Finding Dora Maar
An Artist, an Address Book, a Life
“[A] spirited and deeply researched project…. [Benkemoun’s] affection for her subject is infectious. This book gives a satisfying treatment to a woman who has been conﬁned for decades to a Cubist’s limited interpretation.” — Joumana Khatib, The New York Times
Merging biography, memoir, and cultural history, this compelling book, a bestseller in France, traces the life of Dora Maar through a serendipitous encounter with the artist’s address book.
In search of a replacement for his lost Hermès agenda, Brigitte Benkemoun’s husband buys a vintage diary on eBay. When it arrives, she opens it and finds inside private notes dating back to 1951—twenty pages of phone numbers and addresses for Balthus, Brassaï, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, Leonor Fini, Jacqueline Lamba, and other artistic luminaries of the European avant-garde.
After realizing that the address book belonged to Dora Maar—Picasso’s famous “Weeping Woman” and a brilliant artist in her own right—Benkemoun embarks on a two-year voyage of discovery to learn more about this provocative, passionate, and enigmatic woman, and the role that each of these figures played in her life.
Longlisted for the prestigious literary award Prix Renaudot, Finding Dora Maar is a fascinating and breathtaking portrait of the artist.
This work received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program.
French journalist Benkemoun (La Petite Fille sur la Photo) examines the life of former Picasso mistress and Weeping Woman photographer and painter Dora Maar (1907 1997) and the Parisian avant-garde movement in this exhilarating account. After Benkemoun's husband lost his address book, he purchased another on eBay, which the author, upon receiving it, learned had belonged to Maar and contained the names and addresses for such luminaries as Balthus, Brassa , Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Paul luard, and Jacques Lacan. What follows is a combination cultural history and detective story, with the address book's pages being "a small keyhole through which I could peer at a world long vanished and like no other." Over the next two years, Benkemoun obsessively researched the names and addresses to piece together Maar's 10-year relationship with Picasso, her life during the Nazi occupation of Paris, her place among the Surrealists and avant-garde in mid-century France, and her years as a painter after her breakdown and break-up with Picasso, which led to her living out her final days as a virtual recluse. This enthralling study of Paris and its artistic avant-garde should be required reading for Surrealist and modern art lovers.