Pablo Picasso (1881 –1973) was known for his obsession with women. Picasso's relationships were always intense and passionate, though he also had a reputation for being abusive and cruel. Their impact on his work was immense: one could easily describe Picasso’s entire career based on his wives and lovers. For each of them, he created a unique pictorial vocabulary, and thus each of his style periods can be linked to a certain person. As Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s most important mistresses, put it: ‘When the woman in the artist’s life changed, virtually everything else changed.’
Picasso met Dora Maar in 1936, on a terrace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris and was instantly fascinated by her. That same night, she was playing a game at the café table, jabbing a sharp knife between her gloved fingers in rapid succession. Inevitably, Maar wounded herself. Picasso would exhibit her bloody gloves for years in his apartment, as a souvenir of their first meeting.
Dora Maar was an impressive, striking woman and a well-known photographer and respected artist in Surrealist circles. She was also involved in left-wing political activities, and it is well possible that she stimulated Picasso to paint the Guernica (1937), his famous condemnation of Fascist Spain for bombing this Basque town. As part of the preliminary studies for Guernica, Picasso made a series of drawings and paintings of weeping women, trying to express their pain and suffering during a war. These portraits clearly reveal the facial features of Dora.
The universal and personal significance for Picasso coincided here: the style of The Weeping Woman reflects the rising tension in their relationship and forebodes its disintegration. Dora’s face is fragmented and her features are dislocated. The Surrealist artist Ronald Penrose, who purchased Weeping Woman shortly after its completion, poetically caught its essence, writing: ‘The white handkerchief pressed to her face hides nothing of the agonized grimace on her lips: it serves merely to bleach her cheeks with the color of death. Her fumbling hands knotted with the pain of her emotion join the teardrops that pour from her eyes.’
(text: Maarten Levendig)