Among the men who have best given proof of their life and of whom one cannot say that they have passed over the earth, without at once feeling that they remain upon it, Pablo Picasso numbers among the greatest. He renewed the connection between the object and the person who sees it and therefore thinks about it; he has given us anew, in the boldest, sublimest, way, the inseparable proofs of mans existence and the worlds.
LUCERNE, that picturesque old lake town that goes back some eight hundred years, is not a place that one goes to for seeing an exhibition of photographs of Picasso. It is one of the great tourist draws of Switzerland: Uniquely Swiss, with its seamless blend of the old and the new, preserving its past with zealous care, proud of what it has managed to cling on to despite the ravages that time inevitably wreaks, and of course located in inexpressibly beautiful surroundings. But, wandering along its old streets paved with cobbled stone just a stones throw away, it seemed, from the gleaming new steel-and-glass Kongresshalle I came upon, entirely unexpectedly, a full-fledged Picasso Museum.
not unaware of Picasso, or of places where great
collections of his work are housed, but this place I had
never heard of, did not know anything about. There was a
poster outside a quaint, 17th-century, three-storeyed
stone-and-wood structure, the Am-Rhyn-Haus along
the river which flows through Lucerne before falling into
the lake which invited one to come in and see
the Picassos housed in it. This sounded
tempting although, given the constraint of time, I might
still not have gone in to see yet another group of
Picassos. But what I found irresistible was the picture
on the poster: It was a photograph of an ageing but
vigorous Picasso, bare bodied and dressed down to his
shorts, all by himself, striking a posture of dance on
the stone floor of his studio in France, as if learning
ballet. It was a beautifully taken picture, disarming and
intense at the same time, capturing something of the
great energy that flowed through that familiar frame. I
was greatly drawn, and did eventually go in
despite the constraint of time, as I said only to
find, to my delight, something I might not have had the
chance easily to see anywhere else: Some two hundred
photographs of Picasso taken by just one photographer. It
was a revealing world.
The photographer, David Douglas Duncan, was an unlikely person to have come so close to Picasso as to be able to record him with any great intimacy. An American, born in Kansas City, he had spent years earlier as a war photographer, working for the Life magazine, covering anywhere in the world where there was trouble. But, somehow, from 1956 onwards, till Picassos death in 1973, Duncan came truly close to Picasso when he was living at Cannes, in the south of France, and took countless pictures of him: Alone, in company with Jacqueline, brooding, working, clowning, playing about with his goat, nibbling a fish down to its barest bones. There is something riveting about the pictures. For in them all in black and white, conventionally lit in some ways is captured something of the spirit, the deep humanity, of Picasso. One almost gets the feeling that one is able to come even closer to his art, having seen these photographs.
They are not barring a very few posed pictures, and what one sees in them is not the self-aware, seemingly arrogant, artist that many people perceived him as, but someone on peaceful terms with life, happy to be part of the world that he was born in. One senses that there are moments where he would rather be by himself, and not be seen or intruded upon, but these are thoughtful moments, natural to a man bristling with ideas, and yet ceaselessly working them out in his head. There is a remarkably simple, but specially moving, photograph that I can still recall with clarity: Of Picasso seated on a chair, in undress, viewed from the back, facing a canvas on which he has drawn, brush still in hand, only a single diagonal line. It is not a frozen moment that Duncan captures here, but one that is pregnant, resonating with a thousand possibilities. There was also a close-up of Picassos eyes: Intense and curious. But with that goes a story that Duncan tells with some relish in his notes. He took an enlargement of this picture to Picasso, hoping that he would sign it for him. But as was often his wont the artist refused. "Then, ignoring me completely, he tore a page from a sketchbook, found scissors, a stick of charcoal, and began to work." What he turned out was a drawing of an owls face, with holes where the eyes should have been. Holding it in front of his own face, he pronounced it as a self-portrait. This he then signed and handed over to the photographer with a dedication. As I said, an intensely human individual, at peace with life.
The photographs of
Picasso were not the only objects that were on view in
this Museum at Lucerne. There were a number of original
Picassos: Paintings, lithographs, ceramics, an iron
sculpture. And they had all been given to the city of
Lucerne as a gift by the art-dealer Siegfried Rosengart
and his family. Rosengart had fled Nazi-occupied
territory, and had found in Lucerne a refuge. The
Picassos he gifted to the town were an expression of his
gratitude. The last of the gifts was a group of eight
Picasso paintings worth spectacular sums of money
which the Rosengart family gave to Lucerne when
the city was celebrating its 800th year: One work for
each hundred years! The city in turn converted the old
17th century house into a Picasso museum meant only to
keep the Rosengart bequest in one place, together. I find
these gestures noble. And moving.