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Picasso: A Biography

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Patrick O'Brian's outstanding biography of Picasso is here available in paperback for the first time. It is the most comprehensive yet written, and the only biography fully to appreciate the distinctly Mediterranean origins of Picasso's character and art. Everything about Picasso, except his physical stature, was on an enormous scale. No painter of the first rank has been s Patrick O'Brian's outstanding biography of Picasso is here available in paperback for the first time. It is the most comprehensive yet written, and the only biography fully to appreciate the distinctly Mediterranean origins of Picasso's character and art. Everything about Picasso, except his physical stature, was on an enormous scale. No painter of the first rank has been so awe-inspiringly productive. No painter of any rank has made so much money. A few painters have rivaled his life span of ninety years, but none has attracted so avid, so insatiable, a public interest. Patrick O'Brian knew Picasso sufficiently well to have a strong sense of his personality. The man that emerges from this scholarly, passionate, and brilliantly written biography is one of many contradictions: hard and tender, mean and generous, affectionate and cold, private despite the relish of his fame. In his later years he professed communism, yet in O'Brian's view retained to the end of his life a residual Catholic outlook. Not that such matters were allowed to interfere with his vigorous sensuality. Sex and money, eating and drinking, friends and quarrels, comedies and tragedies, suicides and wars tumble one another in the vast chaos of his experience. he was "a man almost as lonely as the sun, but one who glowed with much the same fierce, burning life." It is with that impression of its subject that this book leaves its readers.


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Patrick O'Brian's outstanding biography of Picasso is here available in paperback for the first time. It is the most comprehensive yet written, and the only biography fully to appreciate the distinctly Mediterranean origins of Picasso's character and art. Everything about Picasso, except his physical stature, was on an enormous scale. No painter of the first rank has been s Patrick O'Brian's outstanding biography of Picasso is here available in paperback for the first time. It is the most comprehensive yet written, and the only biography fully to appreciate the distinctly Mediterranean origins of Picasso's character and art. Everything about Picasso, except his physical stature, was on an enormous scale. No painter of the first rank has been so awe-inspiringly productive. No painter of any rank has made so much money. A few painters have rivaled his life span of ninety years, but none has attracted so avid, so insatiable, a public interest. Patrick O'Brian knew Picasso sufficiently well to have a strong sense of his personality. The man that emerges from this scholarly, passionate, and brilliantly written biography is one of many contradictions: hard and tender, mean and generous, affectionate and cold, private despite the relish of his fame. In his later years he professed communism, yet in O'Brian's view retained to the end of his life a residual Catholic outlook. Not that such matters were allowed to interfere with his vigorous sensuality. Sex and money, eating and drinking, friends and quarrels, comedies and tragedies, suicides and wars tumble one another in the vast chaos of his experience. he was "a man almost as lonely as the sun, but one who glowed with much the same fierce, burning life." It is with that impression of its subject that this book leaves its readers.

