In Review

A Life of Picasso: Vol. IV – a flawed but ‘astounding’ book

John Richardson’s new volume is clever and flamboyant

No novelist could have made Pablo Picasso up, said Laura Freeman in The Times. “The life is better than fiction.” And it’s a life that has a perfect chronicler, in the art historian John Richardson.

The first three volumes of Richardson’s “monumental biography”, covered Picasso’s life till the age of 50. Richardson wasn’t even midway through the fourth when he died, aged 95, in 2019. And so this final instalment breaks off in 1943, with Picasso aged 61 – and destined to “live, paint and love for another 30 years”. Despite being written in testing circumstances – Richardson’s eyesight was failing – there isn’t the slightest “let-up” in quality. This volume is as “clever, amusing, flamboyant” as ever.

“The years under consideration are some of the most tumultuous in Picasso’s long and twisty life,” said Waldemar Januszczak in The Sunday Times. As ever, his love life was complex, his treatment of women “unforgivably callous”. Extricating himself from his “ugly marriage” to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, he took up with the surrealist photographer Dora Maar – while regularly visiting an older flame, the “voluptuous” model Marie-Thérèse Walter.

This volume also sees the emergence of “Picasso the political artist”. He was prompted to engage with politics by the Spanish Civil War: Guernica, his 1937 masterpiece, was a response to the Nazis’ “brutal annihilation” of the Basque town. After the War broke out, Picasso made the “extraordinary decision” to stay in Paris, although an outspoken anti-fascist. The only pity is that this project ends suddenly in 1943. This biography is a “masterpiece”, albeit an “incomplete” one.

Written in a style “at once magisterial and indiscreet”, it makes for “compulsive reading”, said Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. And yet in many ways it feels strikingly “out of step”, because the cultural landscape has changed so much since the previous instalments appeared.

Richardson “seems happy to repeat others’ misogyny”: thus Olga (he refers to women by their first names) is a “termagant” and a “madwoman”, while Marie-Thérèse is “immature” and “ordinary” – “except in bed”. And Richardson’s strenuously biographical approach to Picasso the artist – with his lovers inspiring his various “periods” – is one younger scholars have largely “moved away from”.

Flawed though it may be, this book is still “astounding”, said Sebastian Smee in The Washington Post. With his earlier volumes, Richardson “set the standard for modern artists’ biographies”. This is a “worthy” sign-off.

Jonathan Cape 368pp £35; The Week Bookshop £27.99 (incl. p&p)

Picasso book
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

Recommended

A weekend in Dublin
The Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey at Temple Bar in Dublin
The big trip

A weekend in Dublin

Aston Martin DBX707: the fastest production SUV on sale
Aston Martin DBX707
Expert’s view

Aston Martin DBX707: the fastest production SUV on sale

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: events, festivals and street parties
Jubilee Street Party
In Focus

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: events, festivals and street parties

23 magnificent hotels to discover in 2022
TheHotel Terrestre swimming pool, which is outside in the sun
In Focus

23 magnificent hotels to discover in 2022

Popular articles

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

Nato vs. Russia: who would win?
Nato troops
In Depth

Nato vs. Russia: who would win?

The Week Footer Banner