Books Gift Guide

Biography

Books Gift Guide

A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906

by John Richardson
Knopf, 560 pp., $30 (paper)

A Life of Picasso: The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916

by John Richardson
Knopf, 512 pp., $30 (paper)

A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932

by John Richardson
Knopf, 608 pp., $40

"My work is like a diary," Pablo Picasso is known to have told his biographers. "It's even dated like a diary." The implication is that Picasso's true story is mirrored, and dated, in his countless paintings and drawings. If this was meant to be a comfort to those would-be chroniclers of the Spanish artist's life and work, English biographer John Richardson reminds the lot that another one of Picasso's favorite phrases was, "Truth is a lie." And piecing together the life of such a "mass of contradictions" has been no easy exercise in diary-transcription for Richardson.

More than 50 years after the author met Picasso and soon after became his friend and then, finally, his historian, Richardson has accrued three volumes of Picasso's translated "diary," roughly 1,700 pages. Throughout, Richardson sprinkles salt over his recounting of certain events, because Picasso was constantly erasing memories and creating new ones, constructing a whole new reality, much like his pieces: portrayals of real people and emotions spliced and reconstructed to resemble something different but no less real.

The first two volumes in the Picasso trilogy were first published in 1996 by Random House and have been reprinted this year and infused with more than 800 illustrations apiece. The Prodigy chronicles Picasso's life from birth until the age of 25, depicting the author's evolution to artist and to, some say, genius. The Cubist Rebel details the period when Picasso produced his most revolutionary work and established himself as a father of cubism. The Triumphant Years, this year's long-awaited third volume of Picasso's life through the eyes and ears of John Richardson, picks up with Picasso leaving wartime Paris for Rome in 1917 and ends with the artist's 50th birthday. This three-volume-wide story of "the king of cubism" is a testament to Richardson's dedication, not so much to art or to genius but to the challenging feat of transforming Picasso's many lines and shadows into a thoughtful, intimate text, which will remain valuable to art history for as long as Picasso remains valuable to artistic dialogue.

Also recommended in Biography ...

Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh (Pantheon, $37.50), Schultz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis (Harper, $34.95), Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad (Knopf, $35).

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