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David Douglas Duncan photos of Pablo Picasso highlighted in exhibition in Spain

Cover of exhibition catalog for 'Picasso at Work, Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan.'
Cover of exhibition catalog for 'Picasso at Work, Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan.'

In October 1996, world-renowned photographer and author David Douglas Duncan donated his archive to the Harry Ransom Center. The Center has preserved, organized, cataloged, exhibited and made available a variety of images and artifacts that complete the archive, including many that document his years of friendship with Pablo Picasso. Recently, Duncan donated a plate painted by Picasso of his beloved dachshund named Lump.

The new exhibition Picasso at Work. Through the lens of David Douglas Duncan, runs through September 25 at the Museo Picasso, Malaga, and will then move to the Picasso Kuntsmuseum Munster from October 15 to January 15, 2012 and finally at La Piscine Musee d’Art in Roubaix, France, beginning in February 2012. Ransom Center photo archivist Mary Alice Harper’s essay “The Nomadic Lens of David Douglas Duncan,” featured in the exhibition catalog, has been published in English and Spanish by Museo Picasso Malaga, in German by Hirmer, and in French by Gallimard. Below is an excerpt from Harper’s essay.

In late January of 1956, Duncan set off to begin his next Life assignment. He was headed for Spain but with one detour in mind, stopping in Cannes to try and meet Picasso. Duncan was unsure whether or not he would find the artist at home, and, if so, be permitted to enter. In fact, he had intended to meet Picasso for years, ever since his friend and fellow photojournalist Robert Capa promised to introduce them. But Capa had died tragically in 1954, so Duncan decided to present Picasso with a gift when the time came. He had a ring made for the occasion: a solid but simple heavy gold band with “PICASSO—DUNCAN” incised inside and set with an ancient carnelian with a “Picassoesque” rooster carved on it. Picasso clearly appreciated the gesture as Duncan was permitted to enter. Three days later in a letter to a friend he described what had transpired:

The girl [Jacqueline] came down. Maybe thirty, black slacks and pullover… and wonderfully friendly. I’d thought that she might be the protective guardian type. Told her why I was there, and gave her the ring for Pablo P. She went upstairs, two at a time. I looked around. The place was jammed with crates, boxes, bronzes, cartons, barrels… they had been in the place for around half a year—not a single piece of furniture. Nothing! She came downstairs, grabbed me by the hand and up we went. No furniture. Whizzed through a series of corridors and rooms, followed a black electrical connection cord… into the bathroom, and there he was—cheerily lathering himself, in the tub! It was perfect! Pablo Picasso without much question, the greatest living artist of our century, black eyes dancing, warm and safe and wringing wet, in his bathtub. In went the ring, soap and all. She went on scrubbing his back… which she’d been doing when I arrived. Picasso and I talked in Spanish, she and I in English; I must have seemed naked, too, without my camera so he told me to get it, that the pictures, if I wanted them, might be interesting, since this was one place where no one had ever nailed him. From that moment on we had one of those times that I really shall treasure. After she dried him off and he pulled on a heavy bathrobe, we went into the next room… no furniture… where he got his glasses, and my magnifier, and then really looked at his ring… After carefully examining the stone, and carving… “What instrument could the man possibly have used?”, sort of a query to himself. Best of all he understood the reason why I gave it to him and accepted it exactly as intended. I feel that it delights him. We went downstairs. The front three rooms… only two tables, crammed with things he has made, painted, turned or twisted into life… The place was mine. Picasso and Jacqueline simply took me in as a third member… fourth, counting that boxer… Possibly it was an exceptional day, but he radiated one extraordinary quality… youthful exuberance; a child’s direct, intense feeling for the impact of those moments that we remember through the remainder of our years. This man still has it.