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My friend, Picasso

  • A portrait of the artist as an old man
    Picasso moved to the Cannes villa La Californie in 1955 with Jacqueline Roque, who became his second wife. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • Studio sitter
    With the Isles Marquises statue at La Californie, Cannes in 1955: the artist met Brigitte Bardot at the house during the 1956 film festival. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • All fired up
    Shown in 1967, Picasso first became involved with the Madoura pottery studio in Vallaruis in 1946. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • Lounge lizard
    Clergue captures Picasso relaxing on the beach at Cannes in 1965. The artist agreed to be godfather to Clergue’s second daughter in 1966. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • Raging bull
    In the early ‘50s, Clergue worked in a local factory and sold pictures of bullfights. He shows Picasso at the Frejus amphitheatre in 1962. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • Hats off
    Picasso is pictured at the antiquarian, Arles, 1959. In this year, Clergue finally earned enough as a photographer to quit his job at the factory. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • Spectator sport
    Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and the bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin appear at the Arles amphitheatre in 1959. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • To the wire
    Clergue photographed Cocteau’s film Le Testament D’Orphee in 1959 – here, Picasso poses with Miguel Dominguin, Jacqueline Picasso and Lucia Bose. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)
  • On the tiles
    Picasso’s ceramics (like these, at La Californie in 1955) included vases, sculptures and a dinner service, with bullfighting scenes a common motif. (Lucien Clergue/Beetles+Huxley)

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Lucien Clergue befriended Pablo Picasso in 1953. Over the next 20 years, he took intimate portraits of the artist in his studio, at bullfights and on the beach.

“Clergue’s photographs are from God’s own sketchbooks,” Pablo Picasso once said of the French photographer,  who will turn 80 in August. Lucien Clergue co-founded the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in 1970 – it is now celebrating its 44th year – and has produced a body of work over nearly 60 years that was acknowledged with a Legion d’Honneur in 2003. Yet he is perhaps best known for his relationship with the Spanish artist.

The pair met at a bullfight in 1953, and remained friends until Picasso’s death two decades later. The work that brought Clergue early recognition in 1955, Les Saltimbanques, was an attempt to impress Picasso: a series of photos in which children strike world-weary poses in the costumes of travelling circus performers, it referenced the painter’s Harlequin and Pierrot motifs. 

“My mother died when I was 18 and a half. The next year, though, I had a good fortune to meet Pablo Picasso at a bullring,” Clergue told L’Oeil de la Photographie. “Picasso signed one of my prints, not my best, but now it is the most expensive. When I reached the age of 20 I was still working in a factory, but I was taking photographs of five children dressed in clothes designed by me. I was trying to make Picasso happy: he had said at the bullring ‘I want to see more prints’.”

Clergue photographed other writers and artists in Picasso’s circle of friends, including the poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau; the two collaborated on a volume of poetry and Cocteau’s 1959 film Le Testament d'Orphée.  His images of Picasso reflect the level of intimacy they shared, and which he captured in his 1993 book Picasso My Friend, as well as in the 1970 film Picasso: War, Peace, Love.

“I had the opportunity to film Pablo Picasso in his home in Mougins … A few years later Picasso died and left me an artistic orphan,” he says. Informal and revealing, Clergue’s portraits show the artist posing next to works in his studio, with friends at a bullfight and reclining on the beach – often with a cigarette in hand.

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