Dora Maar (2020): ‘Grotesque Realism and Fantastic Confrontation’ – Art Review



In recent years there seems to be a look back on Surrealism‘s greatest artists. It remains uncertain what’s inspired this interest, but there is one massive difference that remains at the heart of this vision. We are viewing the feminine. Because of recent exhibitions looking at Dorothea Tanning, Leonora Carrington, Francesca Woodman and undoubtedly more. Whilst a key exhibit was perhaps the Angels of Anarchy, which shows this with a useful overview of such females of Surrealism. It would be interesting to know where it started, but it is here and it is strong. Dora Maar is another example, she was a photographer and painter – despite the late discovery of her paintings. In spite of her diversity, she is most remembered for her Surrealist photography. Man Ray, another Surrealist photographer, once politely refused her offer as a studio assistant, saying that there’s nothing that he could teach her. Demonstrating her talent, her works were pivotal and play an important and powerful part of the Surrealist existence within Paris at its height.


A Diverse Artist

Overshadowed by her works exploring surrealism, Dora Maar was actually an artist with a lot more diversity. The exhibition at the Tate, made large efforts to ensure that there were examples of many of her works amongst the more famous pieces as well in order to prove this. Despite being known for her photography, the exhibition also explored her abstract paintings as well. Something that she kept hidden whilst she was alive. Despite these efforts, representations of her, by artists like Man Ray and Picasso, suggest otherwise. But interestingly we had also pictures of artists like Leonor Fini amongst her photography showing female artistry. However, as well as her works of Surrealism, she also had a huge interest in people and realism. This included photography of every day people in fantastical and ugly positions. Showcasing her ability to bring out the strange in everyday circumstances and an authentic reality.



Her works of Surrealism bore a similarity to Man Ray, but this was largely superficial. For example works of solarisation were included, known to be a common technique of Man Ray’s. These photos are some of the more famous examples of Dora Maar’s photography, however, this loses a sense of Dora Maar’s unique talent. Despite this, Dora Maar paved the way for many photographic techniques that were Surrealist in nature. Examples include the use of double exposure to show the multiple connotations of identity and objects. This functions similarly to Rene Magritte‘s use of the image. Best works to display these ideas are ‘Hand and Shell’ and ‘Hand and Mirror’ or with ‘Double Portrait’. Through her life’s work her photography also continued to show a lot of presence in characters and models. In particular, she used the body in contortion, such as in ‘La Simulateur (The Simulator)’ and ‘Sans titre (Onirique)’.  Because of these photographs, the exhibition began to demonstrate her individual artistry.



This exhibition manages to search through Dora Maar’s lifetime to find the artworks that show common themes, practices and developments. Therefore showing how an artist can see images and use the everyday for thought-provoking realism, or for the fantastique, through Surrealism. This subsequently paints the idea that Dora Maar’s imagery, shouldn’t be overshadowed by her peers. Therefore saying she isn’t a Man Ray imitator, nor was she merely the muse of Picasso. Instead, she was talented, using her desire to confront us with grotesque realities, which she went to lengths to do. Meanwhile, images like ‘Portrait of Ubu’ made reality surreal before our eyes. She shows us something unfamiliar but in a new light. Art that is confrontational in its realism but surreal in its representation. It is how the image can be used. It is a Dora Maar.


Dora Maar was shown at the Tate Modern from 20th November 2019 until 15th March 2020.


Further Reading

Dora Maar at the Tate Modern

Dora Maar on Artsy

How Picasso’s Weeping Woman got the Last Laugh

Time Out Review

Guardian Review

Telegraph Review

Dora Maar: A Solo Retrospective – Review

Standard Review

Art Fund Review


If you liked this…

Dorothea Tanning (2019): ‘Her Life in Artworks’ – Art Review

Francesca Woodman – Zig Zag 2014 – Art Review

Dalí/Duchamp 2017 – Art Review

Man Ray, Exhibition at National Portrait Gallery – Art Review


See a selected list of works below:

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