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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.