May 18, 2022

Blog @ Munaf Sheikh

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david douglas duncan’s vintage photos of picasso at photo élysée


a tale of art, photography & friendship

 

100 photographs capturing the intimate world of pablo picasso between 1956 and 1973 have been donated to photo élysée—a museum dedicated to photography in lausanne, switzerland. the man behind the lens is david douglas duncan, an american war photographer who became friends with picasso following an opportune meeting at the artist’s la californie home in cannes.

 

as art legend goes, duncan rang the bell of la californie in 1956 on the off chance of photographing the famous spanish painter. he was invited inside by picasso’s wife jacqueline roque to find the artist soaking in the bathtub. from this unusual introduction, the pair went on to develop a 17-year-long friendship until picasso’s death in 1973.


photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

 

 

‘we were just two men’

 

duncan, who died in 2018, used a custom-built leica M3D to shoot picasso, capturing him mostly in moments of creative intimacy. each photograph was taken in prevailing light conditions and the camera was even equipped with extremely quiet shutters so as not to disturb the painter. 

 

picasso was photographed by many great photographers throughout his life but his friendship with duncan—who he called ‘ismael’—is particularly fascinating as the american photojournalist was more versed in covering wars than artists. ‘I wasn’t an artist or an art historian… I was just a guy he liked, a guy with a camera. no more. we were just two men. it’s very important to emphasize that I was not an art professional, and that was what he expected of me,’ said duncan about his relationship with picasso.

 

duncan had only a basic level of spanish, and picasso couldn’t speak english, meaning the two communicated with few words. ‘when I was at picasso’s house, I spoke very, very little,’ explained duncan. despite the language barrier, and being from two seemingly different worlds, the two men were firm friends, and thanks to their friendship, we can glimpse into the life and work of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists.

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
jacqueline wearing the ceramic necklace molded by pablo picasso, 1957, villa la californie, cannes

photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

 

 

‘this donation is exceptional in more ways than one for photo elysée,’  says tatyana franck, director of photo élysée. ‘it allows us to enrich our collections with the photographic work of the author of the book this is war!, which was a milestone in the 1950s, to endow them with a remarkable acquisition showing the entire creative process of the greatest artist of the 20th century, and to strengthen our ties with the other institutions of plateforme 10, in particular, the MCBA.’

 

the recent donation to photo élysée also includes two portraits of pablo picasso and david douglas duncan by gjon mili, plus a print by judy caravaglia.

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
pablo picasso in his studio looking at tête in progress, july 1957, villa la californie, canne

photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

100 photos of picasso by david douglas duncan donated to photo élysée
photo © david douglas duncan/succession picasso 2022

 

 

project info:

 

museum: photo élysée

location: lausanne, switerzland

photography: david douglas duncan



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