Picasso’s ballet years, from Parade to 5th position
At 96, the photographer David Douglas Duncan can still remember the moment, more than 55 years ago, when he was brave enough to ring the doorbell outside the gate of Pablo Picassoâ€™s home in Cannes.
The artist was not expecting him. Duncan knew little about Picasso but was simply following up on the idea of his friend and colleague, the photographer, Robert Capa, who suggested he might photograph Picasso one day.
Picassoâ€™s lover, Jacqueline Roque, opened the gate at Picassoâ€™s villa, La Californie.
Duncan explained who he was and what he was hoping to do.
As Duncan recently told Philippe Dagen, a journalist from Le Monde, moments later he was taking his first portrait of Picasso, soaping himself in the bath.
As Dagen wrote, â€śFrom then on until the early 1960s, he was the artist’s main photographer, certainly the most constant and the one who enjoyed the greatest access. He could come and go as he pleased at Picasso’s various homesâ€ť.
â€śYou cannot imagine how simple it all wasâ€ť, Duncan told Dagen.
â€śWe didn’t talk much, maybe 50 words in a whole day. My language was photography.â€ť
Duncanâ€™s many images included the playful shots of Picasso attempting to copy ballet positions and steps demonstrated by Jacqueline.
Picasso seemed to pretend that ballet was, to him, a foreign language but was this really an affectation? By this time, Picasso knew more than a little about the art form, if not the exact steps and positions a dancer practises daily.
His first wife was Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova, a member of Diaghilevâ€™s Ballets Russes.
They married in July 1918. The previous year, she had danced in the premiere of Parade at the ThĂ©Ă˘tre du ChĂ˘telet. For this Diaghilev ballet, choreographed by Leonide Massine to music by Erik Satie, Picasso designed the costumes and set.
He went on to collaborate with Diaghilev for the ballets Le Tricorne, Pulcinella, Mercure and Le train bleu.
Picasso drew or painted Olga several times, at least once in a ballet pose for his Group of Dancers (pencil on paper), 1919 – 1920 in which she is seen lying in the foreground.
The couple separated in 1935, but they remained married until Olgaâ€™s death in Cannes in 1955.
In the most recent biography of Diaghilev, (published in 2009), the author, Sjeng Scheijen, wrote that Picasso was â€śnot blind to the benefits of marrying into Diaghilevâ€™s company.
â€śThe artist had begun to cultivate a more refined appearance and manners under the influence of the great impresario. The coarse Bohemian from Montmartre traded in his overalls and espadrilles for plus-fours and ties, relishing the official dinners and receptions that Diaghilev took him to.
â€śPicasso now had the chance to show off his art to a larger, richer, more international and diverse public than would have ever been possible in the flashy but still decidedly marginal world of the Parisian avant-gardeâ€ť.
Picasso had many lovers but married only twice. His second wife, Jacqueline, whom he married in 1961, was 27 when they met.
They remained married until Picassoâ€™s death in 1973. Jacqueline’s last years were disastrous as she battled Picassoâ€™s family members and Francoise Gilot, his former mistress. In 1986, Jacqueline committed suicide.