The Donation of David Douglas Duncan: A little big story

On 21 September 2012, David Douglas Duncan called me to tell me he would like to donate a number of his photographs on Picasso.  I suggested he could present the donation on the same day that the Museum was to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, on 9 March 2013. We continued to talk over the phone and send each other faxes, DDD’s usual mode of communication. On the following 5 October, after DDD had discussed the production of these new prints with the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas in Austin, the archive to which he had donated the negatives of his works in the 1990s, he postponed the presentation date to 25 October, Picasso’s birthday.

David Douglas Duncan. Picasso and Jacqueline . La Californie, Canes, 1957. 50 x 60 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Gift of David Douglas Duncan, 2013 © David Douglas Duncan 2013

To carry out this work, he first selected, from among the thousands photos taken of Picasso during the years in which they kept up a close friendship, those he considered the best photographs he had taken of Picasso and his family, and had a high resolution scanning done of the negatives.

The date for delivering the photographs to the museum had to be put back due to the fact that the Texan archive didn’t have enough time to be able to scan all the images that Duncan required. The next step was to send them to the photographic laboratories, Central Dupon Images in Paris, chosen by Duncan as they are considered one of the best. He invited as well the great Jean-François Leroy to supervise the production.

David Douglas Duncan. Picasso signing his works, 1960. 50 x 60 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Gift of David Douglas Duncan, 2013. © David Douglas Duncan 2013

On 22 January of this year I received a fax in which DDD, very upset, shared with me a series of problems that made it impossible to make the donation.  This caused great dismay to all of us at the Museu who had been so excited by this wonderful anniversary present. In the same way the bad news had reached us, so the good news arrived: on 17 May I received another fax, written in the characteristic way that DDD uses to express himself, and in the first line he said: “Amigo— Sit down in a nice soft chair with tequila in both hands” —  The joy was absolute – the donation was back on track!  DDD travelled various times this last summer to Paris to control the process and the quality of the printing.  On 12 July he warned me that we would have to wait a couple of months for the arrival of the photos.  On 28 August I received a call from him to tell me that the photos were ready, Eureka! At the beginning of September we received the photos: fantastic quality.  On 23 September we formalized the donation, signing all the necessary papers.

Gjon Mili. David Douglas Duncan and Pablo Picasso at La Californie , 1960. 50 x 60 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Gift of David Douglas Duncan, 2013

In the Museum we worked against the clock so as to be able to make the presentation of the donation possible on 25 October as it was DDD’s wish.  Seeing the photographs hung in the temporary exhibition galleries in the Palau de Finestres was very moving for me, it made me very happy, but not as much when I saw DDD and his wonderful wife Sheila, excitement and happiness filled their faces. During the week of 21 October, a thousand and one stories based on each of the photographs, turned the days we enjoyed in their company into journeys to the past, in which  thanks to this marvelous witness we were able to catch a glimpse of that Picasso that is there no longer.

Many thanks Sheila and DDD, now your eyes and your memory will remain with us in Barcelona!

Bernardo Laniado-Romero

Museu Picasso

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