‘Inès Sassier and Olive Tree Trunk Armchair.’ Hôtel Vaste Horizon, Mougins, Summer 1937. Photo courtesy of Dora Maar.

“Dora Maar”
September 22, 2023 – October 28, 2023
Paul Stolper Gallery
31 Museum Street, London, WC1A, 1LH

London’s Paul Stolper Gallery presents an exhibition of photographs by Dora Maar, born Henriette Markovitch in Paris in 1907. The assortment of Dora Maar’s negatives, original silver gelatin contacts, and posthumous prints offer a detailed glimpse into her work, predominantly from the 1930s. In an era when the lines between commercial and ‘art’ photography and between art, advertising, and fashion were indistinct, Maar, a groundbreaking photographer, navigated these domains seamlessly. Her advertisement photography often blended reality with fantasy, enabling her to maintain a commercial career while playing a vital role in the emerging Surrealist movement in Paris.

Dora Maar excelled as a portrait photographer. In her professional career, she undertook assignments for erotic magazines while personally capturing intimate portraits of friends and fellow artists. The exhibition showcases her prowess in this domain, most notably in the portrait of her friend and fellow Surrealist, painter Jaqueline Lamba. In this powerful image, Lamba sits unclothed beside a bed with its stark shadow, bathed in intense natural light, contrasting with the room’s enveloping darkness. This portrayal resembles Maar’s iconic 1934 photograph of Assia Granatouroff, a model emblematic of the 1930s nude.

JACQUELINE LAMBA, AUGUST 1939. Photo courtesy of Dora Maar.

In this image, Assia is depicted not merely as a naked subject but as a representation of feminine sensuality, reflecting Maar’s response to the deep explorations of female sexuality by male intellectuals she encountered, such as Georges Bataille and Jacques Lacan. The era, characterized by a rise in naturism, outdoor activities, greater female liberation post World War I, and a decline in prudishness, allowed photographers like Maar to celebrate the nude form without anchoring it in mythological contexts or traditional pictorial justifications. This context equally informs Maar’s portrayal of Lamba.

JARDIN DES TUILERIES – PARIS C. 1935, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dora Maar.

The exhibition showcases the full range of Maar’s photographic contributions, paralleling the innovative street photography that Man Ray and Brassai simultaneously practiced. This is evident in the ‘Jardin des Tuileries’ image, which depicts a tranquil Paris with water mirroring the garden’s stretch of lights. Similarly, her two ‘Cygnes Sur un Bassin’ images delve into the Surrealist theme of water reflections, presenting an inverted, fantastical, surreal scene that challenges our perception of reality.

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