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A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932by John Richardson
Synopses & Reviews
The long-awaited third volume of John Richardson's definitive biography of Pablo Picasso combines the critical astuteness, exhaustive research, and stunning narrative that made the first two volumes an art-historical breakthrough as well as a pleasure to read.
The Triumphant Years takes up the artist's life in 1917, when Picasso and Cocteau left wartime Paris for Rome to work with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on their revolutionary production of Parade. Visits to Naples, above all to the Farnese marbles in the Museo Nazionale, would leave Picasso with a lifelong obsession with classical sculpture as well as the self-referential commedia dellarte. After returning to Paris and marrying one of Diaghilev's ballerinas, Olga Khokhlova, he abandoned bohemia for the drawing rooms of Paris. Hence, his so-called Duchess period, which coincided with his switch to neoclassicism, and would ultimately be absorbed into a metamorphic form of cubism.
In the summer of 1923, Picasso and his American friends Gerald and Sara Murphy transformed the French Riviera from a winter into a summer resort, when they persuaded the proprietor of the Hôtel du Cap at Antibes to keep the place open for the summer. In doing so, they made the Riviera Europe's major playground. Mediterraneanism was in Picasso's bones. Born in Málaga, he would always identify with this inland sea.
In 1927 the artist's life underwent a major change; he abandoned society for a life out of the spotlight with a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl, Marie-Thérèse Walter. His erotic obsession with Marie-Thérèse would result in an ever-growing antipathy for his neurasthenic, understandably jealous wife. Balletic clues have enabled Richardson to identify a number of baffling figure-paintings as portrayals of Olga and reinterpret the work of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Picasso's passionate love for his mistress and his passionate hatred for his wife can be fully understood only in light of each other.
The last three chapters constitute an annus mirabilis — spring 1931 to spring 1932 — during which the artist celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Challenged to scale new heights by the passage of time, Picasso lived up to his shamanic belief that painting should have a magic function. In the course of this year, he reinvented sculpture and to a great extent his own imagery in a bid to Picassify the classical tradition. The resultant retrospective in Paris and Zurich in the summer of 1932 confirmed Picasso as the leader of the modern movement.
"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 Parade for 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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
In this continuation of his 1991 and 1996 volumes on Picasso (v. I, 1881-1906; v. II, 1907-1917), Richardson, who knew Picasso in the 1950s and 1960s, traces Picasso's life from ages 35-50 in Italy and France. He interprets influences on him in this primarily neoclassical period--including his relationships with women, and works culminating in Picasso's 1932 retrospective show that confirmed him as leader of the modern art movement. The biography includes art illustrations, and photos of family and famous friends. As Picasso lived to 1973, another volume is due. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The long-awaited third volume of Richardson's definitive biography of Pablo Picasso combines the critical astuteness, exhaustive research, and stunning narrative that made the first two volumes an art-historical breakthrough as well as a pleasure to read.
About the Author
John Richardson is the author of a memoir, The Sorcerer's Apprentice; an essay collection, Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters; and books on Manet and Braque. He has written for the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. He was instrumental in setting up Christie's in the United States. In 1993 he was made a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. In 1995-96 he served as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University. He divides his time between Connecticut and New York City.
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