How Dora Maar Continues to Influence the Art Scene in Ménerbes
Perched above the Luberon Valley, Ménerbes deserves its classification as one of the 172 prettiest villages in France. With old stone facades, pedestrian-friendly streets, tempting boutiques, and lively cafés, Ménerbes exudes Provencal charm. Ménerbes is also home to a thriving art scene, including an artist residency program inspired by Dora Maar’s career. Her creative legacy continues with an exhibit of some of her work, “Dora Maar, Secrets d’atelier,” until November 30th.
Ménerbes Brief Art History
Minerva was the Roman name for a place with human settlement since the Paleolithic age. One of the most important goddesses Minerva (Pallas Athena in Greek), was associated with wisdom and justice, a patron of the arts and handicrafts. Helped by Peter Mayle’s hugely successful novel A Year in Provence, Ménerbes leapt onto many people’s must-see list of Luberon Villages. However, well before (and after) Mr. Mayle, the town was home to several creative types, including Nicolas de Stael, Pablo Picasso, and Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s romantic partners and an artist/photographer in her own right.
Today, the Nancy B. Negley Association manages programs at the historic Dora Maar House and Hôtel de Tingry. Both facilities provide space for mid-career artists to advance their creative pursuits while in Provence. Thank you to the team at La Mob for some of the following information on the history, programming, and current exhibit.
Who Was Dora Maar?
Henriette Theodora Markovitch (Dora was her nickname) was born in 1907 in Paris and then spent her childhood in Argentina. Her father, Joseph Markovitch, was a Croatian architect commissioned for many projects in Buenos Aires. In 1920 Dora moved back to France with her mother, and in 1923 Paris to study at Union Centrale des Arts décoratifs and later at École technique de photographie et de cinematographie. After her studies, Dora opened her first photography studio with Pierre Kéfer. Her father encouraged her to use a public pseudonym, Dora Maar.
As a photographer, Dora worked in portraiture, still lives, advertising, fashion, and street photography. One of the few women in the Paris Surrealist group, thanks to her friend, Paul Éluard, it is her photo montages that were her “signature.” In the mid-1930s, she met Pablo Picasso at a café in Paris, and there was an immediate fusion between the two intense personalities. Dora was known as his muse and companion. However, she did teach him a lot of new darkroom techniques. She also pushed him to be more vocal in his political opinions, resulting in his masterpiece Guernica, which she documented. In return, Picasso encouraged Dora to work more on painting and drawing during their ten (10+) years together.
At the end of their relationship, Picasso found the Maison General Baron Robert in Ménerbes for Dora and gave her a painting to purchase the house. She owned the house until she died in 1997. Dora continued to paint and create works for the rest of her life, although, after the breakup with Picasso, she began isolating herself, becoming more interested in her Catholic faith. When the residency program opened in 2006, the home was renamed the Dora Maar House or Maison Dora Maar.
The Nancy Brown Negley Connection
In 1997, Nancy Brown Negley purchased the house to create an artist’s residency program (for writers, academics and artists). Nancy Brown Negley was born in 1927 in Houston, Texas and died in Houston in July 2022. She was an artist, visionary and philanthropist. The eldest daughter of George R. Brown, she grew up in Houston, Texas. Nancy inherited from her father and her uncle Herman Brown their vision and daring to build and create. However, her passion for historic preservation and the arts was inherited from her mother, Alice Brown.
Nancy’s practice as a painter gave her empathy for other artists she supported individually and through institutions. Throughout her life, Nancy helped many creative individuals at crucial moments in their careers. When she could no longer travel to France, she wanted to cement her life’s mission to nurture the creative spirit. Nancy donated her own home Hôtel de Tingry and the Dora Maar House to a non-profit foundation (Fondation Mérimée) which continues her life’s work.
Artist Residency Program
As of 2020, the Nancy B. Negley Artist Residency Program at the Dora Maar Cultural Center operates in Ménerbes. When Mrs. Negley opened the residency program, she asked the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to direct it with the Brown Foundation.
Since 2007, the Dora Maar House has welcomed mid-career artists, writers, and humanities professionals to the Nancy Brown Negley Artist Residency Program in Southern France. The Program is open from March through November of each year, with the application cycle open the previous year. Applications are through a Slideroom account on the website’s “how to apply” page. Each selected Fellow gets a one-to-two-month residency, a stipend, and a travel award. While in Ménerbes, the expectation is that they focus on a specific project while living at the Dora Maar House and enjoying the beautiful village along with its international and artistic community.
What is La Mob?
La Mob, the welcome center and gallery located on the ground floor of the Dora Maar House, opened in June of 2021. The mission of La Mob is to celebrate the creative life of artists in residence, and Dora Maar, as our first one, our beloved ghost, with her journeys on mobylette and in the pages of her notebooks, laid down the pathway for the many artists who follow in her footsteps. Each year we put on 2-3 exhibitions promoting our alumni, Dora Maar and artists of Ménerbes who had a connection with Dora and the house (last year, the summer exhibition included works by Dora Maar, Nicolas de Stael, Joe Downing and Jane Eakin). We also work with local artists and artisans on exclusive items for the boutique side of La Mob.
What is Hôtel de Tingry?
In the 17th century, Joseph Balthazard des Laurents constructed a private mansion in Ménerbes. Later, one of his descendants married the Prince of Tingry, after whom the home, Hôtel de Tingry, is named. Nancy Brown Negley purchased Hôtel de Tingry and used it as her residence for 13 years before donating the property to the Fondation Mérimée.
Created in 2008, the Fondation Mérimée (formerly the Foundation for Historic Monuments) safeguards and preserves public and private historical monuments and their environments. In 2018 Hôtel de Tingry was recognized as a non-profit organization, becoming at the same time the only French foundation entirely dedicated to protecting historical monuments. At the beginning of 2020, Mrs. Negley created the Nancy Brown Negley Association under the protection of the Fondation Mérimée. She gifted the Merimee Foundation the Hôtel de Tingry (a listed historical monument) and the Dora Maar House.
The Fondation Mérimée owns the two buildings, while the Dora Maar Cultural Center occupies them and runs the programs.
Dora Maar, Secrets d’atelier:
From June 17th through November 30th, 2023, La Mob will present “Dora Maar, Secrets d’atelier.” A collection of drawings, studies, small paintings, and poems opens a new window into the inner life of Dora Maar: her parents, her friends, her cat, her obsession with alarm clocks, Picasso, and her relationship with faith. A myriad of private moments of life were explored and sketched in her diaries. This collection will be seen for the first time under the curation of CreativeTech, using various technologies to highlight the works. “Dora Maar, Secrets d’atelier” invites viewers into Dora Maar’s inner struggle, the two faces of Janus, her withdrawal and her openness to the world, and the journey between the different periods of her life.
Image credits: All the photos were provided by and published with the permission of the Nancy Brown Negley Association.