What Material Did Pablo Picasso Use in His Painting "Tete De Femme (Dora Maar)"?

by Scott Thompson
Pablo Picasso used oil paints in his portrait of Dora Maar.

Pablo Picasso used oil paints in his portrait of Dora Maar.

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Dora Maar was a French photographer; she was the lover of Pablo Picasso in Paris during the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and the German occupation. Picasso created a number of portraits of Maar as well as several sculptures; he used the title "Tete du Femme (Dora Maar)" for more than one work.

Oil Painting

On May 25, 1941, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted a portrait of his mistress entitled "Tete de Femme (Dora Maar)" or "Head of a Woman (Dora Maar)." This portrait measures 16-1/8-by-13-1/8 inches. Christie's auction house sold this piece for $16,281,000 in 2007. As in many of Picasso's works, the portrayal of Maar's features is not naturalistic, and the shapes he uses are semi-abstract. The materials used in this painting were oil paints on canvas.


Picasso also used the title "Tete de Femme (Dora Maar)" for a bust; this sculpture of Dora Maar's face, one that has been described as Picasso's finest, was also created in 1941. Unlike many of Picasso's portraits of Dora Maar, this sculpture is naturalistic and has even been described as a romanticized image in which Maar is portrayed as an archetypal "Mother Courage." The material Picasso used for this bust was bronze.

Other Portraits of Dora Maar

The two pieces entitled "Tete de Femme (Dora Maar)" are somewhat different from many of Picasso's other portrayals of his muse, which tend to use violent-looking colors and shapes. "Dora Maar au Chat" ("Dora Maar with a Cat") from 1941, has been described as having an aggressive and tense quality, as Maar grips the arms of a huge chair as if her hands had claws. Picasso's "Portrait of Dora Maar" portrays one of Maar's cheeks as an apple, suggesting a comparison to the Biblical Eve.

Picasso's Wartime Materials

During the years in which Picasso was painting Dora Maar, his native Spain was going through the Spanish Civil War. Picasso had relocated to Paris, but the city fell under German occupation after the defeat of the French in the Second World War. Life in Paris under the Nazis was highly restricted, and Picasso often did not have access to standard art materials. While his "Tete de Femme (Dora Maar)" is an oil on canvas, Picasso had actually been forced to make many of his canvases out of newspaper; the canvas for his famous painting of the bombing of Guernica is primarily comprised of newspaper, for example.

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