Whilst one cannot argue with John Richardson's grasp of his subject and his tenacity for ploughing through Picasso's life and sharing it with us you nevertheless have to ask his publishers who was responsible for changing the physical dimensions of this third volume of this work? - a bizarre decision if ever there was one - the third volume being smaller than its two predecessors so that it does not sit well on the same bookshelf.
If you think you know Picasso's work, this book will convince you otherwise. John Richardson has done a tremendous service by sorting out when Picasso produced his greatest works between 1917 and 1932, what sources he "borrowed" from, what he was trying to accomplish, and how all of these works affected his career. This book was quite a revelation to me. Simply by seeing a lot of his work (as you can do at Musee Picasso, for example), you quickly realize that Picasso constantly copied himself. And, of course, it is well known that he borrowed much while trying to establish a style and while working with Braque to develop cubism. But Picasso borrowed early and often in ways I didn't realize. In that sense, he was a supreme stylist who could execute someone else's idea in a more profound way. I came away with a new appreciation for that aspect of his talent.
While Picasso was alive, very little was said in books about his mistreatment of women and the motives behind his paintings of his wives and lovers. While his second life was alive, people were still pretty circumspect on this point. But now we know that Picasso was louse when it came to women and his family. This book gives you the full story of his first marriage, relationship with his young mistress who inspired so many joyous works, Marie-Therese Walter, and his constant attraction to prostitutes.
There are some other surprises in this book including how central his work with ballet was in creating interest in his paintings and sculptures. It was through Diaghilev that Picasso met his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina in the Ballets Russes. Picasso decided it was time to settle down and marry. Despite having had long relationships with women before, he now was looking for someone who would help make him respectable. In the process, Picasso adopted the lifestyle of one of the first wealthy artists (famously being driven around in one of the world's most expensive cars by a chauffeur in the middle of the world-wide economic depression).
As good as John Richardson is on those subjects, he can be most annoying in other ways. For example, Mr. Richardson seems to have an obsession with Jean Cocteau and writes a lot about him even though Picasso didn't like Cocteau very much and Cocteau didn't influence Picasso very much either. Mr. Richardson also has a writing style that can be enormously elusive, describing what happened without saying anything. Picasso's wife seems to have had a lot of physical and mental problems but these are mentioned without providing much real information other than when they occurred. A greater problem comes in that Mr. Richardson likes to drop in lots of French phrases (I read French so I had no problem), but if you don't read French it makes the text harder to follow. Some will also find some of Mr. Richardson's put downs of those who disagree with as being rude and high handed. Perhaps the most annoying problem comes in using academic words to describe distasteful aspects of Picasso's personality and behavior. It's like putting lipstick on a pig.
But I advise you to read the book while being prepared for its weaknesses. I'm afraid there is no substitute. The generously represented art makes up for the weaknesses.
Very attractive paperback version of the third volume of this pre-eminent biography. As well as having an excellent text the book contains numerous illustrations and photographs, as well as full-colour illustrations of some of Picasso's paintings.The book arrived in perfect condition.