The Semi-Cautionary Tale of Dora Maar

I recently came across a feature article in the Summer 2017 issue of Porter magazine about Dora Maar, who was a brilliant artist and photographer in her own right yet was remembered almost exclusively as being one of Picasso's muses and mistresses. This story captivated me because Picasso the Great was able to bend, and eventually break, this strong and intelligent woman. Still, she did not allow herself to be completely destroyed.

I wanted to know more.

On one fateful day in 1936, a young Dora met Picasso at Café des Deux Magots. Besotted, they carried on a seven-year long, obsessive love affair. But he was a cruel man. He pitted Dora against Marie-Therèse Walter, another mistress, to battle for his affections–vile–which downright drove her mad.

(Most women–like most people, in general–naturally have a deep-seated fear of having her significant other leave her for someone else. This toxic fear can be all-consuming and manifests itself in detrimental ways–shattering one's sense of self and creating the illusion of becoming nothing without the other. That is why it is so important to maintain a wholeness and completeness within ourselves. We cannot prevent someone from leaving us; we can only say "Goodbye and good luck.")

Picasso, with his mean, narcissistic ways, couldn't stand that Dora excelled in photography. He urged her to abandon her art form for painting instead, convincing her that inside every photographer was a repressed painter. The second she did, though, he swooped in and took over her equipment, lights, and backdrop. Moreover, he wielded his influence by imposing his signature Cubistic style of painting on her, shutting out the possibility for her own individuality to bloom. 

The final blow fell on Dora in 1943 when Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot. With her heart gouged and discarded, Dora was found sitting on the steps of her house naked and unhinged. Picasso's psychoanalyst then administered three weeks of electroshock therapy for the treatment of her nervous breakdown, which was forbidden at the time. Thereafter, Picasso bought a home for her, in which she lived alone and haunted by painful memories for many years.

But the story doesn't end there:

In the late 1950s, Dora Maar was resurrected. She returned to her art and a vibrant social life. Picasso never ceased his attempts to cause her pain and humiliation. She outlived him by 24 years.

To sum it up, here's a passage from Dora Maar: With and Without Picasso by Mary Ann Caws:

Her poems, kept in a medium-sized notebook, end with a sketch headed ‘Stage set for a tragedy’. The stage was indeed set, and the drama enacted. But Dora Maar’s recuperation through her painting, her photography, and her private poetic record of pain and something beyond it, is not a tragedy, but rather a courageous reclamation of her own life, even in–perhaps especially in–solitude.