David Douglas Duncan Donation

An exceptional donation to Photo Elysée has been made from a private collection: 100 vintage photographs of the private world of Pablo Picasso taken between 1956 and 1973 by David Douglas Duncan, the famous American war photographer, as well as two portraits of Pablo Picasso and David Douglas Duncan by Gjon Mili, plus a print by Judy Caravaglia.

An exceptional donation

“After Alice Pauli’s donation of three photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck representing Alberto Giacometti, Balthus, and Arpad Szenes and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, this donation is exceptional in more ways than one for Photo Elysée,” emphasizes Tatyana Franck. “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.”

Pablo Picasso and photography

Pablo Picasso was the most photographed artist of his time, especially during the second half of his life when his reputation had become planetary. Some will see complicity, others connivance. Great photographers such as Man Ray, Brassaï, Lee Miller, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson made numerous portraits of the artist, not to mention Dora Maar, his companion, whose prints attest to the genesis of Guernica.

As of the 1950s, Picasso had established a real working relationship with certain photographers that he himself had selected: André Villers for his cut-outs and photographic collages; and Gjon Mili with whom he experimented with creations in the dark using a flashlight to draw halos of light in space. The last years of his life are immortalized by René Burri, Edward Quinn and, especially, David Douglas Duncan.

David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan used neither cinematic techniques nor spectacular staging – he just took photographs of Picasso among friends and during moments of creative intimacy. He explained it like this: “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.”

A former war reporter, David Douglas Duncan nevertheless knew how to be discreet: “When I was at Picasso’s house, I spoke very, very little.” He in fact used a custom-built Leica M3D camera with extremely quiet shutters so they wouldn’t disturb the Maestro at work, and each image was taken in the prevailing light conditions. Between them, they communicated with few words. Duncan didn’t speak French and Picasso spoke no English. Their common language was a rudimentary Spanish.

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