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Although John Richardson is best known as a ...
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Although John Richardson is best known as a biographer and art historian, he has also written a great many articles for Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books, House & Garden, and The New Yorker about people whose fame or notoriety was not necessarily acquired exclusively from making art, and it is from these articles -- extensively rewritten and updated -- that this collection has been culled. The "Sacred Monsters" of the title include writers such as Truman Capote and the Sitwells, collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim and Dr. Barnes, rogues such as Armand Hammer and Domenica Walter, decorators such as Sibyl Colefax and Carlos de Beistegui, and ambiguous figures like the celebrated transsexual journalist Jan Morris, Salvador Dali's demonic wife, Gala, and Vita Sackville-West, whose love life played such a juicy role in London's literary sphere.
The "Sacred Masters" include many of the great artists Richardson has known, among them Braque, Freud, Miro, Dali, Warhol, Marden, and, of course, Picasso. He also writes about their sometimes tragic dependents: Kandinsky's widow, who was murdered, Klee's son, who was done out of his inheritance, and Bonnard's wife, who spent much of her life in a bathtub. In every case the reader is treated to close-ups of extraordinary people who either are usually seen only from afar or have been rescued by the author from oblivion.
Robert Hughes has described Richardson's A Life of Picasso as "a masterpiece in the making." As readers await his third volume, they will be diverted by this witty, wonderfully intelligent collection of twenty-eight essays, in which Richardson demonstrates the same dazzling narrative style that has earned him his reputation as one of our foremost biographers.
Eugenia’s letters to Picasso testify to a very close friendship lasting over thirty years. Eugenia’s only rival for the artist’s affections–in the realm of friendship rather than sex–was Gertrude Stein, whom he liked to call “Pard,” as in a Western, much to her irritation. In 1915, however, Gertrude and her friend Alice Toklas had left Paris to spend the rest of the war driving an ambulance–“Auntie,” it was callled–around France. In their absence, it was Eugenia who took over as Picasso’s consoler and collector and a surrogate for Doña María, the stalwart, nurturing mother back in Barcelona whom he seldom saw. Canseco-Jerez maintains that Stein and Toklas were so jealous of Eugenia that they gave “a reception in honor of Picasso” in order to meet their rival and size her up. However, his account of this event and Gertrude’s “jealousy” is far from convincing. By the time Eugenia entered Picasso’s life, Gertrude had ceased collecting his work, and their paths had temporarily diverged. To the extent that Gertrude had come to see Picasso and herself as twin peaks of genius, Eugenia simply did not impinge.
Who was this paragon? Eugenia Huici was born on September 15, 1860, in Bolivia, where her Chilean father had made a fortune mining silver. Civil war drove him, his Bolivian wife, and his two daughters, Eugenia and Rosa, back to his estates near Valparaíso. Picasso believed that Eugenia had inherited more than a drop of Inca blood; so did another of Eugenia’s protégés, the poet Blaise Cendrars, who used to call her “L’Indienne.” A girl of considerable beauty, Eugenia was brought up in the archaic conventions of Spanish colonialism. English nuns in Valparaíso supervised her education: they dinned into her the tenets of a faith that, like the superstitions of her Indian forebears, she would always cherish. Her schooling left her fluent, if not always comprehensible, in French and English and only a little more so in Castilian. “Une étrange sharabia” (gibberish) is how friends described her way of speaking. At the age of twenty, Eugenia married José Tomás Errázuriz, whose father and grandfather had both been presidents of Chile. Tomás’s aspirations to be an artist horrified his family, so he was packed off to Europe to be a diplomat–a métier that left him free to paint. Relations of one or the other of the Errázurizes were en poste in virtually every capital.
The Errázurizes spent their honeymoon in Venice, where their cousin Ramón Subercaseaux–Chilean consul general in Paris and an amateur painter–and his wife had rented a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Among the other guests was a young painter, whom Subercaseaux had been one of the first to discover, John Singer Sargent. When not engaged on a portrait of his hostess, Sargent did oil sketches of Eugenia, for whom he is said to have fallen. Unlikely. Sargent was more interested in his gondolier.
