Lucien Clergue


Lucien Clergue was born in 1934 in Arles, an ancient port city in France. Clergue began taking photographs in 1953—at the early age of nineteen. Clergue’s photographs have been widely exhibited, including a legendary show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, which was the last exhibit organized by Edward Steichen. While the main ambition of this artist’s life was to firmly establish the importance of photography within the canons of art history, the oeuvre of Lucien Clergue remains liberated from the constraints of any established movement. Under the direction of Alfred Barr, MoMA was the first public art institution to establish a department dedicated to photography in 1940. A radical development in contrast to France where antiquated values of photography limited its recognition, especially in public institutions. In fact, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris would not distinguish photography as an art form until 2006, with the induction of Clergue as their first photographer. Despite being pursued by esteemed fashion magazines throughout his career, Clergue would adamantly refuse well-paid assignments. Nothing could divert his attention from his higher calling, artistically expressing himself through his lens.

Although rooted in the stylistic doctrines of Surrealism and Modernism, Clergue’s continued experimentation sought to renew the power of photography through his thoughtful creations that captured his undying commitment to represent beauty. Progressively, Clergue would redefine the potential of this medium and what it could become by exposing its ability to exalt life. Never pigeonholed into a single aesthetic, Clergue continuously experimented with his practice, pushing boundaries to uncharted territories within the medium of photography. Heralded by the New York Times, his obituary would read “Master and Promoter of Art Photography”, a fair assessment considering his establishment of the largest international photography festival Les Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles (founded in 1970), a wordless doctoral dissertation from the University of Provence (1979), and an Academy Award nomination for his short film Delta de Sel. Photography as an art form was uplifted and championed by Lucien Clergue, whose expressions in the medium will demand more from the next generation behind the lens.

1934 Born in Arles, France on August 14, 1934, the only child of a grocer. From the age of seven takes violin lessons.
1944 One third of the city of Arles was destroyed by Allied bombing, including the Clergue family home.
1949 Takes a serious interest in photography.
1952 Death of his mother. Leaves school to work in a food processing factory in Arles. Meets the writer Jean-Marie Magnan, who remained a close friend and a permanent supporter.
1953 First meeting with Picasso, in Arles. For the first time has a photograph published in the local newspaper Le Provençal.
1954 Production of his first photographic series: images of Jean Renoir’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (performed in the Arena at Arles to mark the 2000th anniversary of the city’s founding), and Ruines, an exploration of the surviving war damage in Arles. Also starts working on the series Saltimbanques.
1955 Visits Picasso in his studio in Cannes, France.
1956 First meeting with Jean Cocteau, in Paris. Starts work on the series Nudes, posing his models on the beaches of the Camargue, France.
1957 Publication of his first book of photographs: Corps mémorable, with poems by Paul Eluard, cover designed by Picasso, with an introductory poem by Jean Cocteau. Through Cocteau, Clergue meets Max Ernst, who buys a series of Clergue’s images of dead flamingos, thereby becoming the first collector of Clergue’s work. Meets Cartier-Bresson in Arles.
1958 Clergue’s first exhibition opens at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Zurich, Switzerland.
1959 Guest photographer on Jean Cocteau’s film Le Testament d’Orphée. On December 31, Clergue leaves his job at the factory and becomes a freelance photographer.
1960 The photographer Edward Steichen acquires ten works by Clergue for the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
1961 Takes part in the last exhibition organized by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Diogenes with a Camera Number 5. Clergue’s film stills are included in the book version of Le Testament d’Orphée, which also has Cocteau’s dialogue from the film.
1962 Stays in Brasilia, Brazil, as a guest of the architect Oscar Niemeyer. Meets Marcel Breuer and Edgar Varese.
1963 Marries Yolande Wartel. Birth of daughter Anne. Prepares a set design for the ballet Le fils de l’air by Cocteau to mark the re-opening of the Munich Opera. The project is abandoned due to Cocteau’s death. Travels to India. The Paris fashion designer Givenchy produces a collection of scarves with motifs taken from Clergue’s photographs.
1965 Meets the poet Saint-John Perse. Takes photographs in the marshes of the Camargue. Makes his first film, Le drame du taureau. Initiates a photographic department at the Musée Réattu, Arles.
1966 Birth of Clergue’s second daughter, Olivia, with Picasso as her godfather. Clergue wins the “Louis Lumière” prize for his film Le drame du taureau.
1968 Clergue makes the film Picasso, War, Love and Peace for the series Museum Without Walls produced by Universal Pictures. Delta de Sel is shown at the Cannes Film Festival and is nominated for an Academy Award.
1969 Serves as Art Director at the Arles Festival. Is co-founder of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles with Jean-Maurice Rouquette and Michel Tournier.
1970 Makes first photographs of the series Nudes in the Wood.
1973 Death of Picasso
1974 Invites Ansel Adams to the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles. Clergue is elected a member of the Académie in Arles.
1975 Takes the first photographs of the series Nudes in the City (Paris and New York). Also starts photographing in color. The Centre National d’Art Contemporain, which will become the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris acquires sixty photographs from the series Langage des sables for its collection.
1979 Completes a doctorate in photography at the Université de Provence, Marseille, at the recommendation of Roland Barthes.
1980 Presented with the decoration “Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite” by French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
1981 Takes his first photographs in Death Valley. Makes his first experiments with a Polaroid camera. As part of the event marking the centenary of the birth of Picasso, he lectures on the artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
1982 In Monterey, California for Ansel Adams’ 80th birthday, Clergue presents him with the decoration “Commandeur de l’Ordre National des Arts et Lettres”.
1985 First retrospective exhibition in the United States, organized by the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, curated by Robert Sobieszek. Produces his first large- scale Polaroid photographs (20 x 24 inches) in Boston.
1986 At the Foto Fietsa in Higeshikawa, Japan, Clergue is awarded “Photographer of the Year.” A retrospective exhibition at Fotografie Forum International, Frankfurt, Germany. Lectures and gives an homage to Picasso at the Villa Medicis, Rome.
1987 Photographs artist Karel Appel creating a ballet to be performed in Paris. Retrospective at the Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki. First exhibition of his color photographs at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
1988 Organizes a fashion show in the 2000-year-old Théâtre Antique d’Arles, celebrating the five-year anniversary of the Christian Lacroix Company.
1992 The French National Fund for Contemporary Art (FNAC) purchases 8 silver prints.
1993 Takes portrait photographs of Jackie Onassis in the Camargue and Umberto Eco in Arles.
1994 Donation of ten photographs to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, by a private collector. The Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris acquires six images of the series Surimpressions tauromachiques.
1996 His photographs of the bullfighter Cristina Sanchez are published in numerous magazines and newspapers: Paris Match, Stern, Sunday Mirror, Life, Vogue and American Photo.
1997 Important retrospective exhibition of 40 years of work given at the California Museum of Photography, Riverside, California, curated by Jonathan Green.
2002 Exhibition of photographic portraits of Picasso in Picasso’s former Paris studio at 7 Rue des Grands Augustins. The Musée des Beaux-Arts, Vitoria, Spain, acquires a collection of Clergue’s work.
2003 Presented with the decoration “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” by French president Jacques Chirac.
2005 Awarded the Lucie Award for the “Outstanding Life Achievement in Fine Arts in Photography.”
2006 Retrospectives at L.A,Ca at Galerie Louis Stern.
2007 Retrospectives at Espace Van Gogh, Arles (France), in Vienne at the KunstHaus (Autriche) in Münster and Erlangen (Germany).
2009 Major exhibitions: “Picasso intimate” at Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood (USA), in Arles (France) “Les Gitans et leur Prince José Reyes” at Palais de l’Archevêché, in Aix en Provence (France) “Picasso chez Cézanne” at Atelier Cézanne and Cité du Livre, at Musée Marmottan in Paris (France) “Lucien Clergue-Yann Athus Bertrand, Deux Photographes Académiciens”.
2013-14 President of l’Académie des Beaux-Arts.
2014 First retrospective exhibition in Canada at Odon Wagner Gallery, Toronto, ON.

