Picasso:  A Biography:  Patrick O’Brien

It was difficult to pick a biography of Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) as there have been many, including by his former wives/lovers.  I decided on this one to start with as it covered his whole life and was written by someone who had met him and it had some favourable reviews.  Generally it was an interesting and informative read with a wealth of detail about his life and works.  The detail, particularly some of the more fanciful descriptions of the Spanish countryside and the young Picasso skipping through it, did annoy me at times.  As did the author’s rather old-fashioned, not to say misogynistic, attitude to Picasso’s women.  But it did not gloss over Picasso’s complex personality and the artist’s continual efforts to innovate.

This is the first book I have physically highlighted and annotated so I feel a bit guilty, but I have decided it is legitimate as I will go back to some sections for reference.  I include a number of selected references here:

P.  66: “The ingredients that went to make up Modernismo (Modernism) ranged from Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites … to Bakunin, Nietzsche … Hiroshige, Schopenhauer.”

P.  72. “Picasso, who was never a political animal.” [Note:  see later contradictions – he was a complex man no doubt]

P.  100. “van Goch, whom Picasso specifically named … as the strongest influence on him in 1901”

P.  103. “Toulouse-Lautrec, van Goch, and above all Cezanne were of value to him” in influencing his work.

P.  104. Picasso “preferred producing the evidence of his views to talking about them, partly no doubt because words are essentially beside the point where painting is concerned”.

P.  121. Quoting Picasso speaking to Antonina Vallentin about one of his works: “I was not the one who gave it that title, ‘La Vie’. I certainly had no intention of painting symbols; I just paint the images that rose from my eyes.  It is for other people to find hidden meanings in them.  As far as I am concerned, a painting speaks for itself.  What is the use of giving explanations, when all is said and done? A painting has only one language …”.

P.141. “Matisse was the only painter to whose achievements Picasso reacted all his life long, the one standard by which he judged his own.”


P.  147 et seq. Refers to the start of moving towards Cubism and Picasso influenced by El Greco and Cezanne and primitive art. Cezanne died in October 1906 (Picasso was 25).  P.165. “Picasso and Braque, Gliezes, Herbin, Le Fauconnier, Leger, Metzinger, Picabia, and somewhat later Gris, Delaunay, and many more, were universally known as Cubists.”  [But Picasso did not like the term himself]  P. 194.  References to “analytic Cubism” and “synthetic Cubism”.   P. 195.  Braque’s first “papier colle”.  P. 201.  Juan Gris and Cubism “the purist of the all.”

P.165. Dada, and move towards surrealism. “Surrealism interested Picasso more than Dada.”  “The Surrealists proclaimed Picasso as their prophet; they reproduced the “Demoiselles d’Avignon” in La Revolution surrealiste.”

P.  320. May 1937. Guernica “one of his most important pictures, perhaps the greatest of his life.” “scores of preliminary studies”

P.  372. Picasso and Communist Party.

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