Summer over, the Errázurizes settled in Paris, where they spent the next twenty years. He painted; she raised children (a son, Maximiliano, and two daughters, Carmen and María, known as “Baby”) and repeatedly sat for her portrait–to Boldini, Helleu, Orpen, and many more. Eugenia stood out from the run of le tout Paris by disdaining fin-de-siècle froufrou and adopting a low-key style that set her off from the rest of her friends, not least Misia Sert. Although she would bring a small swatch of antique stuff, dyed the “Inca pink” of her native Andes, to the attention of Schiaparelli, who exploited it as “Shocking Pink,” Eugenia’s most important achievements had nothing to do with fashion; they had to do with avant-garde patronage and a minimalist vision of the decorative arts. By 1910, she already stood out for the unconventional sparseness of her rooms, for her disdain of poufs and potted palms and too much passementerie. No less discriminating was Eugenia’s taste in people, including many of Proust’s favorites (Madrazos, Bibescos, Helleus, Morands), and above all for her support of new developments in art, literature, music, and ballet.
Around 1900, the Errázurizes settled in London, first in Bryanston Square. Later, they moved to Chelsea. Tomás contracted TB and spent more and more time in Switzerland, to the relief of Eugenia, who was beginning to tire of her husband and his tedious landscapes. They would eventually separate. In London, Eugenia saw much of her old friend Sargent, who likewise lived in Chelsea, and through him she absorbed the Whistlerian aestheticism still associated with this Thames-side stretch of London, but without becoming contaminated by it. She also made friends with a new generation of artists: Augustus John, who painted her portrait, and, rather more to her credit, Walter Sickert, whose work she proceeded to collect. In England, Eugenia learned to appreciate things that were very fine and very simple–above all, things made of linen, cotton, deal, or stone, whose quality improved with laundering or fading, scrubbing or polishing. This acute sense of patination and texture allied to color would one day endear her to Braque.
In the absence of her husband, Eugenia took up with her bright young nephew, the diplomat Don Antonio de Gandarillas, who had a house overlooking the Thames on Cheyne Walk. Tony had married Juanita Edwards, the daughter of the Chilean ambassador to the court of Saint James’s, but after discovering that he was homosexual and addicted to opium, she had retired to Chile. Eugenia would take over as his consort. Together they would attend the Ballets Russes and make friends with Diaghilev, who would become very dependent on Eugenia. So would Artur Rubinstein. The great pianist would credit her with all manner of miraculous interventions in his career.
Thanks to his diplomatic immunity and charm and his large round eyes like a lemur’s, Eugenia’s neat little nephew managed to survive brush after brush with scandal. Besides a house in London, Tony had an apartment in Paris. And there on May 29, 1926, he and Eugenia gave a dinner to celebrate the première of Pastorale–one of Diaghilev’s weaker ballets–which was attended by “everyone from Picasso to the Duchess of Alba.” Also present was the brilliant surrealist poet René Crevel, who would soon become one of Tony’s young men. Tony was also involved with the rising young painter Christopher Wood, the only British artist of his generation to be taken seriously in Paris and become a friend of Picasso’s and Braque’s as well as of Cocteau’s. Tony supposedly got Kit (as Wood was familiarly known) hooked on drugs. When Kit threw himself under a train in 1930, Tony was blamed. Five years later, Crevel would also commit suicide. This time, the Surrealists were supposedly the cause.
|Between the Wars|
|Picasso's Other Mother||3|
|The Madness of Scofield Thayer||19|
|Beastly Dr. Barnes||29|
|Sibyl Colefax, Lion Hunter||43|
|Bonnard's Amphibious Wife||53|
|The Sad Case of Mr. Taste||65|
|The Stettheimer Dollhouse||73|
|Mario Praz's Kindly Eye||105|
|Peggy Guggenheim's Bed||157|
|Beaton and Garbo||169|
|Miro, the Reluctant Surrealist||181|
|From James to Jan||191|
|Carlos de Beistegui, the Miserly Magnifico||203|
|Judy Chicago's Giant Shriek||213|
|A Cote Capote||225|
|Braque's Late Greatness||237|
|Fin De Siecle|
|Warhol at Home||247|
|Anthony Hopkins's Stab at Picasso||261|
|Brice Marden's Hidden Assets||303|
|Nina Kandinsky's Deadly Diamonds||315|
|Lucian Freud and His Models||323|
|In Memory of Pablito Picasso||343|