John Richardson, Picasso biographer, dies at 95

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.

Nicholas Latimer, a vice president and senior director of publicity at Alfred A. Knopf, said Richardson died this morning at his Manhattan home.

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. Latimer said Richardson had been well into a fourth volume, in the works for over a decade. But he did not immediately know the title, what years it would cover or when it would be published.

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's criticism and scholarship brought him a Whitbread Award in 1991, election to the British Academy two years later and a knighthood in 2012.

Reviewing Richardson's third Picasso volume, in 2007, The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani cited Richardson's "intimate understanding of the artist's temperament and endlessly inventive styles, his expansive vocabulary of myths and motifs and, most important, the mysterious nature of the alchemy by which he transformed his own experiences and emotions into art."

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.

"It must have been hell to be his child or his mistress, but to his friends he was beguiling. There was never a dull moment," he told The Associated Press in 1991, adding that Picasso seemed inspired by his friends.

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