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Behind closed doors

An exhibition in Paris celebrates renowned photographers’ images of artists’ studios — with some of the 20th century’s best-known artists among the subjects

On display until 17 July, the exhibition Dans l’Atelier, at Paris’s Petit Palais, promises visitors an alternative look at some of history’s greatest artists, with 400 photographs capturing figures including Picasso, Brancusi and Matisse in the intimate surrounds of their private studios.

Other images are significant not so much for the celebration of their subject as the famous photographers who captured them — demonstrating how one artist's work became inspiration for another.

Here, we share a selection of seven shots of artists at work, offering an unguarded insight into the process of making a masterpiece.

  • 1
  • Pablo Picasso by André Villers

André Villers, Picasso au Travail, 1955. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Photo © André Villers, Adagp, Paris 2016Coll. Bibliothèque Nationale de France © Succession Picasso

André Villers, Picasso au Travail, 1955. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Photo © André Villers, Adagp, Paris 2016/Coll. Bibliothèque Nationale de France © Succession Picasso

In March 1953, French artist and photographer André Villers met Pablo Picasso, who offered him his first camera. The gift marked the beginning of a long friendship, with Picasso and Villers working together to publish Diurnes — a book of photographic experiments — in 1962.

As well as collaborating with the artist, Villers photographed Picasso at work in his studio, capturing the artist engrossed, mid-brushstroke — seemingly unaware of Villers’ presence. In other shots Picasso stares directly into Villers’ lens, his face cracking into a smile in photographs that show the artist in fancy dress.

André Villers, La Palette de Picasso, 1955. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Coll. Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © André Villers, Adagp, Paris 2016  ©  Succession Picasso

André Villers, La Palette de Picasso, 1955. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Coll. Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © André Villers, Adagp, Paris 2016 / ©  Succession Picasso

Villers would go on to photograph some of the greatest artists of his time, including Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Pierre Soulages and Federico Fellini.  

  • 2
  • Paul Rebeyrolle by Gérard Rondeau

Gérard Rondeau, Paul Rebeyrolle dans Son Atelier à Boudre­ville, 1988. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Chassins, collection Gérard Rondeau. © Gérard Rondeau  Adagp, Paris 2016

Gérard Rondeau, Paul Rebeyrolle dans Son Atelier à Boudre­ville, 1988. Tirage gélatino-argentique. Chassins, collection Gérard Rondeau. © Gérard Rondeau / Adagp, Paris 2016

Renowned for his photographs of a besieged Sarajevo, Gérard Rondeau is also one of France’s most prominent portrait photographers, capturing writers and artists at work. Of his subjects, painter Paul Rebeyrolle is the most recurrent — the notoriously private artist having trusted Rondeau to film him at work for the first time in his career. 

  • 3
  • Christian Dior's favourite photographer

Willy Maywald, Atelier de Nu à Montparnasse, 1936-1938. Tirage gélatino-argentique postérieur. Paris, musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Willy Maywald © Association Willy Maywald  Adagp, Paris 2016

Willy Maywald, Atelier de Nu à Montparnasse, 1936-1938. Tirage gélatino-argentique postérieur. Paris, musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris. Willy Maywald © Association Willy Maywald / Adagp, Paris 2016

When German photographer Willy Maywald moved to Paris at the beginning of the 1930s, photography became a means of both documenting a new life, and earning a living. Although its subjects are unknown, this shot captures the mood of pre-War Montparnasse — an area of Paris that became an enclave for artists including Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Diego Rivera and Juan Gris.

A close friend of fashion designers and celebrities, Maywald went on to become Christian Dior’s official photographer, his work appearing on the covers of magazines including Vogue and Vanity Fair

  • 4
  • Constantin Brâncuși by Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Constantin Brancusi dans Son Atelier, Impasse Ronsin. Héliogravure. Chalon-sur-Saône, Musée Nicéphore Niepce ©The Estate of Edward Steichen Adagp, Paris 2016

Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Constantin Brancusi dans Son Atelier, Impasse Ronsin. Héliogravure. Chalon-sur-Saône, Musée Nicéphore Niepce ©The Estate of Edward Steichen /Adagp, Paris 2016

Photographer Edward Steichen and sculptor Constantin Brâncuși met in Auguste Rodin’s Paris studio, and went on to become lifelong friends. Later the director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, Steichen became a strong advocate of Brancusi's work, famously defending his sculpture Bird in Space when U.S. customs officials claimed it was not a work of art, but a taxable ‘utilitarian’ object, upon its arrival in New York Harbor. 

A version of Bird in Space appears in this photograph, elegantly rising up behind the Romanian artist. 

  • 5
  • Ernest Pignon-Ernest

Marie-Jésus Diaz, Ernest Pignon-Ernest dans Son Atelier de la Ruche à Paris, 1994. Tirage gélatino-argentique de 2015 ©Marie-Jésus Diaz

Marie-Jésus Diaz, Ernest Pignon-Ernest dans Son Atelier de la Ruche à Paris, 1994. Tirage gélatino-argentique de 2015 ©Marie-Jésus Diaz

French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest has developed a reputation for works that carry political weight, creating images of contorted bodies that explore themes including AIDS and deportation. As important as his subject is the location of his works, transposed from the hectic studio floor to be displayed on the walls of buildings which range from prisons to stock exchanges.

 

  • 6
  • Alberto Giacometti by Robert Doisneau

Robert Doisneau, Alberto Giacometti dans Son Atelier, rue Hippolyte-Maindron à Paris, 1957. Tirage gélatino-argentique de 2011, Montrouge, Atelier Robert Doisneau. © Robert DoisneauGamma–RaphoAdagp 2016Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris)

Robert Doisneau, Alberto Giacometti dans Son Atelier, rue Hippolyte-Maindron à Paris, 1957. Tirage gélatino-argentique de 2011, Montrouge, Atelier Robert Doisneau. © Robert Doisneau/Gamma–Rapho/Adagp 2016/Succession Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris)

A pioneering photojournalist, Robert Doisneau captured life on Paris’s streets, and the results — such as Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville — frequently became iconic. The city’s artists were also inspirations, and Doisneau produced intimate studio portraits of figures including Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Arp and César

In this photograph, Doisneau captures Alberto Giacometti in his mezzanine studio at Paris’s Rue Hippolyte-Maindron, the photographer’s lens positioned above the artist as though wielded by one of the tall, reduced figures for which Giacometti became known. The artist would occupy his studio for 40 years, consistently citing his move there as a ‘turning point’ in his artistic career.