Notable Public Collections

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL
Bühl Foundation, New York, NY
Cabinet des Estampes à Genève, Geneva, Switzerland
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Dortmund Art Museum, Dortmund, Germany
École Nationale de la Photographie, Arles, France
Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Fondation National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France
Galeria de la Foto, Buenos Aires, Argentina
George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland
La Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, Japan
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland
Musée Picasso, Paris, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
Museum of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
National Gallery of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON
Oxford College Collection, Oxford, England
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France
Preus Fotomuseum, Horten, Norway
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.
Victoria Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2014 Odon Wagner Gallery, Toronto, ON
Throckmorton Gallery, New York, NY
2013 Musée Yves Brayer, Les-Baux-de-Provence, France
Centre Culturel Français, Madrid, Spain
Musée Jean Cocteau, Menton, France
2012 Chris Beetles Gallery, London, England
2011 Maison de la photographie, Moscow, Russia
French Institute, New York, NY
2010 Artmia Foundation, Bejing, China
Palais de l’Archevêché, Arles, France
2006 Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood, CA
2004 Recontres Internationales de la Photographie, Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles, France
2002 Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nîmes, France
1999 Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Dortmund, Germany
1997 Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles, France
UCR California Museum of Photography, CA
Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, Mexico
Musée Paul Eluard, Paris, France
1993 FNAC, Paris, France
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
1988 International Photo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1987 Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland
1986 ICP, New York, NY
Photo Fiesta, Higeshikawa, Japan
1985 George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
1984 Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, France
French Institute, Tel Aviv, Israel
1980 Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
1978 Shadai Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Photographic Center, Melbourne, Australia
1974 Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Leopold-Hoesch Museum, Düren, Germany
1969 Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
1963 Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zurich, Switzerland
1962 Pavillion de Marsan, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
1958 Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zurich, Switzerland

Selected Group Exhibitions 

2013-15 Art Toronto, Odon Wagner Contemporary, Toronto, ON
2003 Echec et succès en créativité, organized by Creando, Interlaken, Switzerland
1999 The Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) Exhibition, New York, NY
1998 Paris Photo, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
1990 Galerie Lieberman and Saul, New York, NY
1979 New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
1978 Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico
1961 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1958 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY