Lucien Clergue


Lucien Clergue (1934-2014) was a legendary fine art photographer, author, educator and filmmaker. His work was associated with significant artists of the 20th century, including Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Roland Barthes, Max Ernst, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Salvador Dali, Jean Renoir, André Kertész, Marcel Breuer, Roman Polanski, and the Gipsy Kings. Lucien Clergue received the French Legion of Honor award in 2003 (only received by two other photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész). In addition, he was the first photographer bestowed with membership in the Académie des Beaux Arts of the Institute of France and was elected president of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts in 2013.

Clergue’s photographs have been exhibited in over 100 solo exhibitions worldwide. Harvard University’s Fogg Museum has an extensive collection, as well as Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Clergue captured extraordinary images of Saltimbanques, nudes, bullfights, and intimate portraits of artists, intellectuals, musicians and creative individuals. His photographic artistry extended to experimental and visionary images of deserts, cities, and integrating master paintings with the human form. In addition to photography, Clergue has created and directed art related films and co-founded, along with Michel Tournier, the annual Les Rencontres d’Arles Photographie, the internationally recognized photography festival in Arles, France.


In 1959, Clergue captured historic and artistic photographs on the set of Jean Cocteau’s last film Testament of Orpheus (Le testament d’Orphée). The images evoke the creative personality of one of France’s foremost 20th century intellectuals, Jean Cocteau, a writer, artist, and filmmaker. Clergue documented the atmosphere on the set of the landmark, seminal film. Among Cocteau’s collaborators represented are Pablo Picasso, Yul Brynner and Jean Marais. Photographer Lucien Clergue, a close friend of Cocteau, was only 25 at the time when he documented the making of the film. In the words of Cocteau, “You are free to do as you please, I look forward to being surprised by your photos. They will reveal something different from my film.”




Testament of Orpheus (Le testament d’Orphée), directed and starring Jean Cocteau, is the third part of his Orphic Trilogy, Cocteau’s last film, following The Blood of a Poet (1930) and Orphée (1950). The black-and-white film with a few seconds of color portrays the quest for divine wisdom of an 18th century poet, played by Mr. Cocteau himself. In a mysterious wasteland, The Poet meets several symbolic characters that bring about his death and resurrection. Testament of Orpheus brings full circle the exploration of the complex relationship between the artist and his creations. With an eclectic cast, including Jean Marais, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Serge Lifar, and Françoise Sagan, as well as cameo appearances by Yul Brynner and Pablo Picasso, the film represents a retrospective of Cocteau’s life and work as examined by the artist himself. It is, in Cocteau’s own words, “simply a machine for creating meanings”.


Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963) was a French writer, visual artist, and filmmaker. His circle of associates, friends, and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, Maria Félix, and Edith Piaf. Born in a prominent Parisian family, Cocteau left home at age fifteen and published his first volume of poems at nineteen. Early on, Cocteau became associated with the writers Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Maurice Barrès and started a collaboration with Ballets Russes. During World War I, he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artists Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani, as well as numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated.

His films, most of which he both wrote and directed, were particularly important in introducing the avant-garde into French cinema and influenced the French New Wave genre. In 1955, Cocteau was made a member of the Académie Française and The Royal Academy of Belgium. During his life, Cocteau was commander of the Legion of Honor and Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival. He died in 1963 at his chateau in Milly-la-Forêt.


Photographs © The Estate of Lucien Clergue

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