A LIFE OF PICASSO by John Richardson


Vol. II: 1907-1917
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 Richardson's engrossing second volume on Picasso lays bare the inceptions of Cubism, bringing to life the decadent milieu that surrounded the virile master who transformed the course of 20th- century painting. This installment in the author's monumental biography opens on the eve of Picasso's painting of the revolutionary Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which, incidentally, wasn't publicly exhibited until 1916, nor was it hailed as revolutionary until the early '20s (by AndrÇ Breton). The painting was so radical that it shocked even the band of cronies who never left Picasso's side--including Max Jacob and Apollinaire--who, upon viewing it, ``took refuge in embarrassed silence.'' Although Picasso later denied it, the women's angular feature had been influenced by tribal masks--he was fascinated by these fetishes functioning as weapons to ward off evil spirits--but he was deeply affected by the work of El Greco and CÇzanne as well. Ironically, it was Braque who, having seen Demoiselles, painted and exhibited a series of ``cubist'' canvases that would subject him to the public's outrage. This was a brilliant move, Richardson points out, on the part of Picasso, who feared xenophobic hostility and allowed Braque to situate himself on the front lines while he sat back and watched. Living in Montmartre with the beautiful Fernande Olivier, whom he had once worshipped but who now served as a model for one of the whores, he was surrounded by talented acolytes who enjoyed opium, bisexual escapades, mean-spirited drunken shenanigans, and the swapping of mistresses. Poverty was held barely at bay thanks to the patronage of Gertrude and Leo Stein and the art dealer Kahnweiler. Richardson masterfully describes the inseparable life and art of his magnetic subject, whose love of women went hand in hand with his misogyny, and whose propensity to reject led painting forward more than any other painter in this century. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-55918-5
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996


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by Thomas J. Amato
AdultPICASSO by Museum of Modern Art
by Museum of Modern Art