Jewelry by Pablo Picasso: the secret stash of Dora Maar

In case you were wondering, the Picasso in Picasso to Koons: Artist as Jeweler, opening next month at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC, is Pablo, not his daughter Paloma, who designed jewelry for Tiffany.

Among the 135 pieces of jewelry by famous 20th century artists, you’ll find five by Pablo Picasso, all produced in high-karat gold by François Hugo. Here is one:

Le Grand Faune brooch of 23k gold, 20/20 edition François Hugo after Pablo Picasso, 1973 (private collection of Diane Venet)

All are recognizably Picasso. None will knock your socks off like Calder Jewelry did a few years ago or Salvador Dali’s jewelry if you visit the Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain. But they do add significantly to the theme of this display: that just about everybody who made famous art in the past century appears to have dabbled in the wearable variety.

There is a less-told story about jewelry by Pablo Picasso, but you won’t find any of it at MAD. It’s the story of the jewelry Picasso made much earlier, in the 1930s, for his lover Dora Maar.

Ady, Marie Cuttoli, her husband, Man Ray, Picasso and Dora Maar, photographed by Man Ray in the South of France, 1937 (photo by Man Ray)

Maar stashed away the evidence a good thirty years before Picasso collaborated on those limited-edition gold pieces with Hugo. It wasn’t until her death in 1997 that the surprising cache came to light.

Ink and color pencil drawing by Picasso set in frame-shaped pendant for Dora Maar, c. 1936-1939

You might remember the media storm surrounding the auction that followed her death. When appraisers came to Maar’s Paris apartment, they discovered a virtual Picasso museum: nearly 60 drawings, 10 paintings worth millions, a number of photographs Maar made of her lover, his work, and their famous friends, and a slew of mementos.

Among them were a number of brooches, rings, and carved amulets that Picasso made for her during their tumultuous war-time affair. “The jewelry [and mementos] were all over the place, under beds, in old shoeboxes. She kept it up very zealously as a memorial to Picasso,” said Marc Blondeau at the time. Blondeau was founding director of Sotheby’s Paris and helped catalog the items in Maar’s apartment on Rue de Savoie, where she lived during and after her liaison with Picasso.

The auction of Maar’s estate sent Paris into a frenzy, attracting bidding from all over the world. Streets were jammed with traffic as people crowded into Paris. Some 20,000 showed up at the Maison de la Chime where the auction was held. Most people simply wanted a peek at the items for sale, most of which had never been displayed publicly and were likely to disappear into private collections.

Portrait of Dora Maar engraved on brass plate of Juvénia watch inserted in chromium-plated metal ring, c. 1936-1939

Few, if anyone, knew of the extent of this treasure trove, though the portraits and most of the mementos were probably in Maar’s home since she and Picasso were a couple, from 1936 to about 1942. (Picasso’s relationships are difficult to date since he was famous for overlapping them. During his affair with Maar, for example, he was simultaneously involved with Marie-Therese Walter, who had borne him a daughter a few years before he met Maar. Though Maar and Walters rarely crossed paths, they often appear together in Picasso’s art.)

Among the mementos were a brooch, four pendants, and a watch-ring, pre-made jewelry into which Picasso inserted miniature portraits, mostly of Maar. Even experts in Modernist jewelry were unaware until this find that Picasso made jewelry long before his commercial collaborations with jewelry designer François Hugo in the late ’50s and ’60s.

“Many artists – even some of great stature – made jewelry for loved ones, and they were not particularly interesting as jewelry, just interesting historically,” said Toni Greenbaum, an expert in Modernist jewelry. “But just the fact that he made it and that he made it for Dora Maar is very exciting – regardless of what it is and whether it holds together stylistically and aesthetically. Any new discovery like this is a watershed event. There’s no question.”

Among Picasso aficionados, Dora Maar is most famous as the tortured subject of the Weeping Woman portraits, a version of which appears in his masterwork Guernica. Predictably, the media storm touched off  by the sale skimmed over the tiny objects and centered on full-scale works like Crying Woman, a study for Guernica, and Dora Maar Straight On With Green Nails. Those works and the many other fascinating depictions of Maar went for prices close to the estimates, which were in the millions.

The big surprise of the sale was not the paintings, but the smaller items: mementos like postcards, napkin doodles, animals made from tin bottle caps, and especially the jewelry and amulets that were, in many cases, the most intimate expressions of Picasso’s affection. All the jewelry went for prices several times higher than the estimates…

Continued: Jewelry of Picasso, the secret stash of Dora Maar, part 2

(Photos from Les Picasso de Dora Maar catalog from the October 1998 sale at PIASA in Paris, unless credited otherwise)

Related posts:

Alexander Calder’s jewelry: going mobile

Salvador Dali: bejeweled surrealism

Jewelry by famous artists

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1 comment for “Jewelry by Pablo Picasso: the secret stash of Dora Maar

  1. August 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    What a wonderful find!

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