30 review for Picasso: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    There are many aggravating things about this nonetheless serviceable single volume biography of the great Spanish artist. First there is the publisher’s decision to shorten the title to just Picasso. The author made a big deal about using Picasso’s full name to give credit to his earliest influences in Malaga and Barcelona but the publisher decided to simplify things. Never mind the Pablo Ruiz, just Picasso the front and back cover and spine declare. The late author tells us in the Preface “its There are many aggravating things about this nonetheless serviceable single volume biography of the great Spanish artist. First there is the publisher’s decision to shorten the title to just Picasso. The author made a big deal about using Picasso’s full name to give credit to his earliest influences in Malaga and Barcelona but the publisher decided to simplify things. Never mind the Pablo Ruiz, just Picasso the front and back cover and spine declare. The late author tells us in the Preface “its title is designed to emphasize the importance of those years of his life when he was Pablo Ruiz…” I insist, despite ultimately poor relations with Patrick O’Brian, the book’s author, and estimable novelist of the Master and Commander series, on the full title. After the publisher’s error of judgment all the remaining aggravating things are O’Brian’s responsibility. But first, the positives. Patrick O’Brian is a fine writer, a bit brawny, but clear, direct and capable with a scene, a narrative, and an idea. His descriptions of Picasso’s works almost make up for the lack of any illustrations in the book. He makes more than a few very insightful observations. For example, Picasso “lived in crowded isolation.” And, “Shyness is the most catching of all the emotions.” I’m not sure I agree with that observation but it reads profoundly well. O’Brian is very convincing about Picasso’s youthful influences, though like Richardson and all other biographers it seems, he is meanly condescending to his painter-father. He does a particularly convincing job with Picasso’s time in Barcelona and his Catalan friends. He describes Picasso’s lengthy visits to the extremely remote mountain areas and how they inspired his work and his understanding of animals, peasant pageantry, cycles of life, and human dignity and work. Next, the tricky part. O’Brian does two, well, three, things that really aggravate. He does call a spade a spade when it comes to the artist’s frequently abominable behavior but he contextualizes beyond the strength of context to carry a load for trashy behavior. For example, there is this, “a man under great emotional stress will often transfer part of the blame for his suffering from his wife to his mistress.” Holy Rod Stewart, Batman! If I’ve done that once, I’ve done that a thousand times myself. Wife to mistress to girlfriend in waiting, stress always causes me to make that transfer. Why didn’t I think to apply that experience to poor Pablo’s situation. Second, he just gets nasty at times. O’Brian sneers and snipes at and slanders many of the women in Picasso’s life. When the elderly Picasso who has, despite hypochondria, lived an amazingly illness-free life into his 80s, finally gets sick there can only be one cause that leads from illness to death, and it is not old age. Why should Picasso not remain immortal? O’Brian can only assume the “reasons why it should were in the first place Francois Gilot….” Gilot’s crime was her book, a betrayal that depicted Picasso, in O’Brian’s words, not Gilot’s, as “a ridiculous, an odious figure and even worse a bore.” It was Gilot who killed Picasso, in the library with the memoir! Apparently, it is okay for the Great Man to take liberties in his art with the bodies and faces of his lovers but his lovers must not make any public comment on the Great Man. Turnabout is not fair play but betrayal of the worst kind, warranting the worst retaliations. Third, O’Brian himself says the worst things about Picasso only to rise on his hind-quarters, fangs bared, bark and bite deployed, when others do it, or only seem to do it to O’Brian’s tender eyes. Apparently some writers when under great emotional stress will often transfer part of the blame for their judgments to other people’s mistresses, particularly if she writes and knows the subject better than he does. He does this with Gilot but with others too. Picasso was not an ideal father and perhaps did not demonstrate sufficient fatherly and grandfatherly love to his offspring but, cautions O’Brian in the interests of reason and balance, “surely there is the implied condition that his children should be reasonably lovable.” O’Brian’s Picasso, not Gilot's, is a monster, perhaps a “sacred monster” as he tries often to argue, but a monster…a ridiculous, odious monster and a bore. His defenses… “No one will deny that it is often the duty of the creative man to be selfish.” (O’Brian will never use a gender neutral noun like artist when a gender specific noun might suffice, so not a creative artist but a creative man.) There was, he unruefully observes, “room for only one tormented mind” in this relationship. Sorry, Dora Maar. When the stress of managing his chaotic sex life (not nearly as stressful as it was for the women, but never mind) got to him Picasso “would speak wistfully of a harem.” Okay, you say, I see the point O’Brian makes his subject out to be odious and a bore but what about ridiculous? Here is the book’s most entertaining sentence: “Picasso was furious and perfectly mute: he would not even eat his pudding.” So the book’s aggravating qualities reduce the value of this single-volume life dramatically, despite its aforementioned utility on his early influences and O’Brian’s otherwise often capable descriptive powers. The best alternative is Richardson’s lavishly illustrated masterwork, three volumes and counting. But in a pinch, there is O’Brian, with the pinch being necessary for holding one’s nose during the odious and ridiculous parts.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    I started this biography in French before realising that it had originally been written in English and finished it in the original. Patrick O'Brian does an amazing job of describing this greatest and most prolific of all 20th C artists who produced such a range of art that changed as he aged and matured and changed and left us masterpieces like Guernica which I spend at least an hour in front of overtime I am in Madrid. He was not the nicest person - ask some of his ex-wives - but he was the ult I started this biography in French before realising that it had originally been written in English and finished it in the original. Patrick O'Brian does an amazing job of describing this greatest and most prolific of all 20th C artists who produced such a range of art that changed as he aged and matured and changed and left us masterpieces like Guernica which I spend at least an hour in front of overtime I am in Madrid. He was not the nicest person - ask some of his ex-wives - but he was the ultimate artist in temperament and in execution. Sculpture, drawings, etchings, small portraits, large format paintings - his art is so highly evocative and so often provocative. If you wish to understand a bit more of what you may have seen at Musée Picasso in Paris, at the Picasso Museum in Antibes, the Picassos in any number of hundreds of collections around the world, I would highly recommend this fantastic biography.

