In Naples, Picasso indulged his fascination with marionettes, and with the erotic, but also the Farnese collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. Everything was grist for his mill. He came, he saw, he subsumed. Visually omnivorous, he was also stylistically so capable, so fluid, that as an artist he could become anything. Everything.
GIVEN THE CHRONOLOGICAL structure of these volumes, certain paintings whose significance now seems to us overarching are here given very little play. Meeting up in these pages with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), for example, one wants to turn back to volume two to better “see” the work. Of necessity, the through-lines, as it were, are often left to the reader. What you need is a map like the kind you’d find in command headquarters, with pushpins everywhere, and little flags, and things connected with threads.
You can’t very well expect an author to sum things up in media res—and that’s where we are, with the artist tuning 50. (Mr. Richardson, who started thinking about this project in the 1960’s, is himself now 83.) At the end of this volume, Picasso has broken up with Olga; the Ballets Russes years and their denouement are at an end; and the artist is set to embark on a “campaign … to bridge the gap between word and image”—by writing poetry.
Mr. Richardson concludes with a statement many have found irresistibly quotable: Picasso telling a friend, “I am God, I am God, I am God.” It’s interesting to note that Nijinsky said the same thing, although with him it was the god of love and with Picasso it was the god of genesis, the god who creates everything, everything, everything.
Is it a coincidence that Nijinsky and Picasso both found themselves in Serge Diaghilev’s orbit? Perhaps the Russian impresario attracted and recognized divinity—and knew how to put it to work.
Nancy Dalva is senior writer at 2wice.