Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Art & Culture / Inner Chic

Pablo Picasso by John Richardson

Written by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni and illustrated by Robert Beck, this column focuses on life in Paris, pepped up by its chic insiders

John Richardson
John Richardson Illustration by Robert Beck

Five friends have chosen the third volume of John Richardson’s biography of Pablo Picasso to take away with them. Holiday reading or not, those five friends are darn smart!

Five friends have chosen the third volume of John Richardson’s biography of Pablo Picasso to take away with them. Holiday reading or not, those five friends are darn smart! Referred to as The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, the book covers Picasso’s wild creative ride – the key works of art, his relationships with Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Fitzgerald, Hemingway as well as the artist’s marriage to the ballerina Olga Khokhlova and his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, his model and muse.

Similar to the other two volumes, the tome is crammed with well-picked details yet defines exquisitely written – every chapter is a joy to read then reread. Just as Richardson makes academic research rip and roar on the page, he is equally exciting in real life. A King of the Hill in the art world – who else can curate a museum-quality Picasso exhibition at the Gagosian gallery and have Larry the Lamb eating out of his  hand? – Richardson refrains from being smug or pompous. Never nostalgic, the ageless historian may have led an incredible life – he was on friendly terms with W H Auden, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and every glamorous social swell – yet is too curious about the present to drown in the past.

"Similar to the other two volumes, the tome is crammed with well-picked details yet defines exquisitely written – every chapter is a joy to read then reread"

We first met in London at a small lunch in honor of Andy Warhol. A seriously silly seventeen-year-old, I’d been warned that JR was a wicked saucepot
– the gay Flashman of Manhattan! – somewhat wisely, I fell under his spell. The next time, it was at Warhol’s memorial service where John gave the eulogy. Apt, it gave a considered dimension and eclipsed Isabella Blow’s shocking decision to flash her tits. Since then, I’ve seen John in London, Paris, Venice… And though hardly a close acquaintance, he’s particularly generous with his quotes and time. Let others dream of frequenting Proust, I’m sticking to JR.

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni is a Paris-based British writer who covers fashion and lifestyle as well as being the author of Sam Spiegel – The Biography of A Hollywood Legend, Understanding Chic, an essay from the Paris Was Ours anthology, the soon-to-be released Tino Zervudachi – A Portfolio – as well as the Chanel book, for Assouline's fashion series.

Robert Beck is former New Yorker currently based in Paris. Also known as C.J. Rabbitt, he is the author and illustrator of several children's books, including The Tale of Rabbitt in Paradis, Un Lapin à Paris and the soon-to-be-published A Bunny in the Ballet.

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