As creator or subject, the French artist Dora Maar was a part of some of the 20th century’s most arresting images. She gave us the haunting photograph of a manicured hand emerging from a seashell, set against an ominous night sky. Yet in the eyes of Pablo Picasso, her lover, who painted her rather aggressively, she was “the weeping woman.” A central figure in the Surrealist movement of the 1920s and 1930s, Maar developed a status as a muse and self-styled icon that sometimes surpassed her recognition as an artist. An exhibition at London’s Tate Modern—the first major retrospective of Maar’s work in the U.K.—offers a more expansive look at a multifaceted career that lasted upwards of six decades.
Maar is known primarily for her photomontages, but she was also a painter who moved through a variety of styles, from Cubist-inspired still lifes to gritty self-portraits. Her commercial work was delightfully strange and artful. In one image, the model’s hair, filled with shampoo suds, is swept sideways like sea-foam in the wind; another image, presumably for an anti-aging product, shows a woman removing a mask of her own face.