John Richardson & Gijs van Hensbergen

John Richardson & Gijs van Hensbergen

Past Event: Wednesday, December 8, 2010

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Literary Arts Icon

Literary Arts

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 BooksThe 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

Richardson’s review of the Tate’s Francis Bacon retrospective in The New York Review of Books

Essay: How Political Was Picasso? (NY Review of Books) Biography (Vanity Fair) Interview: Richardson on Charlie Rose

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

Open Captioning occurs at every event that takes place at Benaroya Hall. It is also always available upon request for all events in our other halls, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for Open Captioning services, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

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For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at or 206.621.2230×10.