NEW YORK (AP) — Sir John Richardson, the eminent historian and critic whose multivolume series on Pablo Picasso drew upon his personal and aesthetic affinity for the Spanish painter and was widely praised as a work of art in its own right, has died. He was 95.
The London-born Richardson’s first Picasso book, “A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906” came out in 1991, and was followed by editions covering 1907-1916 and 1917-1932. Richardson had been well into a fourth volume, in the works for over a decade.
Art lovers had looked forward to Richardson’s Picasso writings the way readers of politics have anticipated Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson series. Like Leon Edel’s five-volume epic on Henry James and Richard Ellmann’s “James Joyce,” Richardson’s books were regarded as biographies of the highest literary quality, graced by knowledge, poetry, passion and insight.
Richardson had admired Picasso’s work since he was a teenager, when he failed to convince his mother to lend him $250 so he could buy “Minotauromachy” (a black and white print later sold for $1.5 million). He befriended the artist in the late 1940s, while both were living in the south of France, and remained close with him for years.
Patrician in his speech and attire, Richardson had lived in New York since 1960 and his 5,000 square foot loft on Fifth Avenue included art by Andy Warhol, Georges Braques and, of course, Picasso, who died in 1973. Among his friends were Warhol, music executive Ahmet Ertegun, Oscar and Annette de la Renta and art dealer Larry Gagosian, at whose galleries Richard helped curate several Picasso exhibitions.
Born in 1924, Richardson was the son of Boer War commander and Army & Navy Stores co-founder Sir Wodehouse Richardson. His “earliest, indeed happiest memories” were of his father’s business, including a Victoria Street department store where employees treated him as a “little prince” and hung his picture in the elevator.
But when John was just 5, his father died and his mother sent him to a “horrendous” boarding school. By age 13 he was attending the humane Stowe public school, whose art program Richardson credited with “triggering an obsession with Picasso.”
He abandoned his own dream of being an artist in his 20s, but not before he befriended Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud among others and helped design a “Britain Can Make It” exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
For much of the 1950s, he lived in a chateau in France with the art collector Douglas Cooper, who died in 1984. In “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” published in 1999, Richardson remembered Cooper as a charismatic mentor, but also spiteful and easily offended. Their relationship was damaged for good after Richardson questioned the authenticity of two paintings allegedly by the French artist Fernand Leger.