The first installment of a proposed four-volume, richly illustrated biography of the Spanish master, by a writer who was a Riviera neighbor and friend of the artist for a dozen years. What Richardson has produced is a work of distinguished scholarship, notable for its clearsighted evaluation of Picasso's strengths and weaknesses and leavened by personal reminiscences--in short, biographical art of the highest quality, almost certain to become a classic of the genre. Considering his long involvement with Picasso, it is much to Richardson's credit that he maintains a scrupulously objective viewpoint, producing a work that combines a subtly shaded portrait of an enormously complex personality with perceptive analyses of his oeuvre. In the past, many Picasso biographers have seemingly been unable to deal with the artist so evenhandedly, preferring to either canonize or condemn. Jaime Sabarte in his Picasso: An Intimate Portrait (1949), for example, opted for hagiography, perpetuating without question the many myths Picasso spun around himself. Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, on the other hand, was intent on revealing her subject's monumental failings--cruelty, megalomania, chauvinism--in her Picasso: Creator and Destroyer (1988). The present volume traces Picasso's life from his birth in 1881 in the city of Malaga to the year 1906, when the artist was on the brink of creating the tradition-shattering Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Richardson's treatment of the complexities of the young Picasso's family life is revelatory. The author convincingly argues that, contrary to long-held belief, Picasso's father did not give up painting when he recognized his son's genius. As for Picasso's insistence that ""at the age of twelve, I drew like Raphael,"" Richardson finds the early drawings ""far from Raphaelesque."" On larger matters, he is equally perceptive. Of the Blue Period, he says, ""[These] paintings make sorrow acceptable to bourgeois taste by sentimentalizing and sanitizing it."" Turning his attention to the artist's use of color, he states, ""Picasso's sense of color was not instinctive; it was calculated."" He then backs up his statement by tracing the painter's erratic course ""from dark sickrooms to sunlit bullfights. . .from cubist monochrome to the local color of labels and posters, from the grisaille of Guernica to the Day-Glo maquillage of certain Dora Maars."" A monumental and immensely enjoyable work, superbly enhanced by 675 well-chosen b&w photos.