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Richardson, John 1924- (Richard Johnson, John Patrick Richardson)

Richardson, John 1924- (Richard Johnson, John Patrick Richardson)


Born 1924, in London, England; father was a general. Education: Attended Slade School of Art, London.


Home—New York, NY.


Art critic, editor, and biographer. Oxford University, Oxford, England, Slade Professor of Art, 1994-95. New Statesman, London, England, art, ballet, and fiction critic; affiliated with Christie's, New York, NY; vice president of Knoedler's (an art gallery); managing director of Artemis (a consortium of art dealers); exhibition organizer; art advisor.


Received Whitbread Award for A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906.


Manet, Phaidon (London, England), 1967, revised edition with notes by Kathleen Adler, Salem House, 1984.

(Editor) The Collection of Germain Seligman: Paintings, Drawings, and Works of Art, E.V. Thaw (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Marilyn McCully) A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, Random House (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Marilyn McCully) A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.

Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dali, Picasso, Freud, and More, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

(With Marilyn McCully) A Life of Picasso: Volume 3, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953-1972, University of Washington Press, 1989; contributor to periodicals, sometimes under the pseudonym Richard Johnson, including New Statesman, New York Review of Books, and House and Garden.


(Editor, with Eric Zafran) Master Paintings from the Hermitage and the State Russian Museum, Leningrad, M. Knoedler (New York, NY), 1975.

(Preparer) Corot and Courbet, D. Carritt, Ltd. (London, England), 1979.

Through the Eye of Picasso, 1928-1934: The Dinard Sketchbook and Related Paintings and Sculpture, W. Beadleston, 1985.

Contributor to Douglas Cooper und die Meister des Kubismus (title means "Douglas Cooper and the Masters of Cubism"), text and catalogue by Dorothy M. Kosinski, Kunstmuseum Basel, 1987; and Nicolas de Stael in America, Phillips Collection, 1990.


John Richardson told Grace Glueck, writing in the New York Times: "Writing about Picasso is a minefield…. With him, you have to leave everything open-ended, leave room for another interpretation. You can't slam the door on anything." These caveats notwithstanding, Richardson is considered the definitive biographer of the mercurial artist Pablo Picasso, an assessment based on the first three volumes of a planned four-volume work titled "A Life of Picasso." Himself a respected art historian, Richardson was on intimate terms with Picasso during the artist's later years. Thus, as biographer, Richardson brings to his work a close, personal study of Picasso as well as a scholar's in-depth interpretation of the art works themselves and their place in twentieth-century art history. In Booklist, Donna Seaman noted: "Picasso was more like a force of nature than a man, and Richardson is more than a biographer: he is bard, analyst, intimate, and historian."

Picasso allegedly thought of his work as his diary, and using that belief as a premise, Richardson seeks to link the artist's life with his paintings in A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, the first installment of the biography. "Already," he told New York Times Book Review contributor John Russell, "people are starting to fictionalize, historicize, politicize, and psychoanalyze [Picasso's] work, and already they are arriving at absurd conclusions because they're not sufficiently familiar with the facts of the artist's life."

Richardson—who has also written a study on the French painter Edouard Manet and criticism for periodicals—became a friend of Picasso while living in the south of France in the 1950s. Because of his relationship with the artist, who died in 1973, the anticipation preceding the publication of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906 was among the most heated in the history of biography; both art historians and the general public were anxious to glimpse the intimate look at the revolutionary painter the book promised. The first volume of "A Life of Picasso" examines Picasso's first twenty-five years, beginning with his childhood in Spain and following him to his early years in Paris. Sometimes able to reconstruct day-by-day accounts of Picasso's life with the help of research provided by the art historian Marilyn McCully, Richardson attempts to reconcile the many versions of the painter's youth into one truthful work.

One of the ways Richardson illuminates truth is by eliminating the myths that surround the artist. Richardson writes that Picasso was not a child prodigy—he has often been compared to the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—but that his skill was a result of hard practice. He also notes that Picasso's father, an unsuccessful painter of pigeons who encouraged his son's artistic interests, did not surrender his brush to his son upon witnessing Picasso's ability but continued to paint for many years. In addition, Richardson evokes the rough, bohemian lifestyle Picasso adopted when he traveled to Paris in 1900, describing the mistresses and artists with whom Picasso associated at the time, a circle that included the writer Gertrude Stein and fellow painter Henri Matisse. Richardson closes the first volume as Picasso prepares to paint Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the canvas that would revolutionize the world of art by introducing the Cubist movement.

