Guernica by Dora Maar

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1937. Civil war is raging in Spain. Volunteers from all over the world run to Spain to enlist in the International brigades. War is sinister. Civil war is “sinisterer”. Friends against friends. Neihbours against neighbours. Brothers against brothers. On April 26, 1937, the little town of Guernica in Spain, between Bilbao and San Sebastian, is bombed by Hitler’s “Condor Legion”. Testing his weapons for the coming World War.

Picasso immediately sets out to paint one of his – now – most well known paintings as a protest against the atrocities of the bombing. Dora Maar, a well-known photographer then and Picasso’s current mistress, is commissioned to photograph the painting process.

Pay attention to the sketch above. Bottom left a man lying on the ground lifts his right arm, fist closed, in a – final – protest.

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The Pompidou museum acquired Dora Maar’s negatives around the turn of this century. Put together a “diaporama”, a unique testimony of both Dora Maar’s and Picasso’s work. Picasso paints from bottom up. Adding or modifying details as he goes along. A sun has been added at the top centre. The dying man on the floor now holds a wheat ear in his hand.

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Paint is added gradually. Dora Maar faced tremendous photograph challenges. The workshop was badly lit. (See the projector to the right). And the room was not large and deep enough to take an easy shot. I suspect her camera was mounted close to the facing wall.

The face of the man lying on the ground has disappeared.

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The hand holding the wheat has gone. The round sun has become eye-shaped. The face of the man on the floor is now turned to the left. Other elements may have been modified. Anybody spots something else, pray tell…

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Painting is progressing. The screaming horse in the centre of the painting is nearly finished. The man on the ground has turned around completely. His foot and leg have become an arm and a hand. I guess the painting would now “cost an arm and a leg”.

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Almost done. Picasso was a sloppy painter. Paints and brushes thrown on the floor. 😉 Though he used “screens” to protect some details whilst he was painting others. See to the right.

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This is the last of Dora Maar’s shots I managed to take at the her expo last year. I was a tad pissed at a snarling little old man mumbling about people taking photos and not letting others see. I was “glued” to the left wall in a 5 ms wide room… Plenty of space… Focus about the images, forget about a typical French retort. Bite your tongue…

The sun has become a light bulb. The man lying on the floor is now face up.

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Final painting at the Queen Sofia in Madrid. I needed it for “closing”. Of course the image was protected against right-click copy. Museums still have not understood how Internet works. Tsss. Screen-shot plus Photoshop is the “pirate”‘s answer. My heartfelt thanks to the Museum though.

Another note on the process: Picasso took about a month to paint Guernica. Rather fast.

Dora Maar’s work documented the creative process of a unique piece of art. Not sure Picasso was very grateful. Many artists are a tad “proprietary”. And Picasso was not a nice person (in my unwarranted opinion). I view this series as “Guernica” by Dora Maar. To end on cross references:

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Picasso by Dora Maar. c. 1936-37.

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Dora Maar by Man Ray. (Another “biggie” of photography.) I don’t think Picasso ever bothered with a camera. Though it would have been interesting.

Which do you prefer? The above portraits of Maar and Picasso? Or the paintings below?

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Picasso by Dora Maar.

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Dora Maar by Picasso.

Thank you for flying Equinoxio’s Time-Space shuttle and stepping into Picasso’s 1937 workshop. Except for the final painting, all images were taken at the Dora Maar Expo last year at the Pompidou centre. All rights reserved and all that. Many thanks to them for putting together a mind-blowing expo. As usual, y’all stay safe now, ye hear? 😷🙏🏻

78 thoughts on “Guernica by Dora Maar

    • It is isn’t it? It probably is the only documented creative process of any such major work of art.
      Hope all is well with you? (I see the number of cases rocketing in France…) Stay safe. 🙏🏻😷

      • I don’t think so. The painting was “squirelled” away to the US during WWII, for fear of Germans seizing it. Then donated to the Reina Sofia museum in Spain. As far as I know this slide show was put together for the first time last year. It would be a good idea to send the show to Spain.
        Pas de quoi. Fais attention. 😷😷😷

      • The expo was in Paris, last summer. An impressive tribute to Dora Maar’s Talent.
        I don’t know (but then I know I don’t know anything… as old man Socrates said) of any major work documented so. It was a unique combination, Dora Maar was a talented photographer, “hooked up” with a talented painter. Probably not many similar situations…

  1. Very interesting my friend. Extremely fascinating to watch the process unfold. I could stare at the details for hours. And of course I would have been right there with Dora taking minute by minute photos. I LOVE the photo of her by the way. She is a very beautiful woman captured perfectly by Man Ray (of course.) Is the original in black and white or color and you converted? Great post friend! Relevant in todays world it seems as it was then. Little changes it seems.

