a three-percent share as part of a special French resale royalty for artists who have died less than 70 years ago.

Maar's Croatian cousin visited the pre-sale exhibition and told the daily Le Figaro that previously she only knew of Dora through the portraits painted by Picasso. "I had no idea that she was a member of our family or that she had a Croatian father. We were quite surprised to learn she was our cousin as we always thought her father had settled in Argentina for good. My mother used to speak a lot about this cousin who had been very close to our family before he left the country," she said.

She added that she had been proud to learn about her ties with Dora but thought she had suffered much being the companion of Picasso. "He was a great artist but as a Spaniard he was inclined to use people. Their relationship was probably too short to lead to happiness but strong enough to make her live with all these memories," she added.

Dora's cousin did not wish to attend the sale or to be identified for fear of organized crime in her country. "I like to live in an anonymous way though I was moved by the homage paid to Dora," she said.

She stressed that the money her family would receive -- between $7.5 million and $10 million -- would be much welcomed. "It's like a fairy tale."

Asked what she thought of Dora's portrait of Picasso, a painting produced in 1937 which fetched a surprising price of 290,000 francs ($52,730) against a pre-sale estimate of 60,000 francs, she replied that Dora had probably avenged herself in a way. Painted in a style similar to that of Picasso, it was perhaps produced with the help of the master himself during the final months of 1936.

Dora's bio
Dora, who was raised in Argentina, came back to France during the 1920s and studied painting with André L'hote before meeting Henri Cartier-Bresson, who advised her to take up photography. Around 1930 she followed his advice, and traveled to Spain and Britain as a reporter. A left-winger, she took part in the union of intellectuals against fascism in 1935 along with André Breton, Georges Bataille and others in the Surrealist movement. A year later she was introduced to Picasso by the French poet Paul Eluard.

Maar may have played a role in Picasso's decision to join the French Communist party in Oct. 1944, two months after they parted. Dora definitely played an active role in the production of Guernica in 1937, taking photos from start to finish and thus giving to the world a rare documented testimony of the achievement of a masterpiece. Maar also served as a model for the woman shouting with her arms raised.

In the end, she inspired Picasso to produce some of his best works of the 1936-1944 period. Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot, who was to become his new mistress. Maar subsequently suffered from a severe nervous breakdown that landed her in a lunatic asylum. She lived from then on as a solitary woman until her death in 1997.

ADRIAN DARMON writes on art from Paris.