The sale of the Dora Maar succession at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris attracted over 1,000 people on its first auction day but failed to register high bids regarding paintings.
The French State was responsible for such unsatisfactory results after it delivered its export licenses only 72 hours before the sale which took place during the evening of October 27th 1998.
The delay for issuing these licenses dissuaded many American buyers from coming to Paris and the total turnover for this first auction session – 150,86 million francs inclusive of buyer premiums (US $ 27,43 million)- was quite disappointing in view of the legendary provenance of works.
French expert Marc Blondeau said the State's procrastination regarding the issuing of export licenses as well as the withdrawal of several interesting pieces, such as the portrait of Max Jacob , the splendid Dora Maar and the Minotaur and a series of paper cuttings all due to enter French museums as part of a deal to allow other works to be exported, had a negative effect on the sale.
The best score was for the “Weeping Woman” (Study for Guernica) which fetched 37 million francs (US $ 6,727 million) against a top pre-sale estimate of 20 million.
Still, as Marc Blondeau noticed, such painting, which went to the Apedoros Gallery of Zurich, would have reached a higher price in New York. “This proves that Paris is not the right place to sell masterpieces,” he added.
Most oil paintings fared badly, “Dora Maar with green nails” painted in 1936 went to Berlin dealer Berggruen for 23 million francs (US $ 4,18 million) against a top pre-sale estimate of 30 million and the buyer was much surprised and in fact elated not to face a stronger challenge.
“Dora Maar on the beach” which illustrated the cover of the catalogue only fetched 11,5 million francs (US $ 2,09 million) against a top estimate of 12 million. Thousands of people had queued for hours in front of the Maison de la Chimie during the days preceding the sale in order to pay homage to Dora Maar and at least 1,200 packed in the auction rooms to attend that special event but the atmosphere was rather cold.
In fact most drawings appeared to have sold quite well but one has to stress that estimates were ridiculously low. A 1904 ink drawing showing a seated dishevelled bearded man fetched 2,7 million francs (US $ 490,000), a coloured portrait of Dora Maar crowned with flowers went for 4,7 million francs (US $ 854,000) against a top pre-sale estimate of 1,8 million, a pencil drawing showing a bather skipping a rope went for 4,4 million francs (US $ 800,000) against a ridiculous estimate of 500,000 francs, a pencilled portrait of a pensive Dora Maar was bought
3 million francs (US $ 545,000) by Zurich and Berlin dealer Bernt Schultz while “Dora Maar asleep” fetched 3,8 million francs
($ 690,000) (also to Schultz). The highest bid was for “Dora Maar with dishevelled hair” which went for 5 million francs (US $ 909,000) to Berggruen.
Strangely enough, “Dora Maar and an antique figure”, a drawing showing Dora Maar entering a room where stands an authoritarian, charismatic demigod looking downwards to impose his power, only fetched 1.6 million francs (US $ 290,900) despite its historical importance. In fact, this drawing summed up the relationship between the young photographer and the then 55-year-old master, she being submitted to him during the next eight years. This drawing was produced on August 1st 1936 a few days after Dora had become Picasso's mistress.
A new York dealer said before the sale he hoped for much “electricity” but showed much disappointment three hours after. “ This sale is disastrous because there were no French buyers. This shows that Paris will never challenge New York”, he added ironically.
During the past 50 years the press and all other media had never covered a sale in such a glamorous way. Still the event was considered as a flop by Paris dealer Daniel Malingue who said most paintings were sold under their real value.
The two important pieces which were given to the State just before the sale, the portrait of Max Jacob and “Dora Maar with the Minotaur” would probably have fetched high prices and their absence was prejudicial to the French auctioneers, PIASA and Mathias who conducted the sale.
Until a few months ago French officials thought that the collection of Dora Maar who died without any descent would go to the State but executors entrusted two genealogists to find possible heirs. Eventually they found two distant cousins, one aged 90, a parent of Dora's mother in the Touraine region, and the other aged 93, from the family of her father, in Croatia.
The heirs will receive 40% of the net proceeds of the sale after a deduction of death duties and a cut of 30% of this share due to go to the genealogists. In addition, the heirs of Picasso are entitled to a 3% share as part of vested interests regarding all artists who have died less than 70 years ago.
