Picasso, behind and in front of the camera

In mass society, the stars are photographed to infinity and Picasso was the first international media star painter. Therefore, it is to be expected that his relationship with photography was very intense, either in front of the camera – how many great photographers of the 20th century photographed him! – as well as behind it.

The exhibition «Picasso, the photographer’s gaze», which you can see in the museum until 24th September, precisely explores this fruitful relation between Picasso and photography. But this isn’t just an exhibition of photographs by Picasso and about Picasso, but it also aims to bear testimony to the uses of photography by the artist, as well as making a tour around the painter’s studios, from his first Parisian studios at the beginning of the century to those from the end of his life. For Picasso, the studio was “a global entity”, according to the curator of the exhibition, Violeta Andrés, and in the houses that he inhabited there wasn’t a clear separation between the studio and the living spaces.

Joan Fontcuberta. Pablo Picasso retratat per André Villers a Mougins, 1962 Barcelona, 1995. Fotografia manipulada per al projecte «L’artista i la fotografia», 1995-1999 © Joan Fontcuberta

The exhibition documents from the first Parisian studios – unfortunately from the studio of the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre there is only the testimony of a watercolour by Enric Casanovas from 1904- until the houses from the south of France such as La Californie or the castle of Vauvenargues. A large majority of the images exhibited come from the photographic archive of the Musée national Picasso-Paris but there are also photographs included from the collection of our museum, as well as from private collections.

The exhibition demonstrates the interest of important photographers of photographing Picasso. This is highlighted by a little known image by David Douglas Duncan in which you can see Picasso in the street, surrounded by photographers in the festival of Cannes in 1957, treated in the same way as if he was a Hollywood star. Brassaï, Herbert List, André Villers, Lucien Clergue, Michel Sima, Bill Brandt or Cecil Beaton were some of the great photographers who had the privilege of entering the world of Picasso’s studios, capturing with more or less complicity the daily life of the artist. Robert Doisneau, for example, popularized the iconic image of Picasso dressed in a striped T-shirt.

Pablo Picasso a CanesDavid Douglas Duncan. Pablo Picasso a Canes, 1957. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Centre de Coneixement i Recerca © David Douglas Duncan

However, Picasso was rarely portrayed working, he always posed. An exception was when Dora Maar was able to photograph the process of creating Guernica in the studio of the Rue des Grands Augustins in Paris. In the exhibition, you can also see a small unpublished documentary by Leopoldo Pomés, during a visit to Picasso at La Californie in 1958.

The other part of the exhibition is that of Picasso as a photographer. His first self-portrait appears reflected in the mirror while photographing the painter and friend Ricard Canals in 1904. Later on, in 1921, Picasso would repeat his reflection, in this case in a mirror of a wardrobe. In Horta de Sant Joan, when he spent some weeks there in the spring of 1909, Picasso took his camera and photographed the landscapes and people of the town. Picasso’s use of photography at the time of painting can also be seen in the exhibition. A very clear case is that of the photograph of Olga Khokhlova sitting in an armchair with a fan, taken by Émile Deletang, which was the basis of a well-known painting of the dancer and painter’s first wife.

Retrat d’Olga Khokhlova amb un ventall asseguda en una butaca al taller de Montrouge, primavera del 1918Emile Delétang. Retrat d’Olga Khokhlova amb un ventall asseguda en una butaca al taller de Montrouge, primavera del 1918. Fotografia amb sals de plata. Còpia d’època. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Don Succession Picasso, 1992. APPH2771

The photograph is also in the photograms that André Villiers produced based on silhouettes cut out by Picasso of animals, vegetables and masks, and also with the motive of the goat, the sculptural version of which, in 1950, has also travelled from the Parisian Picasso Museum.


Exhibition «Picasso, the photographer’s gaze»

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