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A Life of Picasso; vol. I: The Early Years, 1881-1906 Paperback – April 16, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Remarkably intimate yet epic in sweep, this astonishing, continually engaging biography (first installment of a four-volume opus) neither glorifies Picasso nor paints him as an ogre. Richardson, who was the artist's close friend in France for a decade, attributes to Picasso's "demonic Andalusian birthright" his jolting oscillations between tenderness and cruelty, his self-dramatization, his harnessing of sexuality to his art. Like his much-maligned father, Jose Ruiz Blasco, an easy-going art teacher, Pablo, in Barcelona and Montmarte, was the star of a tertulia , a circle of cronies, who met regularly at a cafe to gossip and exchange views. As we watch the maternally overprotected prodigy transform himself into the daring, confident bohemian who took Paris by storm, Richardson ably untangles the skeinok of friendships and love affairs that Picasso transmuted into the personal mythology overflowing his canvases. Crammed with new insights, this synthesis weds an irresistible narrative to hundreds of wonderfully apposite photographs and art reproductions. It's one of the few books truly indispensable to understanding Picasso's artistic and spiritual growth.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

As he magnificently combines meticulous scholarship with irresistible narrative appeal, Richardson draws on his close friendship with Picasso, his own diaries, the collaboration of Picasso's widow Jacqueline, and unprecedented access to Picasso's studio and papers to arrive at a profound understanding of the artist and his work. 800 photos.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 548 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679764216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764212
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 8 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,240,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Sullivan on January 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Richardson in his landmark biography of Picasso gingerly walks through the minefields that have been laid in the 100+ years that Picasso has been on the art scene. Picasso is near enough to being our contemporary that it would have been nearly impossible for Richardson to have treated him fairly in the minds of many. One of the foremost issues recently raised, is his attitude towards women and his treatment of his lovers and wives. As for what can be gleaned from this and Vol II, Picasso was probably about average in this respect for a man of his time. Richardson seems to have intelligently not taken the bait and endulged in defending the past against the present.
Since Richardson knew Picasso as an intimate friend, there is an air of familiarity that pervades the work. I really enjoyed the feeling of immediacy and of being there when it happened that Richardson has so skillfully woven into the book. In comparison, Simon Schama's monumental biography of Rembrandt (and Rubens) reads more like a peek at the past. Schama can be excused since the passing of nearly 400 years makes writing in the immediate mode difficult and maybe even a little pretentious.
Though definitely not hagiaography, Richardson does treat his subject almost like a doting father, but loving his child warts and all. As to the work being a defense of Picasso in his rivalry with Matisse, one could only read that into the work if one was a rabid Matisse fan. I'm sorry but, Matisse being the giant that he was, was no Picasso.
The book flows like a river. I was truly transported back into Picasso's life and social scene. I found the artistic analysis of his work to be on target and written without much academic showing off or mumbo-jumbo.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard Stoller on March 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
There should be no doubt that the first two volumes of Richardson's Picasso can be ranked alongside Ellman on both Wilde and Joyce or with Michael Holroyd's bio of Lytton Strachey. If a biographer loves his subject then that is no bad thing. Richard Ellman wrote his bios quite clearly in the style of his subjects and by so doing brought us closer to them.Ellman was obviously completely mesmerised by Oscar Wilde thus the greater the tragedy.
Picasso was no such doomed figure. If a ever a man was blessed with talent, opportunity, lovers sycophants,wealth and long life to enjoy them then this little Iberian colossus had it all. Richardson dotes on his client in obvious awe and why not? The book is painstakingly researched and pulls up from being pedantic by the author's ability to describe the historical firmament in which Picasso's star shone. These bit players (Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Braque, etc.) are giants in their own right and yet it is only Matisse who comes out ultimately unscathed. Mr. Richardson has his own favourites and these are evidently Picasso's too.
It is made plain that despite the comet of Picasso's life and times and all the bright shining lights his work remained inviolate and the unquestionable raison d'etre of his existence . Picasso takes obvious liberties with his friendships and lovers. If this is how a hugely successful personality can behave then Picasso can obviously be a complete swine. Mr.Richardson paints a picture of a man who, for good or evil, is able to absorb the passed and present literate and plastic art talents and synthesise them into his own staggering vision.
It is the unmitigated audacity of Picasso to compare his work on a par with El Greco, Zurbaran, Velazquez, etc. He does though concede their greatness.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ian Muldoon on March 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
I respond as a general reader and can attest that reading this work was very much like engaging in a talk with an erudite and witty and sympathic art loving friend. I say engaging as Mr Richardsom anticipates questions and provides explanations. He is also revealing, at least to my mind, about many of the important figures of the early 20th century, such as Gertrude Stein, but as well, the social and artistic revolutions that were occuring. Picasso himself, however, is determinedly apolitical.The illustrations are useful, plentiful and conveniently located adjacent to the text. Chapters may stand on their own - for example Chapter 28 "Summer at Gosol" has many interesting features that show the artist's creative energy and source of inspiration at the time, the relationship with Ferdinande contrasted with his admiration for a ninety year old patriarch of the tiny mountain village, there perilous journey by mule in and out of Gosol, the atmosphere and the creative joy that Picasso experiences, not to mention the breakthough in his work that occurs at this time. The paperback is sturdily bound and overall, as a read, I found the "story", if you will, a most engaging read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
Where does genius come from? What are the motives? What are the stars that guide?

Picasso was arguably the most original and influential artist of the 20th century. In volume one of four planned volumes (three of which have been produced to date), John Richardson collaborates with Marilyn McCully to establish the detailed record of how Picasso developed as a man and an artist through the early Rose period. The book is made richer by Richardson's friendship with the artist and his access to Picasso's memories of key events. But he doesn't slavishly accept Picasso's version (except in damning Matisse as inferior to Picasso) but rather checks out the different versions and picks what seems to make the most sense.

Picasso's fanatic desire to succeed was fueled in part by his contempt for his father's failed career as an artist and his father's views that Picasso should follow in his footsteps. Picasso also needed to be treated as special, more than most of us. Groveling before exploitive dealers built a lifelong passion to be in charge. Picasso also knew that Paris was where he had to shine and suffered greatly to make his success there. His struggles will impress you.

Where the book is unequaled in my experience is in tracking down the sources of Picasso's images, gestures, styles, and innovations. The book is filled with black and white images from the works of other artists, Picasso's notebooks, photographs of the scenes and subjects, and related works that Picasso did. From these, you get a better sense of Picasso as a synthesizer of styles and modes.

In closely examining Picasso's work from these years, it's easy to develop superficial impressions of what sort of man did those paintings.
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