They both were rather unusual personalities, even by the standards of the society in which they moved. She was born into the haut-monde, daughter of a Jewish banker, Maurice Bischoffsheim and an aristocrat mother Thérèse de Chevigné. He came from the island of Tenerife, where the family were banana growers.
Marie-Laure’s natural inclinations led her at a young age to get involved in the bohemian and avant-garde circles of Paris and her marriage to Charles de Noailles (”he is even richer than I am”, she claimed) accelerated her consecration as patroness of the arts. She presided over a clique of an insouciant and intellectual set, dispensing money, wit and charm. Cocteau, Picasso, Bérard, Balthus, Buñuel and Man Ray were among those she shared a friendship with and admiration for.
Oscar Dominguez was a vehement Spaniard who took care of his family banana exports at Les Halles but soon he was galvanized by la “vie parisienne” and began painting, joining Dalí, André Breton and the surrealist bunch. His enormous physique and overgrown traits matched his excessive drinking. Both aspects of his personality contributed to his displays of virility at dinner tables. He would open his fly to exhibit humorously his organ while guests would gleefully applaud the forthright performance. After all, they all breathed the surrealist atmosphere they helped to foster.
They were cynical adults and strangely unattractive when they met in their early fifties. The art historian John Richardson wrote that Oscar was Marie Laure’s “elephant man”. He struggled hard to attain the by then world wide reputation of Picasso and other contemporaries in spite of the fact that his more than average works were never ranked by experts as first-class.
How did these two become lovers? The sophisticated allure of Marie-Laure did not match the brusque manners of Oscar and he never blended well with her friends. Nonetheless, there was an inexplicable magnetism that pulled one towards the other. Their association led to unsavory rumors when Oscar was accused of selling original paintings of the de Noailles collection replacing them with fakes he craftily produced. Marie-Laure, according to some, may have been complicit in these shenanigans.
His discordant temperament and bouts of depression led him on New Years’ Eve of 1957 to ingest a large dose of barbiturates and slash his wrists in the bath. Marie-Laure and other friends waited long that evening for the guest who never came. Days later, deeply disconsolate, she decided that he should be buried in her family crypt at the Montparnasse cemetery. She was not, however, the mournful type and soon thereafter she took up with a bull breeder from Camargue, another exotic and virile individual, Jean Lafont. Lucky Marie-Laure was given another lease on romantic life.