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SIX EXCEPTIONAL WOMAN by James Lord

SIX EXCEPTIONAL WOMAN

Further Memoirs

By James Lord

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-374-26553-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 The Paris-based author of Giacometti: A Biography (1985) follows his recent remembrance of Picasso's model, Dora and Picasso, with sharply detailed profiles of six other interesting figures. He begins with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, explaining the ambition behind their relationship and the power of the tyrannical author's personality, while showing her close up, running errands and walking the dog. Lord convincingly makes the startling claim that the subject of Picasso's great portrait now at the Metropolitan Museum ``had a certain basic indifference to the visual arts.'' ``It was her private, subjective experience alone that determined the character of her objective convictions,'' he writes. ``Despite the unerring discrimination of her taste as a young woman, she may always have been more interested in painters than she was in painting.'' Three of Lord's other subjects he also met in post-war Europe, their lives marked by the political and cultural upheaval: The French actress Arletty, the star of Children of Paradise, whose liaison with a German officer cut off her career; Marie-Laure de Noailles, who wielded her fortune to collect art and patronize the surrealists; Errieta Perdikidi, a Greek woman who braved the Nazi occupation and civil war with singular grace. The author's most moving portrait is of his mother, Louise Bennett Lord, who wrestles with her conscience and the conventions of an upper-class American upbringing to decide whether to subsidize her son's writing or force him to earn a living. This struggle is mapped out in a series of wonderful letters from mother to son whose clear measured prose reveals her bedrock kindness, tolerance, and honesty. ``I am willing to finance this artistic enterprise within reason,'' she wrote, ``but I fear that I shall have to be the judge as to what reason is.'' In his penetrating commentary on his relationships with these six women, Lord reveals much about himself and examines the nature of friendship, loyalty, patronage, creativity, and moral courage. The book has the effect of a small exhibition of candid, finely rendered portrait sketches. Drawn in prose at once formal and immediate, the encounters are not quickly forgotten. (Photographs, not seen.)