The life of Pablo Picasso is so inextricably interwoven into the fabric of 20th-century cultural history that unraveling the threads is a daunting task. Distinguished art historian John Richardson has taken on the challenge in a magisterial, multivolume biography that has earned rave reviews from readers and critics alike. Richardson writes with unparalleled authority, drawing on his personal friendship with the artist and on unfettered access (granted by the widow Jacqueline) to material in Picasso's studio. What emerges from this amalgam of biography, personal recollection, and scholarship is an engaging account peppered with lively anecdote and delivered in impeccable, sparkling prose.
…The Triumphant Years, like its predecessors, is informed by Mr. Richardson's consummate knowledge of Picasso's workhis intimate understanding of the artist's temperament and endlessly inventive styles, his expansive vocabulary of myths and motifs and, most important, the mysterious nature of the alchemy by which he transformed his own experiences and emotions into art. So incisive and revealing are Mr. Richardson's commentaries on individual Picasso paintings and sculptures that the reader's one serious complaint about this book is that photos of individual works discussed are not always included in this volume or do not appear on the same page on which they are so artfully deconstructed. Mr. Richardson leaves us not only with a deep appreciation of Picasso's Promethean ambition and prodigious fecundity, but also with a shrewd understanding of his tumultuous, subversive and often disturbing art.
The New York Times
John Richardson's writing is tremendously satisfying, at once easygoing and magisterial. In the third, penultimate installment of his life of Picasso, Richardson is juggling so many people and themes and events with such aplomb that readers may not quite realize what literary pyrotechnics are involved. This powerhouse of a book spans a dauntingly complicated time in Picasso's life and in European history as well, taking us from World War I and Picasso's adventures with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to the riotously erotic images of Picasso's youthful mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, and the darkening situation of the early 1930s…While this is in many respects a familiar story, Richardson brings more coiling narrative detail to the life than anybody ever has, so that the biography becomes not only a reconsideration of Picasso but also a reckoning on the art and culture of the century in which he played so essential a role…if I have found myself arguing with Richardson as I read these pages, this is a testament to the vigor of his account, to the essential warmth of his responses. Richardson is a writer with whom a reader can't resist engaging.
The New York Times Book Review
…energetically opinionated, sprightly and illuminating in its analytic passages, casually cruel in its put-downs of lesser artists…and downright lubricious in its fascination with sex. Compared to the learned historicism of an E.H. Gombrich or the urbane connoisseurship of a Kenneth Clark, Richardson's tell-all biography reads something like a high-brow gossip column. The book is wickedly, sinfully entertaining…This isn't a coffee-table dust-gatherer or a reference to file away on a shelf and open only out of a sense of duty. It is a biography with real fizz, every page offering pleasure as well as insight and illumination.
The Washington Post
This third volume in Richardson's magisterial biography takes us through Picasso's middle years, as he establishes his mastery over craft, other artists and the women in his life. The story begins the year Picasso falls in love with Olga Kokhlova, a Russian dancer he met while working on the avant-garde ballet Paradefor Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. By the end of the volume, Olga-his first wife-becomes "the victim of some of Picasso's most harrowing images." The book elaborates on the details of Picasso's inspirations, with Richardson providing a balance of fact, salacious detail and art-historical critique. He is particularly skilled at evoking the humor and sexuality that imbues Picasso's portraits of Marie-Thérèse, who became his mistress when he was 45 and she 17: "As for the figure's amazing legs: the secret of their monumentality had escaped me" until Courbet's great view of Etretat gave him a clue: "Picasso has used the rock arches of Etretat... to magnify the scale of the bather's legs and breasts...." The artist's entire circle is also here, from Georges Braque to Henri Matisse, from André Breton to Ernest Hemingway. They are jealous collaborators, competitive geniuses, excessive bohemians, dear friends, frustrated homosexuals-while a handful of women come across as essential yet entirely replaceable. 48 pages of color illus., 275 illus. in text. 60,000 first printing.(Nov. 9)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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, Dal', 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-Therese 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 thatPicasso 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. First printing of 60,000