Friday, September 21, 2018

Art Book Review: Picasso and Dora

Despite its title, Picasso and Dora is not a dual biography of the two artists, nor even a chronicle of their relationship, but rather author James Lord's memoir of his expatriate youth in France during which time he became acquainted with both Picasso and Maar.  Picasso himself makes only a few cameo appearances, but his presence hangs over the narrative and has a profound effect upon Maar's and Lord's somewhat confused relationship.  

It is Lord's portrayal of Maar that is most problematical.  Lord himself was never more than a minor figure on the fringes of the European art scene in the 1950's, and it is doubtful he would ever have been invited to all the lunches and dinners he so lovingly describes - he is constantly dropping names, the more famous the better - if he had not been Maar's companion.  Despite his best efforts to present himself as a highly likable if somewhat na├»ve connoisseur of the arts, he is a devious and ultimately untrustworthy narrator.  For example, though he is forever reminding the reader how highly he idealizes Maar, he never misses an opportunity to portray her in a bad light as a miserly, grasping middle-aged woman, eccentric to the point of neurosis.  While Maar was one of the most important and highly respected photographers of the Surrealist period, Lord glosses over her involvement with the medium in a paragraph or two as if it were some minor phase through which she passed before finally finding fulfillment as the lover of Picasso.  Lord also downplays the art Maar created after her split from Picasso and strongly suggests it was never more than mediocre.  (Perhaps it was at that, but there is no way of knowing from what little analysis is presented here.)

The book contains some interesting anecdotes regarding the artists and collectors Lord met during his time abroad, but it should be read with caution.  It is a highly biased account and sometimes seems little more than an excuse for literary revenge on all those, particularly Maar, the author felt had slighted him.

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