A Life of Picasso

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This second volume of John Richardson’s projected four-volume biography of Pablo Picasso continues what is sure to be one of the twentieth century’s landmark studies of an artist’s life. Richardson has several advantages over earlier Picasso biographers. He benefits from generations of scholarly and biographical research on his subject, from the cooperation of Picasso’s widow and other family members, and from his firsthand knowledge of the artist’s life and work. Richardson first met Picasso in the 1950’s and became one of his friends. Thus Richardson is able to draw on this intimacy, integrating his own sense of the man and the artist with the copious literature on Picasso. Richardson has also had the good fortune to have a scholarly collaborator, Marilyn McCully, whose key contribution to the biography is acknowledged on the title page.

Because he has the luxury of four copiously illustrated volumes, Richardson solves the problem that bedevils most writers of one-volume biographies. He can devote almost as much space to social context and to the characters who befriended his subject as he does to the subject himself. Thus the biographer provides beautifully realized portraits of Fernande Olivier, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, and all those who became a part of Picasso’s cadre of supporters.

If there is a weakness in Richardson’s biography, it can be found in his touchy and rather peremptory dismissal of feminist...

(The entire section is 451 words.)