  3. 5 out of 5

    LATOYA JOVENA

    I liked this biography but most books like this would have a section in the center with a few black and white photos. It's hard to visualize described paintings. Also the author is far too present, his opinions so saturate this biography that it drips from the page.

  4. 4 out of 5

    pam

    Perceptive biography covering much more than the events in Picasso's life. The historical context is vital and O'Brian gives you a first-hand experience of the stark living conditions in both world wars, as well as the hard years of hunger in Montmartre before Picasso was well-known. His descriptions of Picasso's art were so evocative that I ended up spending hours looking for images on the net and also studying the works of artists who inspired him such as Goya, Manet, Zurbaran and Velazquez. A Perceptive biography covering much more than the events in Picasso's life. The historical context is vital and O'Brian gives you a first-hand experience of the stark living conditions in both world wars, as well as the hard years of hunger in Montmartre before Picasso was well-known. His descriptions of Picasso's art were so evocative that I ended up spending hours looking for images on the net and also studying the works of artists who inspired him such as Goya, Manet, Zurbaran and Velazquez. As for Picasso's personal life, his many lovers, and his arrogant behavior... I felt that O'Brian bent over backwards trying to defend his friend Pablo. It is worth checking out the other side of the tale and I found a fascinating interview with Francoise Gilot online. She hurt his pride terribly when she left him and even more so when she wrote about her life with him, but he was no angel.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven Voorhees

    In preparing for NatGeo's second season of its "Genius" series, I read O'Brian's biography of the iconic artisan. His Picasso is sometimes surly but always surreal; O'Brian apparently knew him. This "advantage" immeasurably helps shape this psychological/humanistic/artistic study of who was probably the 20th century's greatest painter. We see and meet the many fires (human and otherwise) that ignited Picasso's creativity and output (he himself helped light this tandem. He was an astoundingly har In preparing for NatGeo's second season of its "Genius" series, I read O'Brian's biography of the iconic artisan. His Picasso is sometimes surly but always surreal; O'Brian apparently knew him. This "advantage" immeasurably helps shape this psychological/humanistic/artistic study of who was probably the 20th century's greatest painter. We see and meet the many fires (human and otherwise) that ignited Picasso's creativity and output (he himself helped light this tandem. He was an astoundingly hard worker). Yet his contradictions fanned such flames (in his heart he was always a Spaniard. But he would refer to himself as either French or Spanish, depending on the situation he found himself in or the person he was with). While O'Brian's bio is penetrating, it doesn't contain any photos or any reproductions of any of Picasso's works. As O'Brian describes them, the reader has to toggle back and forth between book and Wikipedia for the images of what Picasso wrought. This leads to quite a labor-intensive reading experience. But on the plus side, O'Brian admiringly doesn't let his interactions with Picasso color his view of Picasso the man nor his idiosyncrasies. O'Brian's Picasso is not on a pedestal. Instead Pablo's feet are firmly on the ground, warts and all. This contradictory and very human craftsman's story is, on the whole, well told by O'Brian. May the second series of "Genius" visualize the light and the dark as well as Patrick O'Brian.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard Smith

    I’ve been reading this book for a long time, too long. It’s again made me reflect on the problems of biographies: the familiar pattern of a life can make them boring; how much detail to provide (usually too much in my experience); and how to keep the story moving along when lives are full of unrelated events? O’Brian had the extra problem that because Picasso created tens of thousands of art works he had to decide which to write about and had to describe them in a book without pictures. He noted I’ve been reading this book for a long time, too long. It’s again made me reflect on the problems of biographies: the familiar pattern of a life can make them boring; how much detail to provide (usually too much in my experience); and how to keep the story moving along when lives are full of unrelated events? O’Brian had the extra problem that because Picasso created tens of thousands of art works he had to decide which to write about and had to describe them in a book without pictures. He noted at the beginning that many biographies didn’t describe the works and that art critics said little about Picasso’s life; he tried to steer a middle course, and I think did well. Picasso was in many ways a deeply unpleasant man, but he had many friends and many lovers. But all of these were incidental: for him the work was everything. He painted, drew, sculpted, and made prints and pots almost every day of his 90 year life. His creativity was astonishing and unequalled, I believe. He lived through two world wars, was in Paris during the German Occupation, was exiled from Spain, and lived most of his life in France but remained profoundly Spanish. His relationships with women and even more so with his many children were largely unsatisfactory. He was perhaps ultimately alone, occupying a space few other humans ever know.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Theja Kolla