Critics found that A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906 exceeded their expectations. "A remarkable achievement," New York Times Book Review contributor John Russell wrote, adding that, "not only Picasso himself, but all those with whom he came into close contact—friends, lovers, colleagues, nonentities and men and women of genius—are brought to rounded life." In Maclean's, Pamela Young commented that Richardson's book "is a remarkably evocative study of a formidable artist's emerging greatness." Comparing A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, to Richard Ellmann's National Book Award-winning biography James Joyce, Time reviewer Robert Hughes wrote: "Richardson is a born storyteller, with a vivid sense of detail and character that enables him to deal with the large cast of players entangled in Picasso's early life."

Aside from these appraisals of Richardson's ability to bring Picasso and the people with whom he associated to life, Hilton Kramer, writing in the Washington Post Book World, praised the critical aspect of Richardson's work: "His analysis of the paintings of the Blue period and the Rose period—the high points of Picasso's achievement in the years covered by this first volume—is the best I have read anywhere, and so is his account of the way Picasso responded to certain earlier artists … in his own early work." In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Peter Schjeldahl declared: "Richardson's strongest suit is a running analysis of Picasso's stylistic evolution that makes [the painters] El Greco, [Francisco] Goya and [Paul] Gauguin as vividly present in the book as any friend or mistress." Kramer also praised the overall impact of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906: "This is a book that shows every sign of changing the course of biographical writing about the major figures of the modern movement…. If the sheer brilliance of this first installment can be sustained throughout the remainder of the work, Richardson will have written not only one of the great biographies but a book likely to illuminate a good deal … about the life of the spirit in this turbulent century."

The same critical reception attended the publication of A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917. This volume begins with Picasso's completion of Les Demoisellesd'Avignon and explores the decade in which he produced Cubist masterpieces and became interested in neoclassicism. Central to the work is Richardson's exposition on the Cubist movement and Picasso's relationship with fellow artist Georges Braque. According to Michael Fitzgerald in Art in America, Richardson's distinction "is not so much in portraying the profound seriousness of Picasso's enterprise during this period, a fact no longer in dispute. Rather it is to articulate how his driving ambition and omnivorous curiosity intertwined with his often bawdy, gregarious and conniving behavior without sensationalizing the life or sidelining the art." Fitzgerald added: "Previous studies have devoutly analyzed the intricacies of Cubism, or danced through the love affairs and brushes with the law that spiced those times. None, however, glides so smoothly between them and shows how the arcana of Cubism are inseparable from Picasso's everyday experiences."

Insight on the News contributor Eric Gibson called A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917 a "masterly, insightful and nuanced account." The critic maintained that Richardson "doesn't hesitate to judge his subject harshly when the occasion calls for it. Indeed, aside from its wealth of information, the salient quality of this book is the author's ability to immerse himself in his subject while retaining the requisite detachment. There's a lesson here for many biographers if only they would take it." In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani characterized the book as "magisterial—and masterly" and commended Richardson for making the painter's work the center of the story. Kakutani concluded: "While it's possible to disagree with … individual arguments, one thing remains beyond dispute: A Life of Picasso is a superior work of portraiture and scholarship. Picasso is lucky indeed to have Mr. Richardson as the writer of what will unquestionably be his definitive biography."

In 1999, Richardson published a more intimate memoir titled The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper. The book explores Richardson's twelve-year relationship with art historian and collector Douglas Cooper, a period during which the two men restored a chateau in the south of France and frequently spent time with Picasso and other well-known painters. According to Michael Peppiatt in the New York Times Book Review, Richardson "recounts the rise and fall of Cooper in his life without much apparent animosity, in a brisk narrative filled with incisive sketches of the many other personalities he came to know." The critic concluded that The Sorcerer's Apprentice is an "engaging, witty account of a not so misspent youth." In Booklist, Seaman praised the book for helping to remove gay history from the shadows by illuminating "many pertinent aspects of the lives of gay artists and writers previously omitted from historical accounts."

Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dali, Picasso, Freud, and More, which was published in 2001, offers readers an intriguing and sometimes amusing look at some the great eccentrics throughout history, some of whom are well-known figures—artists, inventors, and so on—and others who were considerably less famous except for perhaps the events of one particular exploit or adventure. For instance, Richardson relates the story of Freddy Herko, who killed himself in a grand manner when he put the Coronation Bass by Mozart on his stereo and, while under the influence of some recreational drug, took a flying leap out the window and plummeted to his death five stories below. Another story revolves around Albert Barnes, one of the greatest collectors of art to ever live in America. He amassed numerous masterpieces by artists such as Cezanne, Matisse, and Renoir, yet he had no great love of the art works themselves. Instead, for Barnes the art served as a status symbol. He could own all of these great works because he was very rich, and he also felt an interest in art in general would reflect well on his image. The goal was to own enough of something expensive and classy that he himself would take on a more polished hue as a sort of reflection. Another story features society hostess Sibyl Colefax of London, who achieved the guest list she wanted for her gatherings by badgering the people she chose to invite until they agreed to come, even if she had to write to them forty times. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "the near-continuous tone of grating disdain, which can entertain in a glossy mag article, palls over an entire book." However, Brian Masters, in a review for Spectator, commented that "it is fair to point out that these portraits have been published in magazine form over the years, and sometimes arise from book reviews, but the compilation is to be commended; it is the work of a serious art historian having fun."

With A Life of Picasso: Volume 3, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, cowritten with Marilyn McCully, Richardson continues his mammoth biography on the life and works of Picasso. At the start of this installment, he depicts Picasso along with Jean Cocteau, the poet and filmmaker, as the pair collaborated on the materials to accompany the 1917 ballet Parade, which had been created by famed ballet maestro Sergei Diaghilev. During the preparatory process, both Cocteau and Picasso spent long hours flirting with the ballet dancers and in many cases had brief affairs. Picasso, however, ultimately became involved with Olga Khokhlova, the Russian ballerina, whom he eventually married. That relationship, which was emotional and volatile at its best, serves as a major focus for the bulk of this volume of Richardson's biography. Olga posed for Picasso, but he cheated on her relentlessly, even after she gave birth to their son Paulo in 1921. Picasso's renditions of Olga chronicle the ups and downs of their courtship and marriage, illustrating first their passion and deep affection for each other, but later transforming into angry representations of their union. During this time, Picasso also solidified his friendship with Erik Satie, which proved to be an additional influence on his work. Toward the end of this installment, Richardson shows Picasso in his relationship with Marie-Therese Walter, a teenager whom he began to see in 1927 and with whom he worked through a number of his more untraditional urges, all of which were transferred directly to his canvases. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted that the book is "engrossing and revealing material, supplemented by innumerable reproductions of Picasso's paintings and many period photos." A reviewer for the Economist, making note of the other works that Richardson produced between this effort and the second volume of the biography, remarked that "with these entertainments behind him, Mr. Richardson has reverted to the more serious business of biography, though always with a keen eye for pretension and a delight in human eccentricity and folly."

Richardson once told Russell, writing in the New York Times Book Review: "I wouldn't want to write about any other artist after Picasso. I don't think I could. Picasso was a bit of a cannibal. He had a way of consuming people. I think by the time I've finished this biography, I shall be totally consumed."



Art in America, June, 1997, Michael Fitzgerald, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917, p. 29.

Booklist, October 15, 1996, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917, p. 396; November 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper, p. 592.

Economist, November 17, 2007, "His Middle Years; Picasso's Life," p. 99.

Insight on the News, December 16, 1996, Eric Gibson, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917, p. 34.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 3, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 24, 1991, Peter Schjeldahn, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, pp. 1, 9.

Maclean's, April 22, 1991, Pamela Young, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, p. 65.

New York Times, March 19, 1991, Grace Glueck, "Making a Portrait of a Many-faced Genius," pp. C11, C18; November 8, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 2, 1907-1917, p. B14.

New York Times Book Review, March 3, 1991, John Russell, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, pp. 1, 20-21; December 12, 1999, Michael Peppiatt, review of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, review of Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dali, Picasso, Freud, and More, p. 72.

Spectator, November 24, 2001, Brian Masters, review of Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters, p. 55.

Time, February 19, 1991, Robert Hughes, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, pp. 65-66.

Washington Post Book World, February 10, 1991, Hilton Kramer, review of A Life of Picasso: Volume 1, 1881-1906, pp. 1, 8.

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