I'll admit it: I'm one of those people that despairs in an art museum as I constantly compare my age to Picasso's when I look at his paintings. You can usually catch me murmuring to myself, "He was how old?!" Or, "Still got two years left," or I'm just silently shaking my head in disbelief at paintings by Picasso that tear through style after style with virtuosic abandon. It's not a healthy habit really, I'll admit that too, but I'm far from the only one that does it, I am sure.
Therefore it's greatly reassuring to read John Richardson's A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy 1881-1906 (Knopf: New York, 2007). Fastidiously researched, Richardson conceived of the project sometime in the 1970s and has been working on it since, which means the author also got to talk to Picasso himself to clear up specific points. This is the first volume of four, with two more in print and the final volume in the works. Together they aim to be the definitive biography of the most famous artist of the twentieth century.
Richardson mercilessly dispels wide-spread myths of Picasso that have become almost inseparable from fact. That Picasso could paint like Raphael when he was a boy? "The execution and conception are no more or less mature than one would expect of a gifted nine-year-old." That Picasso passed his exams to art school in a day? "Any half-way gifted student could have completed these drawing in a day." One thing that is apparently not an exaggeration: Picasso's sexual prowess.
Unlike dry biographies, Richardson's snark is fun to read, Picasso's life is far from boring, and the book is enhanced by 890 black and white illustrations that depict archival material pulled from museums all over the world.
If you know an artist obsessed/intimidated by Picasso like Jerome in Art School Confidential, this book will help to break down the myth while retaining the facts.
-Abraham Ritchie, Editor for ArtSlant: Chicago
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