ARTHUR JEFFRESS | Arthur Writes to Dora Maar

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Arthur Jeffress purchased a portrait of Dora Maar, Seated Woman, 1938, by Picasso in 1942. During World War II he gave the painting, for safe keeping, to his friends Henry and Esther Clifford, who lived in Philadelphia. Henry was curator of paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Esther and Arthur regularly exchanged letters during the hostilities. Henry had been a friend since school days at Harrow but the two men did not write to each other during the war. However, he did attach one note to a letter from Esther, a faux billet doux in French, of course, from Dora as if she was, at best, Henry’s enforced house guest, to her patron. None of Esther’s letters survive so we only have Arthur’s response:


Postcript for Dora Maar.

Dora, ma chère,

Je t'accuse réception de ta lettre du 1 Octobre avec un empressement et une joie dont tu n'en peux pas rendre compte de la moitié. Vraiment, je ressentis, en lisant tes mots si doux, un ‘orgasmo di gioia’ comme disent ces italiens impudents et impudiques.

Reste assurée, chère petite bobo, que tu es souvent dans mes penseées et toujours dans mon coeur, et que je suis tout ce qu'il y a de plus navré en pensant a votre triste et penible emprisonnement, si long et si dur, entourée comme tu es, de tableaux qu’on ne peux même considérer dignes d’être jetés dans le boue, et toujours aux mains de ce monstre, ce bourreau, votre geôlier, H.C.

mais, ma poupée, la guerre ne durera pas pour toujours (hélas....O! que dis-je?) et aussitôt possible, je viendrai te liberer. Nous fuyerons ensemble à ce beau et sympathique Europe, ou nous vivrons ensemble en flagrant délit à jamais ... à jamais.

Dora, my dear,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 1 October [1944] with an eagerness and joy which you can barely imagine. Truly, I felt, while reading your sweet words, an ‘orgasm of joy’ as these impudent and shameless Italians say. Rest assured, my dear little [bohemian-bourgeois] bobo, that you are often in my thoughts and always in my heart and that I am as sorry as I can be, and more, when I think of your sad and painful imprisonment, so long and so hard, surrounded as you are by paintings that no-one would even consider fit to throw in the gutter and always in the clutches of that monster, that torturer, your jailer, HC.

But, my doll, the war won’t last forever (alas – oh, what am I saying?) and, as soon as possible, I will come to free you. We will flee together to beautiful, sympathetic Europe where we will live together in flagrante for ever … and ever.