Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906

In late August, I finished reading A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy. I originally bought the book because I saw it on a list of the New York Times Notable Books of 2007. It has been sitting in my pile of books for more than a year and a half.

One of Sharon's passions is art and art history. She has dragged me through a lot of museums. I have always been fascinated by Picasso. Unlike some artists, his style changed significantly over the course of his long life. I have often looked at a painting and been surprised that it was painted by Picasso. I was particularly struck by this after spending the day wandering through the Philadelphia Museum of Art in June. By the end of the day, I decided that I was going to read this book next.

Part of a planned four volume set, this book covers the first 25 years of Picasso's life. From a young child, Picasso was trained as a artist. His father was a mediocre painter and an art teacher. Leaving home at 16, he bounced back and forth between Spain, primarily Barcelona, and Paris. His youth is filled with a amazing amount of poverty and women, both prostitutes and mistresses, as well as some drugs.

One of the reasons that I enjoyed the books was that it included over 900 illustrations of paintings, sketches and photos; almost every page included an illustration. It helped to be able to see Picasso's paintings and sketches and the paintings of other artists as they were being discussed in the book. One drawback is that the illustrations are in black and white. At some point, I realized that I needed to see some of the paintings in color to be able to appreciate them. I also had a hard time keeping track of all of the names of the people who appeared in his life in the book.

I enjoyed the book enough that I will probably attack the next volume sometime in the next two years.

After reading the book, there are several paintings that I would like to see in person. These include:

La Vie (1903) - The Cleveland Museum of Art

The Old Guitarist (1903) - The Art Institute of Chicago

The Saltimbanques (1905) - Nation Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) - The Museum of Modern Art - New York

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