Picasso and Dora

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Lord achieves a sensitive balance between an account of his own life and the lives of his more famous friends. He is a keen student of the autobiographical form, writing that the autobiographer chooses to tell a story he does not want others to relate. Although he is remarkably forthcoming about himself, he explicitly states that there are aspects of his life he has concealed.

Lord relies on journals and on the wisdom of retrospect to narrate the story of his meeting Picasso at the end of World War II, when Lord was in the American military. It was only many years later that he learned from Francoise Gilot (another Picasso mistress) that Picasso thought Lord might be an American spy sent to compile a dossier on a Communist artist. Lord had wondered why it had been so easy to befriend the testy artist, and his belated discovery fits into a pattern of Picasso’s and Lord’s love of game-playing. Lord affected a nonchalance, for example, that he knew would intrigue Picasso and his entourage.

Lord also provides a revealing portrait of Dora Maar, an important artist in her own right, who was cruelly abused by Picasso and eventually abandoned, though he did set her up in her own apartment. Lord himself was highly critical of Picasso’s continued allegiance to the Communist Party and wa surprised when Maar and other artists critical of Picasso’s politics turned against Lord for openly criticizing the Master. Such was Picasso’s power over even his rivals and adversaries.

Lord became Maar’s lover after Picasso rejected her. Lord’s affair with Maar follows the curious pattern of his whole life. On the one hand, he is a kind of groupie, yet he does not fawn over his illustrious friends but rather craves an intimacy that provides profound insight into the making of twentieth century art.