One hundred photographs chronicling the private world of Pablo Picasso up to and after his death in 1973 at the age of 91 have been donated to the Musée de l’Élysée in Switzerland.
The pictures are a sample of 25,000 taken of the artist by David Douglas Duncan, an American war photographer who first met Picasso in Cannes in 1956.
Duncan’s first photo of Picasso was of him soaping himself in the bath in his La Californie home moments after the two had first met.
After opportunistically ringing the bell at the villa’s front gate in the hope of capturing an image of the world’s most famous painter, Duncan was astonished to find himself being led up to the bathroom by the artist’s wife, Jacqueline.
Duncan, who died in 2018, became a firm friend of the Spanish-born painter despite their difficulties in communicating. Picasso did not speak English and he would laugh at Duncan’s grasp of Spanish.
But Duncan, who had covered the Korean war as a photojournalist, found himself allowed to come and go as he pleased at Picasso’s various homes during a 17-year friendship.
Despite being keenly aware of his legacy, and becoming perhaps the most photographed artist ever, Duncan claimed that Picasso did not pose or demand to be captured on film at any point. The man he called maestro throughout their friendship instead told him: “You take pictures, I paint.”
Duncan’s photos were taken with a custom-built Leica M3D camera with extremely quiet shutters so that Picasso would not be disturbed as he worked.
Asked in 2012 about the artist’s working habits and character, Duncan told the French newspaper Le Monde that he could not reconcile claims of misogyny with the man he knew, and he regarded him as a dedicated “Spanish gentleman”.
“For this one – Les Baigneurs – it lasted two days and two nights. He could stop and sit down in front of a painting for half an hour, quite motionless, just looking at it, with one hand on his head. No movement. He was thinking,” he recalled.
“One day when I was there, someone asked him which period of his work he liked best, the blue period, the rose period, cubism and so on. Picasso stretched out his hand, his fingers splayed, and answered: ‘Well, which of these five fingers do you prefer? Personally, I need all of them.’”