John Richardson’s Life of Picasso is due to be finished in 2016. The text of his article in the June 25, 20015 issue was delivered in different form in March 2015 as the opening speech at the “Revoir Picasso” colloquium organized by Laurent Le Bon, director of the Museé Picasso in Paris.


Picasso’s Broken Vow

Pablo Picasso: Blind Minotaur, 1934–1935
To understand Picasso’s major works of the early 1930s we must go back to his youth at La Coruña, on Spain’s north Atlantic coast, where his father, Don José, was director of the local art school.

How Political Was Picasso?

 Pablo Picasso: Jeux de Pages, 1951. John Richardson writes that ‘that was how he saw war, Picasso told a group of friends in March 1959: medieval children playing nasty, medieval games.’  All images are © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Asked where he stood politically in the years leading up to the Spanish civil war, Picasso would answer that since he was a Spaniard and Spain was a monarchy, he was a royalist. D.H. Kahnweiler, his dealer and close friend, and a lifelong socialist, asserted that Picasso was the most apolitical man he had ever met: “His Communism is quite unpolitical. He has never read a line of Karl Marx, nor of Engels of course. His Communism is sentimental…. He once said to me, ‘Pour moi, le Parti Communiste est le parti des pauvres.'”

Bacon Agonistes

To celebrate Francis Bacon’s centenary in 2009, Tate Britain mounted a retrospective exhibition that was subsequently shown at the Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Bacon’s theater of cruelty was an enormous popular success at all of its venues, but especially in New York, where he …

The Great Forgotten Modernist

Once the epitome of the British establishment, the Royal Academy dumbfounded the old guard some years ago by pioneering the rehabilitation of late Picasso. The Royal Academy is now courageously doing the same for late Braque, in a superb display of several dozen of his pictures of the 1940s and …

Faking Picasso

In abandoning India and Anglo-Indian subjects, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory lost the dry and delicate touch that made Shakespeare Wallah and Heat and Dust so memorable. However, they have gained a vast following with glossy films of E.M. Forster’s low-key novels, in which they vulgarize the issues and overdecorate …

Go Go Guggenheim

Now that it has been scrupulously and sensitively restored by the architectural firm of Gwathmey Siegel and Associates, Frank Lloyd Wright’s controversial swansong, the Guggenheim Museum, lives up to its reputation as perhaps the greatest building by perhaps the greatest modern architect in America. Which is not to say that …

A Côté Capote

Some twenty years ago Truman Capote and I spent part of the summer in Venice. Although acquaintances rather than friends, we ended up seeing each other every day, thanks to my traveling companion, Virginia Chambers. Virginia was an elderly American widow who had lived in Paris since the Twenties—hard-drinking, card-playing, …

Picasso’s Apocalyptic Whorehouse

For too long Picasso has been seen as a French artist. Haven’t we been told, time and again, how a succession of French painters—Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen, Gauguin, Douanier Rousseau, Ingres, Cézanne—rescued Picasso from the questionable clutches of Modernisme (the Catalan art movement), and lured him from his native land to become …

Picasso and L’Amour Fou

One of the principal revelations of William Rubin’s great Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1980 was the section devoted to paintings and sculptures of the early Thirties which celebrated the artist’s mistress of the period, Marie-Thérèse Walter. “Has sheer physical passion ever been made so palpable …

Remembering Douglas Cooper

One point that Douglas Cooper, the controversial English art historian who died last year, would want his obituarist to emphasize is that he was not Australian. True, his antecedents had acquired a considerable fortune, not to speak of a baronetcy, down under, but they returned to England around the turn …

The Catch in the Late Picasso

“I paint the way some people write their autobiography,” Picasso told Françoise Gilot. Likewise Dora Maar—another of the artist’s mistresses—said that the transformations in Picasso’s style reflected transformations in his private life. When the woman changed, everything else changed: not just the art, but the house Picasso lived in, the …

Crimes Against the Cubists

In an article on the great Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (The New York Review, July 17, 1980) I complained about the way restorers have unwittingly ruined the surfaces of Cubist paintings. Since these objections are apparently shared by others in the field, I would like to …

The Mantle of Munchausen

“A likable scamp” is how the headmaster of Eaglebrook described his pupil Thomas P.F. Hoving. And, to judge by this memoir—the first of a series to be devoted to Hoving’s greatest coups—a scamp he has remained. But likable? He seems too pleased with himself for that. “I had always,” he …

Strictly from Hunger

By sponsoring, in 1977, the first serious historical exhibit of women artists (1550-1950), the Brooklyn and Los Angeles museums did art history and the women’s movement an immense service. The organizers, Ann Sutherland Harris and Linda Nochlin, presented their material in the light of modern scholarship, and if their indispensable …

Your Show of Shows

Some twenty-five years ago, Picasso had the contents of his Paris studio shipped to the villa he had recently bought at Cannes. Among the treasures, household goods, and accumulated rubbish—the artist was a compulsive hoarder—were seventy portfolios. The day Picasso decided to go through these, I happened to be present.

Ghost Story

According to his principal adviser, Walter Monckton, the decision to renounce the throne brought Edward VIII to “the brink of disintegration,” so much so that, three days before the Abdication, Monckton feared the desperate monarch was going to kill himself. Another Mayerling affair? Monckton and the royal valet, Crisp, searched …

La Dogaressa

Rich and eccentric expatriates on the more peculiar shores of art and letters are taking the place of the Bloomsberries on publishers’ lists. The American “Amazons”—Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, and Princesse Edmond de Polignac—have all been the subjects of recent biographies, and even the creepy Crosbys continue to have their …

The Sitwell Show

What does the Sitwell family have in common with Ian Fleming, the Kray Twins, and Biggles?[^*] The same biographer. And, come to think of it, why not? All he had learned about ballyhoo, buggery, and bravado must have stood John Pearson in good stead when he came to assess the …

Art for Christmas

How appropriate that the Metropolitan Museum should celebrate the end of this bicentennial year with an Andrew Wyeth exhibition! The institution, the art, the occasion were undeniably destined for one another. The very titles—Groundhog Day, Hickory Smoked, Moose Horns, Logging Scoot—personify the American way of life. Likewise, the works themselves …

Sir or Madam

Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed, Droops on the little hands little gold head. Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers. Uppermost in Christopher Robin’s prayers, if we are to believe A.A. Milne, were Mummie, Daddy, and Nanny—not, however, …

Portrait of a-What?

Out of the closet and all over the best-seller lists, Bloomsbury writers are at last achieving notoriety—unsought, unexpected, but not undeserved. There is some pleasure in watching those prissy mandarins, whose stock-in-trade was the exposure of Victorian humbug, being stripped in turn of their fig leaves, and at the hands …

Picasso at Eighty-five

By the time Picasso’s eighty-fifth birthday year is over, major exhibitions will have taken place in Basel, Dallas, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, London, New York, Paris, and lesser ones will have cropped up all over the world. Meanwhile, every Picasso dealer is putting on a show to promote his holdings, …

At the New Whitney

Patronage of New York’s foremost modern museums is vested in a few plutocratic families like the Whitneys, Guggenheims, Rockefellers, and Burdens. In addition, foundations great and small help with benefactions, while collectors, dealers, and art fanciers are under incessant pressure to help with donations, subscriptions, committee work, and alms. In …