These photographs by Eileen Agar come from Tate Archive and show Picasso and his buddies chilling on the beach in 1937
The vast Tate Archive contains over a million items related to artists, art world figures and art organisations in Britain from 1900 to the present day.
There are many treasures to be found here: Paul Nash’s letters to his wife during the First World War; Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture records or Graham Sutherland’s fascinating sketchbooks filled with colourful gouache studies and drawings relating to major works.
But some of the most disarming and immediate are the photographs taken by the Argentine-born British painter, photographer and sometime surrealist Eileen Agar (1899 – 1991).
more like this
Among the black and white images of surreal landscapes and incongruous street furniture are dozens of snapshots of summer holidays and trips Agar made with her partner and later husband, the author and editor Joseph Herman, between the 1930s and 1950s.
But in 1937, the couple holidayed on the French Riviera at The Hotel Vaste Horizon in Mougins, Alpes-Maritimes where Picasso lived with his lover and muse, the painter and photographer Dora Maar.
Picasso drew a clique of friends to The Vaste Horizon where they would congregate regularly until war intervened and he moved his base of operations back to Paris.
These friends included the poet Paul Éluard and his wife Nusch, Roland Penrose and photographer and model Lee Miller, and the surrealist photographer Man Ray.
Agar’s photographs capture all of these major artworld figures at play at the Vaste Horizon and the beach at Juan-les-pins in September 1937.
Her diaries (also in the Tate Archive), while not offering any insights into the complexities of the group and their intertwined lives, offer up some wonderful moments from her time staying with Picasso in Mougins.
Despite her own growing reputation – she and Bard had lived in Paris between 1928 and the mid 1930s and they already knew Eluard and Penrose – she was clearly thrilled to be spending time in the presence of Picasso.
“Joseph tells Picasso what a tremendous admiration I have for his work… whereupon Picasso plucks a cork out of his Evian bottle and hands it to me as a souvenir, saying at the same time that I must put it between my teeth when war comes to prevent them chattering.”
War clouds were indeed gathering. Joseph Bard, a Jewish born Hungarian, lost his son George (born in 1911 to Jolan Weinberger) to the Holocaust in Hungary. Lee Miller was to become a pioneering war photographer and the Eluard’s were drawn into the world of the French Resistance.
But in 1937 all was seemingly carefree. Another diary entry pokes fun at her partner’s own exalted view of Picasso: “The second great event in Joseph’s Life, Picasso cleaning the lavatory top for him.”
The photographs appear to convey how well disposed Picasso was to Agar – something confirmed by Lee Miller, who went on to photograph Agar both in France and for a series of surreal portraits at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
“Lee later paid me the compliment of saying Picasso always smiles for me, when even [sic] I wanted to take his photograph.”
A later recollection in the diary, which Agar writes are notes for her later autobiography, A look at My Life, (published in 1988), include references to the artworks both Agar and Picasso were making at the time. Agar had already been experimenting with found objects – working with Paul Nash on a series of sculptures in Swanage – and she was thrilled when Picasso took an interest.
“So I can truthfully say that I slept in Picasso’s bed tho’ not of course when he was in it!”
“He did the honour of coming to my small room in the hotel so see some objects which I had made – mostly out of driftwood I collected while swimming… he then showed us some stones he had carved or incised with drawings…
“He allowed us into his large room with a balcony at the Vaste Horizon… mostly small canvasses were displayed across the walls. When they left for Paris the proprietors of the hotel asked Joseph and I if we would like to stay in Picasso’s room as it was empty, so of course we said yes and stayed there another 10 days. So I can truthfully say that I slept in Picasso’s bed tho’ not of course when he was in it!”
Looking at the photographs, which include several artistic but intimate nudes, the couple evidently enjoyed their stay in Picasso’s room.
- Explore the Tate Archive at www.tate.org.uk/research/archive/collections
- See the Eileen Agar photographs at www.tate.org.uk/art/archive/tga-8927/photograph-collection-belonging-to-eileen-agar