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Before and After: A set of Sicilian marionettes

The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes before custom housing was built.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes before custom housing was built.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes in their custom-built housing.
The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes in their custom-built housing.

The Stanley Marcus collection of Sicilian marionettes, constructed between 1850 and 1960, consists of 60 marionettes and a backdrop curtain. The marionettes, which were originally purchased by entrepreneur Stanley Marcus in 1960, form a troupe of characters from the religious allegorical poem “Orlando Furioso.”

The figures, which are made of painted wood and metal components, stand about four feet tall and are dressed in fur, leather, cloth, and metal armor. The human marionettes have wooden heads, torsos, hands, and legs. Their arms are made out of folded cloth. A few figures have glass eyes, and some even have human hair adhered to their heads. Protecting the marionettes posed a particular challenge for the Ransom Center’s conservation and preservation team. Read the full article about the preservation efforts relating to the marionettes.

Plate painted by Pablo Picasso donated to Ransom Center by photojournalist Duncan

The Ransom Center has received a plate painted by Pablo Picasso from David Douglas Duncan, a photojournalist whose archive resides at the Ransom Center.

Duncan donated the plate in honor of his friendship with Stanley Marcus, who suggested that Duncan donate his archive to the Ransom Center in 1996. The archive includes more than 36,000 prints, 87,000 negatives, and 21,000 transparencies, in addition to correspondence, manuscripts, camera equipment, artwork, and personal effects.

Picasso painted the plate, a piece of commercial dinnerware, at his home Villa La Californie in Cannes, France, on April 19, 1957. Dedicated to Duncan’s dog Lump, a dachshund, the plate is 24 centimeters in diameter and contains a portrait of Lump.

Beginning Tuesday, February 1, the plate will be on view in the Ransom Center’s exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century, running through July 31.

Comparable painted plates by Picasso have sold at auction for amounts ranging from $20,000 to $90,000.

Through the encouragement of photojournalist Robert Capa, Duncan met Picasso on Feb. 8, 1956, when he visited the artist in the south of France. Upon his arrival, Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s companion at the time, led Duncan up to the bathroom where Picasso was in the bath. Duncan presented Picasso a ring he made for the occasion, and a bond was formed between the two men.

Upon Duncan’s departure, Picasso waved goodbye and said, “This is your home—come back!”

In April 1957, Duncan returned to La Californie, bringing Lump with him, and began extensively photographing Picasso, his home and his family in their daily lives. Duncan wrote about Lump’s visit stating, “[a]fter his first exploratory survey of Villa La Californie, it was ‘Adios, Rome!’ and from that moment on Lump became a permanent resident at Picasso’s home.”

While eating lunch one day, Picasso asked Duncan if Lump had ever had a plate of his own. Duncan responded no. At that point, Picasso picked up his lunch plate, and with brush and paint that were at the table, began painting a simple, yet detailed, portrait of Lump. The plate was inscribed to Lump, signed and dated by Picasso, then handed to Duncan.

Reflecting on that moment, Duncan wrote that “[t]hat ceramic souvenir was symbolic of Picasso’s lifelong spontaneous generosity.”
Duncan captured this friendship and Lump’s legacy in Picasso’s works in his book Picasso & Lump: A Dachshund’s Odyssey (2006).

Duncan authored additional books on Picasso, including The Private World of Pablo Picasso (1958), Picasso’s Picassos (1961), Goodbye Picasso (1974), The Silent Studio (1976), Viva Picasso (1980), Picasso and Jacqueline (1988) and Picasso Paints a Portrait (1996).

 

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