Dora Maar. Paris’ best in the 30’s


Dora Maar by Dora Maar. Paris. Mid 30’s. Amazing expo at Pompidou, July 2019.

Dora Maar, born Henriette Dora Markowitch in Paris in 1907, was a French photographer and artist who rose to fame in the 30’s. She knew only the best players of the time. Unfairly “catalogued” as “just one” of Picasso’s many lovers, she was a talented woman with a wide range of interest from photography to painting. The expo last year gave her justice.


Model by Dora Maar, early 30’s. Maar set up a photo studio with Pierre Kiefer. I suppose it was easier for a woman then to present a “male” front. A male signature. Remember women in France did not vote until 1944-1946. The model above still represents the evolution of the time: hair cut short, a man’s jacket on a straight skirt.


Fashion photograph. Mid 30s’

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Dora Maar experimented like many photographers of her time. (I venture that Man Ray was an influence. Or was it the other way round?)


The Greek figure of the three graces, Paris version. Those swimsuits were quite “osés” for the time.

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Suzy Delair (2020-1917) in “Quai des orfèvres”, by Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947. Dora Maar is featured in the movie as a plateau photographer. Suzy Delair was barely 27 at the time. I remember her as a frequent actress in French cinema of the 50’s. (Quai des orfèvres is a street on the Ile de la Cité where the French Police Judiciaire was housed until only recently. Fictitious Commissaire Maigret had his office there.


“Negative” was another frequent experiment by photographers then. (Unless otherwise stated all pictures in this post are by Dora Maar). Model? ‘Forgot, Assia or Jacqueline Lamba.


Shampoo ad. 1934.


Jean-Louis Barrault. Mid to late 30’s. Barrault (1910-1994) and his wife Madeleine Renault, were figures of the French Theatre Avant-garde for many years. They produced and played Ionesco, Beckett, Genet, Duras… Note: those pictures by Dora Maar were projected on a wall of the expo. As I saw and recognized the major French artists of the 30’s through the 60’s, I just couldn’t believe  my eyes: who was this woman?

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Ad for a curling iron. Model: Jannine Loris. She was Jacques Prévert’s wife. Prévert (see below) is one the greatest French poets of the 20th century.


“Your beauty. Seduction. Stay young”. Mid-late 30’s ads.

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Surrealist montage. The model, Jacqueline Lamba, (1910-1993) was the wife of André Breton, the “Pope of surrealism”.


Helena Rubinstein’s apartment. 1937. Name sounds familiar? The apartment was on the Ile Saint-Louis. One of the most exclusive ‘hoods in Paris. Note the typical heavy armchairs of the time and the abundance of African art.


Gisèle de Monfreid. She was the daughter of Henri de Monfreid, a French sailor and adventurer who trafficked just about anything from the coast of Djibouti to Ethiopia to Arabia. Gisèle was brought up partly on her father’s Arab dhow and Djibouti until she came back to Paris and became part of the Paris scene. She was born in 1914, and is still alive (and well I hope) at 106 years young. She wrote a book “My secrets of the red sea” on her childhood there. I still have her father’s books on my shelves. Must look for hers next time I roam the bookboxes along the Seine. (When? Oh! When?)

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Change of venue. “Cantine ouvrière” (Workman’s lunch place) “Meals for 6 Francs 50”. Paris 1933.

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André Breton, the leader of Surrealism. ‘Met Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo on his trip to Mexico.


Dolores Miró, (1930-2004) was the only daughter of Catalan artist Joan Miró. (I would need to put links on all names. Sorry. You’re on your own) 😉

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Street musicians, Barcelona, 1933. The young Spanish Republic was not yet in the midst of the civil war. Many photographers went to Spain to report on the Republic. Frank Capa or Hemingway would go a little later. Dora Maar was no exception.


Dora Maar, 1936, by Man Ray (aka Emmanuel Radnitsky). Didn’t know Man Ray’s real name. (The things you learn with research.) He was one the greatest photographers of the 20th century. This picture is a perfect example of surrealist photography. And also an example of how artists of the time could exchange roles. Artist one day, model the next.


Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), ever the “Dandy”, was a poet, playwright, writer, sketcher multifaceted artist. Openly gay, which wasn’t an issue at the time, he wrote plays and then directed movies, the most famous being Orpheus in 1960. He died the same day as his friend Edith Piaf. All newspapers and magazines had already printed their cover with pictures of Piaf. There is no “Cocteau special issue.”

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Leonor Fini in 1936. Fini was born in Buenos Aires in 1908. died in Paris in 1996. She was a major surrealist painter. With a unique style few have equaled, except maybe for Leonora Carrington. I love her work very much. Have two books on her paintings and sketches. I remember Paris, in the early 70’s, when you could buy a litho of hers for close to “nothing”. My pocket money did not amount to “enough”. Never convinced my parents to buy one. Darn. Do look her up.


Jacques Prévert as a young man. (I’ve always “known” him “old”). Mid 30’s. Prévert (1900-1977) was a major poet and screenwriter. Yves Montand sang many of his songs, particularly “Les feuilles mortes” (Autumn leaves). One of his poems will always remind me Senior High at the French Lycée in Addis-Abeba. End-of-year show. We had to learn  – and present – acts.  A friend of mine learnt and told this one:

“Rappelle-toi Barbara

“Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là…”

(Remember Barbara/it rained endlessly on Brest that day)


Giacometti (1901-1966) was a Swiss sculptor. His slim – often walking – sculptures are a unique contribution to Art. Another of Dora Maar’s friends. (To be continued…)

As I was putting this post together, I thought how much I would have loved to be at a dinner at Dora Maar’s place. Follow the conversation of all those incredible talents. I’d  just wait at the table. Standing in the back. Listening. Hell! I’d even wash the dishes.