    • Little change indeed.
      She was a pretty talented woman. The original exposed is a sepia print. The normal wear-out of a B&W picture of the 30’s. I could’ve “redressed” it to B&W, but I like the sepia.
      And that shooting of the various stages of the painting is indeed fascinating. I probably missed a few intermediate shots, the slide show was a bit fast… (And yes, one can imagine oneself there)
      Stay safe.

  2. Seeing the Guernica painting in Spain was a powerful experience. I felt I was there as yhe massacre unfolded. Thanks for the photos of the creative process, really cool to see. I like how Dora Maar played with the cubist style in her portrait of Picasso. Genius.

    • Green with envy. 😉 We went to Madrid a ew years ago, but only went to the Prado, which is a feast in itself, not to the Reina Sofia… It must be hard to see the painting well, as there probably is a crowd in front at all times.
      And yes Dora’s cubist approach was a good example of her genius.

  3. This is fabulous dear Brian. I’m a huge fan of Dora Marr, such a talented beauty, Man Ray as well. Picasso not such a huge fan but once again you have educated me as I had no idea that these photographs existed. Or that there was a romantic relationship between Picasso and Marr. Thank you for a wonderful post once again! 😊🤗

  4. Ah, the many phases he had. I’m more of a Dali fan, but Guernica is special because of its subject. I wonder that his name took on a life of its own in the end. And notably, as video pushed radio to the edges, photography pushed painting. There are many known artists in each country, but very few famous painters now. So an interesting progression historically. From an Aussie point of view I’d have said to self important man, what’s your problem mate? With derisive glare.

  5. Very interesting post. One difference I noticed was the changing orientation of the horse’s ears. Initially, shown pointing to the right, they soon are discovered pointing upward where they remain. The overall setting of the piece seems to change from an outdoor scene to an interior scene. Initially, we see the sun and to the right a building that is on fire. By the end, the scene appears to be in a dark interior with the bulb providing the light. Now, on the right, a person looks to be barring a door from flames or blasts that are coming from outside. As the work evolved, Picasso removed then added back what I’ll call the interior version of the flames. I prefer the photographs to Picasso’s portraits. I very much appreciate the Guernica painting but I don’t like the portraits. When modern art gets too modern, it loses its humanness. Same goes for modern dance. I love certain modern choreographers. Others, leave me cold to the point where I feel their artistic expression displays a lack of respect for their dancers. Same here. But that’s just me.

    • Thank you so much for detailed “reading” of the evolution. I did sense something about the horse but couldn’t quite figure it out. I will have another look to view your exterior/interior perspective…
      About portraits and dance, cubism as some modern choreography were – unknowingly – part of the “deconstruction” process of the 20th century. Problem is, once you break everything down, all you’re left with is rumble. Picasso destroyed art. It led to Pollock who led to Duchamps and it all ended up in the empty canvas that’s at the MOMA I believe.
      And it has taken a long time to revive Art. Personally I think Street Art is the revival phase. (And that’s just me) 😉
      Be good.

  6. Cela ne m’étonne pas que Picasso ne se soit pas intéresse à la photo… Quoique, cela aurait pu être intéressant. Il aurait sûrement pixeliser à fond. 🙂
    Prends soin de toi Brieuc

  7. That was really fascinating to see the process! There was a replica at my Uni, so I passed this for years and years almost every day. Thank you for your trip; for today no favorites. Too hard to pick here 😉

  8. I prefer the photo of Dora and the painting of Picasso. She was absolutely gorgeous and so talented. How did she end up with a narcissistic bully like Picasso? (I share your opinion, obviously) Anyway, I love watching the evolution of the mural. I do like his art. How is it that the most gifted people can sometimes be so vile?

    • I don’t know. A friend of mine spent a whole dinner next to García Marquez (whose work we both adore). She told me the man was insufferable… Hah!
      Maybe I’m good at compartimentalizng… (Pas sûr qu’on dise comme ça en Anglais). I separate things well. I don’t have to like the author to like the books. Or the painter to like the art. 🖼 (Stupid computer is reading my text and suggests emojis… I dislike it very much when machines start to “understand” what I write.)
      Matter of fact about Dora, she came on to Picasso. Hard…

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