    It took a lot of determination to get through this book. Bio of a versatile and long living artist with an eventful life during eventful period of history and a great amount of variety in his art, should be a lot more interesting to read. It was a tough read - banal writing, boring presentation, significantly less insight on art, pretty biased take - lost between a factual documentation approach and dramatic retelling of Picasso's life. There is lot of literature on Picasso - wish I skipped this It took a lot of determination to get through this book. Bio of a versatile and long living artist with an eventful life during eventful period of history and a great amount of variety in his art, should be a lot more interesting to read. It was a tough read - banal writing, boring presentation, significantly less insight on art, pretty biased take - lost between a factual documentation approach and dramatic retelling of Picasso's life. There is lot of literature on Picasso - wish I skipped this one !

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Story, solicitor

    Very disappointed. the book is crammed full of detail, much of which is unnecessary and over elaborate - in fact the anthesis of the subject matter. What makes it even harder is the lack of any visual aids. It must be one of the few books about an artist without any examples of his work. Laborious and dull.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melody Nelson

    Although stopping short of a full hagiography, there is nonetheless an undercurrent of constant misogyny and a whole lot of disingenuousness and obfuscation to justify Picasso’s worst traits and behaviours that rather spoils this book. And that is a pity, because the art criticism is sound, even tender, the author’s perspective on Picasso’s oeuvre is clear sighted and he avoids going into flights of fancy that seem to be hallmark of a lot of art biographers. It’s unfortunate then, that he seems Although stopping short of a full hagiography, there is nonetheless an undercurrent of constant misogyny and a whole lot of disingenuousness and obfuscation to justify Picasso’s worst traits and behaviours that rather spoils this book. And that is a pity, because the art criticism is sound, even tender, the author’s perspective on Picasso’s oeuvre is clear sighted and he avoids going into flights of fancy that seem to be hallmark of a lot of art biographers. It’s unfortunate then, that he seems to believe that being a genius gave Picasso some sort of free pass in life, and the author will defend Picasso’s actions ( even by not mentioning certain shameful facts) to the detriment of the quality of his own book. Besides the fact narrative is deliberately incomplete, a lot of his comments particularly in relation to Gilot and Picasso’s children and grandchildren are downright ludicrous. It’s like the doesn’t believe the readers are capable of appreciating Picasso’s work unless his weaknesses as a man are smoothed over. Well we can safely say 42 years later, he has been proven wrong.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    It's difficult to take O'Brian seriously as a biographer when he is so willing to do contortions to excuse Picasso's consistent, lifelong misogyny. I believe it's possible to describe a person's flaws, and put them in context, without overtly endorsing them, but again and again O'Brian blames wives for Picasso's string of mistresses or laments he never had a woman who could sew for him or bemoans that one wife gained weight after having a baby (who Picasso seems to have lost almost immediate int It's difficult to take O'Brian seriously as a biographer when he is so willing to do contortions to excuse Picasso's consistent, lifelong misogyny. I believe it's possible to describe a person's flaws, and put them in context, without overtly endorsing them, but again and again O'Brian blames wives for Picasso's string of mistresses or laments he never had a woman who could sew for him or bemoans that one wife gained weight after having a baby (who Picasso seems to have lost almost immediate interest in, too). It starts out strong, with lots of interesting tidbits about Picasso's development, and he takes care to put Picasso's life into its broader political, geographical, and social contexts. On the other hand, it's not a work well-suited for someone with only a very minimal art history education- if you don't already know the difference between analytic and synthetic Cubism, be prepared to research it, because O'Brian isn't gonna tell you. His descriptions of the paintings are clear and compelling, but without *any* illustrations, the book leaves me high and dry in that regard too. Thank goodness for google image searches. These are shortcomings I could have excused, but halfway through I was feeling pretty salty about the sexism, so nah. I'm fond of O'Brian's charming, witty, warm writing in the Aubrey-Maturin books- it's a pity that here the humor is largely left aside in favor of hero-worship.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Lochhead

