Dora Maar’s little-known painting The Conversation 1937 is shown in the UK for the first time in Tate Modern’s new exhibition of the artist’s work. Rarely seen in public, the large-scale canvas features Maar and MarieThérèse Walter, Picasso’s former lover, sitting back to back in a red interior.
This loaded scene is the only known time that Maar addressed the nature of her complicated relationship with Walter. Picasso and Walter had been lovers since 1927 and had a daughter, Maya WidmaierPicasso (born 1935). Maar met Picasso in the winter of 1935-6, although he was to remain close to Walter throughout their relationship. Shown in public for only the third time in its history, The Conversation has been loaned exclusively to Tate Modern. Maar was at the height of her career when she met Picasso, while he was emerging from what he later described as ‘the worst time of my life’. He had not sculpted or painted for months.
The couple pushed one another into new creative territories. Maar taught Picasso the complex cliché verre technique – a method combining photography and printmaking that had intrigued him for years. Picasso, in turn, encouraged Maar’s return to painting. From 11 May to 4 June 1937, Maar photographed the progression of Picasso’s painting Guernica. Historians have long speculated that the electric lamp in Guernica was inspired by one of her studio lights, which Picasso used to illuminate the canvas as he worked. Maar later stated that Picasso had in fact borrowed this feature from one of her paintings. Pre-dating Picasso’s use of the motif in Guernica, Maar included an electric lamp above the figures of herself and Walter in The Conversation. MAJOR SURREALIST PHOTOGRAPHS BROUGHT TOGETHER Over 20 of Dora Maar’s most important surrealist works are brought together for the first time in the UK. A major highlight of Tate Modern’s exhibition dedicated to Dora Maar, these provocative photographs and photomontages have become celebrated icons of surrealism. During the 1930s, Maar was active in left-wing revolutionary groups led by artists and intellectuals. Her political leanings brought her close to the surrealists, and their shared outlook soon expressed itself in her work.
Maar became one of the few photographers included in the major surrealist exhibitions shown during the 1930s in Tenerife, La Louvière, Paris, London, New York, Amsterdam and across Japan. Outstanding examples of this area of Maar’s practice include Portrait of Ubu 1936, an enigmatic image thought to be an armadillo foetus. Maar would never confirm the subject of the photograph, stating: ‘It’s a real animal, but I don’t want to say which one, because it would strip it of its mystery’. The exhibition also features the extraordinary 29, rue d’Astorg c.1936 and The Pretender 1935 shown in the context of works from Maar’s archive which demonstrate how she constructed these images. The Pretender became one of Maar’s most widely circulated photomontages. Maar re-used an image of a boy from a street photograph she had shot in Barcelona, placing him on a backdrop taken from an album about the Palace of Versailles. Maar turned the vaulted ceiling of the original image upside down and retouched the windows to make them appear closed off, creating the oppressive, uncomfortable space of the finished work.