The daughter of Dora Maar's Croatian cousin visited the pre-sale exhibition and told the daily le Figaro that previously she only knew of Dora through the portraits painted by Picasso. “I had no idea that she was a member of our family nor that she had a Croatian father. We were quite surprised to learn she was our cousin as we always thought her father had settled in Argentina for good. My mother used to speak a lot about this cousin who had been very close to our family before he left the country,” she said.
She added that she had been proud to learn about her ties with Dora but thought she had suffered much being the companion of Picasso. “he was a great artist but as he Spaniard he was inclined to use people. Their relationship was probably too short to lead to happiness but strong enough to make her live with all these memories,” she added.
Dora's cousin did not wish to attend the sale nor to be identified for fear of the mafia in her country. “I like to live in an anonymous way though I was moved by the homage paid to Dora, “ she said.
She stressed that the money her family would receive – between US $ 7,5 and 10 million- would be much welcomed.
“It's like a fairy tale. My mother felt a bit tipsy on learning about the amount but she always raised us saying we should forget about the terms I don't know, I can't and I don't want, “ she said.
Asked what she thought of Dora's portrait of Picasso, a painting produced in 1937 which fetched a surprising price of 290,000 francs (US $ 52,730) against a pre-sale estimate of 60,000 francs, she replied that she had probably avenged herself in some way. This portrait painted in a style similar to that of Picasso was perhaps produced with the help of the master himself during the last quarter of 1936.
There will be in all six series of sales to disperse Dora Maar's collection from October 27th until December 7th 1998 but contrary what was believed she had already sold some paintings as well as 92 photos which were acquired by the 1900-2000 gallery in Paris in 1990 in order to ensure a living.
Many items offered for sale have no real artistic value except for their provenance. Still their emotional aura were excepted to push prices up during the next sessions. Some paper cuttings, worth less than US $ 1,000 might tempt some amateurs though these are not allowed to leave French territory. It is likely that the State will pre-empt many of these.
Many dealers criticised the State for having put pressure on the vendors regarding the fate of “the Weeping Woman” for which an export license was granted provided the Max Jacob Portrait and “Dora and the Minotaur” were given to French museums. French officials probably wanted to avenge themselves after learning that the collection would not go entirely to the State after Dora Maar, who had turned into a pious Catholic during the last 40 years of her life, left no will.
The newspaper “Le Monde” noted that the only people who accompanied her funeral convoy were museum curators who were convinced that her collection would fall into their hands.
Those who are the real winners in this case are the two genealogists, who decided to hold the sale in Paris- who will share between US $ 5 and 6 million. Sotheby's and Christie's representatives argued that if the sale had taken place in New York the heirs would have been far better off. They were not entirely wrong following the rather disappointing results recorded for most Picasso's paintings.
Strangely enough French amateurs packed in the auction rooms as for a film preview but took no effective part in the bidding. They were just like onlookers watching a special event and the only positive thing was the homage paid to Dora Maar during the pre-sale exhibition.
Dora, who was dubbed as the “Weeping woman” by Picasso had suffered much during their relationship because she reflected in Picasso's mind the harsh war years. She later befriended Marcel Fleiss, owner of the 1900-2000 gallery in Paris who organised an exhibition of her works and bought 92 photographs from her.
Dora, who raised in Argentina, came back to France during the 1920's and studied painting with André Lhote before meeting Henri Cartier-Bresson who advised her to take up photography . She started to work in 1930 and travelled to Spain and Britain as a reporter. A left-winger, she then became close to the Surrealist movement and took part with André Breton and Georges Batille in the Union of intellectuals against fascism in 1935. A year later she was introduced by Paul Eluard, the French poet, to Picasso.
She had some deep influence over Picasso's political stand and she probably played a role in his decision to join the French Communist party in October 1944 two months after they parted. Dora also played an active role in the production of the famous “Guernica” painting in 1937 taking photos from start to finish thus giving to the world a rare documented testimony of the achievement of a masterpiece. She also inspired Picasso during the completion of this work in which she served as a model for the woman shouting with her arms raised. Eventually, she enabled him to produce some of his best works between 1936 and 1944.
Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot who was to become his new mistress and Dora suffered from a severe nervous breakdown which led her to be treated in a lunatic asylum. From then on she became a staunch catholic devout and lived as a solitary woman until her death in 1997.