Picasso had been painting portraits of Dora Maar since their illicit affair began in 1936, and even today she remains one of the most unforgettable faces of his entire oeuvre. In each portrait, Picasso seeks to re-invent Dora through the complex manipulation of her face, resulting in highly expressive and psychologically powerful compositions.
Picasso and Dora first met in January 1936. According to Françoise Gilot:
Pablo told me that one of the first times he saw Dora she was sitting at the Deux Magots. She was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéd on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long, pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with the knife, her hand was covered with blood. Pablo told me that was what made up his mind to interest himself in her. He was fascinated. He asked her to give him the gloves and he used to keep them in a vitrine at the rue des Grands-Augustins, along with other mementos (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 85-86).
In contrast to some of Picasso's more monstrous and distorted portrayals of Dora, such as examples from the Femme qui pleure series, his treatment of Dora in the present work is more controlled yet intensely animated and decorative, perhaps accentuating the more playful side to her personality. Richly laden with thick and brightly colored impasto, Picasso leaves no inch of the canvas untouched. Against a bright yellow background, the composition can barely accommodate the sitter, who seems ready to spring into the viewer's space.
Photographs reveal Dora to have been a woman of dramatic good looks, her most striking features were her thick mantle of black hair and her dazzling, soulful eyes. It was her eyes that most forcefully conveyed her great intelligence, romantic depth and artistic sensitivity. In this and in other portraits of her, Picasso always emphasized Dora's eyes.
As Brigitte Léal has observed, "The essentially illustrative and decorative quality of these portraits seems to deviate from the Surrealist canon of 'convulsive' beauty that perfectly suited Dora's psychology . . . They embody the height of modern beauty, as Breton envisioned it, based on the principle of vital disorder, which the figure of Dora Maar, in her extreme mutability, her real, spiritual restlessness, will forever incarnate" (B. Léal, "For Charming Dora: Portraits of Dora Maar", Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 404).
Buste de femme à la frange
Oil on canvas
Dated '2.6.38.' (lower right); dated again '2.6.38.' (on the stretcher)
New York, C&M Arts, Picasso's 'Dora Maar', de Kooning's 'Women', April-May 1998, no. 23 (illustrated in color).
14 x 9 in. (35.6 x 22.8 cm.)
D.D. Duncan, Picasso's Picassos, New York, 1961, p. 234 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1982, vol. 9, no. 123 (illustrated, pl. 60).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catlaogue 1885-1973: Spanish Civil War 1937-1939, San Francisco, 1997, p. 161, no. 38-088 (illustrated).
Estate of the artist.
Claude Ruiz-Picasso, Paris.
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (on consignment from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 7 June 1993.