John Richardson joins art historian Gijs van Hensbergen in a conversation about Picasso. Post-lecture patron reception at the Seattle Art Museum and Picasso: Masterpieces from the Museé National Picasso exhibit.
John Richardson brings into crystalline focus not only the works of art he writes about, but also—and with great verve—the personality of the artist and the ambience of his milieux. In an article from last year on Francis Bacon: A Centenary Exhibition, for instance, Richardson wrote: “My admiration [for Bacon] dates back to World War II, when, like many another art student, I was captivated by an illustration of a 1933 painting entitled Crucifixion in a popular book called Art Now, by Britain’s token modernist, Herbert Read…. Read’s text was dim and theoretical, but his ragbag of black-and-white illustrations—by the giants of modernism, as well as the chauvinistic author’s pets—was the only corpus of plates then available. This Crucifixion—a cruciform gush of sperm against a night sky, prescient of searchlights in the blitz—was irresistibly eye-catching. But who Bacon was, nobody seemed to know.”
Richardson’s writing is a tour de force that does not suffer from shyness of opinion or understatement of artistic intent; it speaks with a singular expression that’s both evocative and picturesque—and fully revealing of its subject.
Born in London in the 1920s, Richard attended the Slade School of Art and worked for a time as the art and ballet critic for The New Statesman. After moving to the United States in 1960, Richardson organized a major retrospective of work by Pablo Picasso that was held at nine New York galleries. For many years he headed Christie’s American operations, which he was instrumental in setting up. This work took him to cities around the country, including Seattle, a place he found “fascinating” and “very active artistically.” In 1980, he became a full-time writer and editor, and continues to organize exhibitions, such as the very well-reviewed, “museum worthy” Picasso: Mosqueteros at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City (spring 2009) and Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (1945-1962) at the Gagosian Gallery in London (summer 2010), both curated in partnership with Picasso’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso.
What became Richardson’s life’s work, though, had its genesis in the 1950s when he lived in Provence, working with Douglas Cooper to turn the Chateau de Castille into a private museum of cubist art. Pablo Picasso and his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, were neighbors and frequent visitors, as were Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Jean Cocteau. Picasso and Richardson became friends during these years, and the latter was able to observe and confirm firsthand the truth of the artist’s statement to him, “My work is like a diary. To understand it, you have to see how it mirrors my life.”
This monumental project depicting Picasso’s life and work is contained in the three- soon to be four-volume Life of Picasso. This masterwork begins with the artist’s early days in The Prodigy, 1881-1906; continues through the creation/evolution of cubism in The Cubist Rebel: 1907-1916; and extends, so far, through The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. The fourth and final volume, being written by Richardson and art historian Gijs van Hensbergen, covers Picasso’s last forty years, the final decade of which (1963-73), has been characterized as a period that “is among the greatest demonstrations of his constant invention of the new, in terms of style, technique, and subject, and, indeed, in relation to the history of his own creative output.”
Richardson also has written for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. In 1993 he was made a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; in 1995-96 he served as the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University.
Selected WorkWarhol from the Sonnabend Collection (with Brenda Richardson, 2009)Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dalí, Picasso, Freud, Warhol, and More (2001)The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper (1999)A Life of Picasso, Volumes I-III (1996-2007)
LinksSeattle Art Museum’s Picasso: Masterpieces from the Museé National Picasso http://www.picassoinseattle.org/learn.html
Richardson’s review of the Tate’s Francis Bacon retrospective in The New York Review of Books http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/dec/17/bacon-agonistes/
Essay: How Political Was Picasso? (NY Review of Books)http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/25/how-political-was-picasso/ Biography (Vanity Fair)http://www.vanityfair.com/contributors/john-richardson Interview: Richardson on Charlie Rosehttp://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/3586