four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
user_rating: 
0

The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932

A-A Life of PicassoWith A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, John Richardson captures the prodigious talent and limitless (and legendary) appetites of an influential artist approaching the height of his power. In 1917, while in Rome designing sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Picasso met and married the ballerina Olga Kokhlova. The couple settled briefly into Parisian high society, ushering in what would become Picasso’s Duchess Period. The marriage inevitably soured, and in 1927 Picasso began a torrid affair with 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter, the muse who allowed the artist to "unleash his sexuality and harness it to his imagery." By the time Picasso celebrated his 50th birthday in 1932, his place in the canon of contemporary art was secure, his reputation as a mercurial genius unquestioned.
Knopf. 592 pages. $40. ISBN: 0307266656

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Richardson is overwhelmingly authoritative. … Because [the author] knew Picasso and gained his confidence, he could ask specific questions during the 1950s and was told intimate things." Michael Kammen

San Diego Union-Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932 … is one of the great biographies of any artist in any discipline. It is beautifully written and remarkably researched." Robert L. Pincus

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Richardson steers clear of scolding or overtly analyzing Picasso’s sexual needs (aside from using the word ‘addiction’), choosing instead to follow the incredible string of works that grew out of the artist’s emotional (and physical) entanglements. … It’s amazing that in a biography of the world’s most important modern painter, the supporting cast steals the show, but they do." John Freeman

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] magisterial and definitive biography . … 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." Michiko Kakutani

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Richardson’s] book is energetically opinionated, sprightly and illuminating in its analytic passages, casually cruel in its put-downs of lesser artists (Jean Cocteau and Clive Bell are never mentioned without a gibe or a sneer), and downright lubricious in its fascination with sex. … [The Triumphant Years] is a biography with real fizz, every page offering pleasure as well as insight and illumination." Michael Dirda

Critical Summary

John Richardson was introduced to Picasso in the 1950s, and that firsthand knowledge of the man and his work buttresses the third volume of this monumental study. Richardson exhibits not only a stunning grasp of the artist’s profession, including the iconography, languages, and influences, but also an understanding of how Picasso’s private life informed his art. The result is a rare balance of first-rate art criticism and a primer on the energy and chaos that define the modern. Michael Dirda compares the author’s vision to the more academic work of E. H. Gombrich and Kenneth Clark, concluding that, in a good way, "Richardson’s tell-all biography reads something like a high-brow gossip column." Stay tuned for the fourth, and final, volume.

The First Two Volumes

A Life of Picasso The Prodigy, 1881–1906 (1991): The first volume chronicles Picasso’s departure from Catalan and his struggles in bohemian Paris, as represented by his Blue Period and Rose Period paintings.

A Life of Picasso The Cubist Rebel, 1907–1916 (1996): With Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Picasso introduced a new modern style; he then turned to Cubist techniques.