    "Much the best biography of Picasso", toots the blurb on the cover of this book. I can't comment on that, having never read any others, but this is certainly exhaustive. It covers his entire life and appears well researched, with detailed descriptions of Picasso's work. For me, I would have liked more about the man and less about the art, and is it me or is it odd to have a biography of such a prolific artist that doesn't include any pictures? The only other difficulty I had with this book was t "Much the best biography of Picasso", toots the blurb on the cover of this book. I can't comment on that, having never read any others, but this is certainly exhaustive. It covers his entire life and appears well researched, with detailed descriptions of Picasso's work. For me, I would have liked more about the man and less about the art, and is it me or is it odd to have a biography of such a prolific artist that doesn't include any pictures? The only other difficulty I had with this book was that the author's clearly overwhelming admiration for Picasso leads him to be rather dismissive of everyone else in the artist's life. This applies particularly to his girlfriends and wives, who are universally treated as disposable and in many cases described in terms that verge on misogyny. It's still a fascinating look at an unusual man, but contains a bit too much of the author for me to really love this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Turner Hall

    This earthy biography is a delight to read. Starting with the revelation that young Pablo’s initiation as a draughtsman was drawing arabesques with his finger in the sand of Malaga, O’Brian goes on in the same paragraph to reveal the Arab derivation of a common Spanish expression. O’Brian’s impressive research is complimented by his insightful and generous view of the man and the artist. O’Brian observes that even at the end of his life Picasso’s pictures were “sparkling and fresh with invention; This earthy biography is a delight to read. Starting with the revelation that young Pablo’s initiation as a draughtsman was drawing arabesques with his finger in the sand of Malaga, O’Brian goes on in the same paragraph to reveal the Arab derivation of a common Spanish expression. O’Brian’s impressive research is complimented by his insightful and generous view of the man and the artist. O’Brian observes that even at the end of his life Picasso’s pictures were “sparkling and fresh with invention; and invention… is the sole proof of genius”. Commenting on the controversy surrounding “Guernica” the writer reminds us “Perhaps art has nothing to do with politics nor with morals; but it quite certainly has to do with the distinction between true and false”. A distinction which is, alas, at risk of vanishing in 2016.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    "Picasso: A Biography is written by someone who klnew the great painter personally. There are several biases that are apaprent, mostly favorable to the subject and the author frequently obscures facrts with his own opinions. That ssid, the book otherwise provides an excellent and in depth portrait of this revolutionary artist. It shines when he is describing Picasso's art and downplays some of Picasso's idiosyncracies. It is best read with copies of some of his artwork nearby, to better apprecia "Picasso: A Biography is written by someone who klnew the great painter personally. There are several biases that are apaprent, mostly favorable to the subject and the author frequently obscures facrts with his own opinions. That ssid, the book otherwise provides an excellent and in depth portrait of this revolutionary artist. It shines when he is describing Picasso's art and downplays some of Picasso's idiosyncracies. It is best read with copies of some of his artwork nearby, to better appreciate some of the descriptions. Overall, I enjoyed the book, it is well written and I learned a great deal about this great artist.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gail conn

    Sad to finish this very interesting book about Picasso. It has so many fascinating details not only about his his many periods of painting but about his friends, wives, lovers and children. If you are a fan of Picasso, I would say this is a must read. O’Brien was in his circle at large at some point so he had access to some inside information.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kim Kash

    This is a dense, beautifully written biography. I set it aside for now because I need to get my hands on an artist monograph in order to have Picasso's paintings in front of me as I read O'Brian's book. He refers to specific paintings in great detail, and it's a shame not to be looking at them while reading. So, I'll get back to this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    I think this may be the most thorough and devoted biography of Picasso, but I am no authority, I am just guessing! Good book took me a loooong time to finish!!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lewis Manalo

    Sent to the back burner....

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Well written, and ultimately very boring.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ling Chang

    THE definitive biography of Picasso. A bit long, but if you like bios, you won't be able to put it down.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I couldn't put down, great biography.

  21. 5 out of 5

    A

  22. 5 out of 5

    Henrik Haapala

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tammy Wilson

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Vetek

  26. 4 out of 5

    Charles Kell

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  28. 4 out of 5

    LEONARD RYAN

  29. 5 out of 5

    lapidaryblue

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bere

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