Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan

THE MAESTRO AND ISHMAEL

One could argue that it was inevitable that David Douglas Duncan’s attraction for the romantic and the monumental would one day lead him to the villa of this century’s most influential artist, Pablo Picasso. Certainly both men – though born worlds apart and clearly masters of very different visual media – shared a singular passion for work and life which would serve to enrich their own lives as well as their chosen careers.

 

 

 

 

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Photo by Pete Smith

 

The immediate impetus for the meeting was fellow photojournalist Robert Capa, a longtime friend of both men and the individual whom Duncan credits with first suggesting that he look the artist up at his home in the south of France. Although Capa would not survive to witness the fruits of this meeting – he was tragically killed by a land mine while covering the war in French Indochina in 1954 – Duncan did not forget his friend or his suggestion. Two years later he set out, bearing only his considerable charm and the gift of a ring , to make the artist’s acquaintance; in the end he found a soulmate and source of inspiration.

By 1957, while completing the first of the seven books he would eventually produce about the artist, Duncan felt the culmination of his photographic evolution when he wrote his editor: “[Picasso] appears to love all work that he touches. This love shows up in the pictures, too. I have covered many, many subjects as a photographer. This is the Best.” And the friendship would endure – Duncan hailing the artist as “Maestro” and Picasso calling the photographer “Ishmael” – for 17 years, until Picasso’s death. It would have such a profound effect upon Duncan that he would continue to produce books about the artist for years after his death – so rich was Duncan’s coverage of this one magnificent life force.

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