Two Zebra Nudes, New York, 2005
Paper: 15 15/16 x 11 15/16 inches
Lucien Clergue Biography
French photographer Lucien Clergue was a pioneering photographer who dedicated his career to elevating photography to a high art during times when the leading artistic medium was painting. Clergue’s work included landscapes, portraits, still lives and studies of the female nude which generated particular acclaim. He is well known for his black-and-white portraits of Pablo Picasso who was an early advocate of Clergue’s practice and became a lifelong friend and collaborator. Clergue’s autobiographical book, Picasso My Friend, looks back on important moments of their relationship.
Lucien Clergue was born in the coastal town of Arles, France in 1934 and derived from a family of shopkeepers. Growing up in the South of France during WWII, Clergue and his family were evacuated from Arles for a brief period of time until the war was over. When Clergue returned to his apartment in 1944 he found it to be destroyed along with his mother’s shop and much of his town by an Allied bombardment. Arles was in ruins and remained so for years to come. Post-war images of France that portrayed romanticized scenes of berets, baguettes and Parisian balconies were created by popularized photographers such as Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Edouard Boubat. While their work was certainly important and culturally interesting, it was far from the truth. Clergue turned his focus to the ruined buildings and poverty that were the realities of most French people at the time.
In the early 1950s Clergue studied the rudiments of photography and four years later, at a corrida in Arles, he showed his photographs to Pablo Picasso who demanded to see more of his images. During this time Clergue worked on a series of photographs of traveling entertainers. Clergue also photographed the gypsies of southern France and he was instrumental in propelling the guitarist Manitas de Plata to fame in 1968. In 1969 he founded, along with his friend Michel Tournier the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival.
Lucien Clergue passed away in Nimes, France in 2014. His photographs are in the collections of many well-known museums and private collectors. He has exhibited his work in over 100 solo exhibitions worldwide, with noted exhibitions such as 1961, Museum of Modern Art in New York, the last exhibition organized by Edward Steichen. His photographs are included in the collections of The Fogg Museum at Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 2007, the city of Arles honored Lucien Clergue and dedicated a retrospective collection of 360 of his photographs dating from 1953 to 2007. He also received the 2007 Lucie Award.