Stay safe.






108 thoughts on “Dora Maar. Paris’ best in the 30’s

  1. Recently I read a report about Dora Maar in a Portuguese magazine and I felt truly interested in know more about this artist 🙂 it was wonderful to read your post and see these photos, thanks 🙂 have a great week and cheers from Lisbon, PedroL

    • Thank YOU. One of my takes from that expo was the incredible quantity and variety of talents in France in the 30’s. Now I turn around… Ain’t nobody there. I’m sure talent will resurface. But we need it now.
      (Love that you liked the post.)

      • Great post. We can’t see what’s going on when it’s happening. It’s only later, looking backward, that things become clear. None of them knew how famous they would become or how everyone would love the time they lived in. It’s too bad, but that seems to be the way it always is.

      • It’s been documented scientifically: the observer inside the model does not have as good a perspective as the observer outside the model…

    • Pleasure. it’s the kind of post I always hesitate to publish as I feel many of the references are of interest only to the French… (You prove me wrong. Thank you.)🙏🏻

  2. I must admit that I first heard about Dora Maar in your posts. I also just looked up Leonor Fini, boy was she ahead of her time …

    I saw Jean Cocteau’s “Orphée” and his version of “La belle et la bête”, which I really liked as well. Disney has to make everyting into sex and crime, no symbolism, no spirituality.

  3. I recognised some of the names… Prévert, Barrault… I don’t know, being a peasant I feel that I’d be feeling like a fish out of water at such a convivium. And I remember one of my uncles saying “Giacometti è un esaltato, un buono a nulla!” (Giacometti is a good-for-nothing hothead!) at a family dinner many, many, many years ago. I had a friend called Giacomo and wondered for a second if he was referring to him. I was six, or seven…

    • LOL. I too come from a “cul-terreux” family on my mother’s side. So? You can be who you are if you’re to wash the dishes. 😉 I wouldn’t pass the opportunity.
      Ho capito tuto. E molto facile: “Un exalté! Un bon à rien!”
      Those things grown-ups say thinking kids don’t understand…
      Buona notte

  4. Bet you don’t know which picture I like most! 🙂

    Other than that, the Cocteau gay… I mean, guy… looks so very Stanley Laurel (of Laurel & Hardy) with that weird hair. Funny thing, Giorgio Tsoukalos – from the Ancient Aliens series – has a similar hairdo.

    • It was a strange haircut. Part of Cocteau’s affirmation of who he was. He really didn’t care what people thought. Looked up Tsoukalos. Same barber. And a fan of Von Däniken. 😉
      Your preferred picture? Not a clue. lemme go back to the post.

      • C’est la cantine ouvrière. 😉 (Et je suis OK, merci)
        I’m wearing a ponytail for practical reasons. Haven’t been to the barber’s in the last thirty years. 🙂
        And I don’t care what people think about that either. 😀

      • Glad you’re ok.
        La cantine ouvrière is one of favs too. People always think of Paris as “glamour”. I remember late 50’s early 60’s, the buildings black with soot, even in the “nice” neighbourhoods.
        And the ponytail? Your call. I don’t give a damn about other people’s opinion. It’s not why I do anything. Au revoir.

      • Can’t explain why I like those old sceneries. It’s like an unknown force drawing me to them. Maybe some well hidden memories from a past life…? Dunno.

        Indeed, we should not do (or not do) something just because we think someone else might not like or approve of our actions. And I dare say, going way beyond the scope of a haircut or similar unimportant stuff, that there may be “legal” stuff that is imoral/inhuman as well as there may be “illegal” stuff that may be well moral and/or humane. It’s a twisted world we live in, and the worst is yet to come.

  5. I’d help you wash the dishes!
    Thank you for this wonderful look into the past and some of the greats of a time period.
    You did an excellent post! A++++ I adore it!
    Be safe, and take care!

    • Thank you so much Resa. Funny how one can have doubts about a post, and it finally “works out”.
      Looks like there would have been plenty of volunteers to wash the dishes. 😉
      Take care. 🙏🏻

    • Let’s also factor in their ego… 😉 But, still, I like the idea of standing behind the table at Dora Maar’s Rue de Savoie flat, and just listen. Thanks for your visit and comment.

  6. Thanks for sharing a bit about the Pompidou exhibit and Dora Maar. Paris certainly was overflowing with creative visionaries that all seemed to hang out together. So many of the men are internationally known to this day. I’m glad you’ve taken the time to shine a spotlight on this talented woman.

    • Merci pour la visite et le commentaire.
      Yes, Paris was buzzing then. The men taking front row. (Sounds familiar) I’d heard of Dora Maar, but only as Picasso’s “maîtresse” and the subject of a few portraits.
      When I saw those photographs. I couldn’t believe my eyes: she knew everybody then. Names that even my young compatriots probable don’t know’ny more…
      Joli blog que le tien. I will go back.
      Au revoir et bonne semaine…

      • It is quite possibly the best side of blogging and WP. You do connect with incredible people. In my case from the US to Europe to Africa to India to Asia to the Land of OZ… I’ve even met some other bloggers. Very rich exchanges… Des gens très intéressants. (And none of this aggressivity you find on Twitter or other platforms…)
        A bientôt.

      • Well, I’m glad to’ve clued you. 😉 It took me a while. My original goals when I started blogging are very different from what I do now. It’s also a learning curve.

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