A LIFE OF PICASSO by John Richardson


The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932
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The biography’s long-awaited third volume finds the prolific artist at work in Italy, Spain and France.

Richardson (Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dalí, Picasso, Freud, Warhol, and More, 2001, etc.) lives up to expectations, delivering another fastidious examination of the painter’s life. He opens with Picasso and poet/filmmaker Jean Cocteau in Rome, working together on materials for Sergei Diaghilev’s 1917 ballet, Parade. Richardson makes note of Picasso and Cocteau’s dalliances with the dancers and documents the painter’s flirtation with the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, which ultimately resulted in marriage. Their tumultuous relationship forms a generous portion of this weighty tome. The author spots early warning signs that their relationship was doomed. Picasso continued indulging his addiction to whorehouses, for example, while sequestering Olga in his Parisian villa in 1917 and ’18. This period also saw the cementing of his friendship with musician Erik Satie. The most interesting sections contain Richardson’s interpretations of Picasso’s art in relation to his always-unstable personal life. The paintings of Olga in particular, the biographer notes, undergo a remarkable transformation from affectionate portraits to images “seething with ridicule and rage.” The birth of their son Paulo in 1921 did nothing to halt Picasso’s affairs with other women. In 1927, he began his famous liaison with teenage Marie-Thérèse Walter, chronicled in lurid detail that documents the artist’s sadomasochistic tendencies. Asides on Cocteau’s and Satie’s lives provide a welcome diversion as this period unfolds. Richardson chronicles Cocteau’s hopeless opium addiction and notes that Picasso was so close to Satie that he found it “too painful” to attend the composer’s funeral. The author also makes some interesting points on latter-day bidding wars over Picasso’s works, describing Dream, painted not long before the volume closes in 1932, as “sullied” by its $139 million price tag and its current resting place in a Las Vegas casino.

Engrossing and revealing material, supplemented by innumerable reproductions of Picasso’s paintings and many period photos.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-307-26665-1
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2007


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