Père Ubu (1936) by Dora Maar (1907–1997) is an iconic photograph of the surrealist movement. This exceptional print has recently been given to the National Gallery of Art by J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy. It joins two other works by Maar already in the collection and strengthens the National Gallery’s holdings of surrealist photography.
Compelling and repellent, Maar’s unusual portrait of a bizarre animal with a flat, angular head, elephantine ears, and curved arms with claw-like appendages is meant to evoke the monstrous, dictatorial lead character from Alfred Jarry’s controversial absurdist play Ubu Roi (1896). Maar’s creature highlights the bestial nature of Jarry’s antihero, whose greed, cruelty, and vulgarity were manifested in his horrid appearance. Maar never confirmed her source material, preferring to let viewers ponder what this armored yet oddly vulnerable and soft-skinned creature might be. Many contemporary scholars believe that the photograph depicts an armadillo fetus preserved in formaldehyde.