Twenty-eight photographs taken by Dora Maar between 11 May and 4 June 1937 at Picasso’s studio provide a unique record of the making of one of the most iconic artworks of the 20th century. When the government of the Second Spanish Republic commissioned from the artist a large-scale mural for Spain’s national pavilion at the Paris World Exposition, his homeland was suffering a bloody civil war. The decision to adopt the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the Luftwaffe, which supported General Francisco Franco, as the topic of the piece was made spontaneously. Picasso began to sketch his composition five days after the air raid. When Maar took the first photograph a few days later, he was already working on the intended monumental scale. Her photographs show that when tracing the first lines on the canvas Picasso did not yet have a complete concept of how to depict the unimaginable enormity of suffering of the destroyed town’s civilian population. As T.J. Clark wrote, “Guernica was planned and painted in the space of five weeks. Making the thing was an astounding feat of concentration. All its politics—all its response to Fascism and Communism and the new face of war—were in the picture.” Maar’s photographs became extremely significant not only for the later process of understanding Picasso’s work, but also for the very shape of the piece, as Picasso is said to have relied on Maar’s carefully retouched images for help even during the making of Guernica. According to one hypothesis, the photographs played a key role in the final selection of the monochrome palette and the particular sharp illumination of the portrayed figures.
Dora Maar (real name Henriette Theodora Markovitch, b. 1907 in Tours, d. 1997 in Paris) – French photographer and painter, member of the Paris Surrealist circle. She was a collaborator of Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, Brassaï and the director Jean Renoir, among other figures. Politically engaged in the 1930s on the side of the anti-fascist left wing, she was a member of the French Communist Party and the revolutionary movement Contre-Attaque, founded by Georges Bataille and André Breton.