David Douglas Duncan (1916 – 2018) was an American photojournalist who is best known for his dramatic combat photographs. However another really interesting and much more unknown side of him, is the record that he made in 1957 about the intimate life of the great Pablo Picasso in his Villa La Californie in Cannes, France.
The two met in southern France in 1956, and remained friends for the remaining 17 years of Picasso’s life. Duncan was a trusted friend of Pablo Picasso and his family. He has said that his favorite person to photograph was Pablo Picasso, and took thousands of photographs of the artist, inside his studio-homes, and of his then-unknown canvases.
According to KatariMag, the story of why this photographer was interested in meeting Picasso is awesome. Reporting in south of Afghanistan, he unearthed a Greek carnelian engraved with a rooster from the time of Christ, that reminded him of Picasso’s paintings. Once back in Rome, he ordered Bulgari to turn it into a ring, so that someday he could give it to the enigmatic Spaniard.
Years later, on his way to Morocco, he passes through Cannes. The only common friend they had was the late photographer Robert Capa, who had recently died in Indochina. Jaqueline answers the phone and invites him to the house. When he arrives at the huge turn-of-century mansion, Jaqueline receives him and leads him to Picasso; the painter was giving himself a bath tub.
In those years, Picasso age 70, was living with his second wife named Jacqueline Roque; who was forty years younger and who accompanied him until the day he died. Around the house were also Claude and Paloma Picasso, children of the painter with Francoise Gilot, who came from Paris to spend their vacations. Many stories are told about the brilliant Picasso; womanizer, abandoning father, egomaniac, etc. But Duncan assures that during the time he spent in La Californie, there was a peaceful, benevolent and cheerful air.
He assures that he was given absolute access to the artist’s intimate life. There was never a “no-answer” to a shooting and nothing was ever set up for a better framing. Everything was spontaneous.
Picasso did not usually leave La Californie. He got up at mid-morning, had coffee with milk, ate toast, and received his mails. After a frugal lunch, he used to start working in complete isolation until late hours at night.
In the room he used as a studio, hundreds of pieces from multiple disciplines such as sculptures, ceramics, paintings and drawings, were scattered. He was one of the most prolific artists in history. At his death, at age 91, he left 45,000 pieces. We can imagine his intense daily work… the artist’s tremendous compulsion to create art.
According to Duncan, the only rule of the house was that nothing could be moved. Every corner of disorder could mean for Picasso a strange composition that only he could see and digest in his head.
The only ones who could ignore this rule were the children and the animals (among them a goat), who ran and played freely around the house. The love he felt for his goat was so big that, in addition to letting it lie between his bronze sculptures, he would enter it into the house when it rained. On the second floor, in a fenced space full of straw, the goat slept, shielding itself from the weather.
Duncan recounts that Paloma was devoted to painting just like her father. She spent long hours at his side with the same concentration toward her work. At that time, he saw her as the possible heiress of Picasso’s immense talent.
The work of David Douglas Duncan allows us to immerse ourselves in the private world of one of the greatest artists in history. Knowing his daily routines and the space that surrounded him when creating his intriguing works. The photos are a real gem.