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SPOTLIGHT: Books about Pablo Picasso

Friday, July 31, 2015

This week on the blog, I am celebrating Madame Picasso by Anne Girard, a sad and beautiful novel about one of the women who helped inspire the artistic genius of Pablo Picasso. 

I’ve read a lot about Picasso, and thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite other books on him and his life (the blurbs are all from Goodreads -


Life with Picasso

by Françoise Gilot

Francoise Gilot was a young painter in Paris when she first met Picasso - he was sixty-two and she was only twenty-one. During the following ten years they were lovers, worked closely together and she became mother to two of his children, Claude and Paloma. Life with Picasso, her account of those extraordinary years, is filled with intimate and astonishing revelations about the man, his work, his thoughts and his friends - Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti, among others. Francois Gilot paints a compelling portrait of her turbulent life with the temperamental (and even abusive) genius that was Picasso. As one of the few intimate witnesses to Picasso as a human being and as an artist, her account of him is invaluable for assessing him on both counts. 

My comments: This is my favourite of all the books I have read. Francoise has a lovely writing style, and she is such a strong, free spirit – you really want her to survive life with this extraordinarily brilliant yet brutal man. 

Gertrude Stein, painted by Pablo Picasso


by Gertrude Stein

For more than a generation, Gertrude Stein's Paris home at 27 rue de Fleurus was the center of a glittering coterie of artists and writers, one of whom was Pablo Picasso. In this intimate and revealing memoir, Stein tells us much about the great man (and herself) and offers many insights into the life and art of the 20th century's greatest painter.

Mixing biological fact with artistic and aesthetic comments, she limns a unique portrait of Picasso as a founder of Cubism, an intimate of Appollinaire, Max Jacob, Braque, Derain, and others, and a genius driven by a ceaseless quest to convey his vision of the 20th century. We learn, for example, of the importance of his native Spain in shaping Picasso's approach to art; of the influence of calligraphy and African sculpture; of his profound struggle to remain true to his own vision; of the overriding need to empty himself of the forms and ideas that welled up within him.

Stein's close relationship with Picasso furnishes her with a unique vantage point in composing this perceptive and provocative reminiscence. It will delight any admirer of Picasso or Gertrude Stein; it is indispensable to an understanding of modern art.

My comments: This is the classic Picasso biography, told by someone who knew him. Its quite possibly Stein’s best writing too. 

Picasso, My Grandfather

by Marina Picasso

This is a memoir of living in the shadow of the man whose family members were forced to call him "The Sun" -- the twentieth century's most famous painter who, in becoming so, dominated the lives of his wives, his children and his grandchildren -- as told by Marina Picasso, the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a former Russian ballerina who remained married to him until her death.

While writers, artists and film stars were allowed into Picasso's orbit, he kept his family outside of it, not only in impoverished conditions but in terror of provoking his displeasure -- unable to carve lives and identities of their own. After years of being disdained by Picasso, first Marina's brother committed suicide and then Marina's father drank himself to death. Marina's own estrangement and subsequent breakdown followed, until at last, through grief and awakening, she came to terms with the blessings and curses of the Picasso legacy -- the result of which is in part this disturbing account of Pablo Picasso's private family life.

My comments: this is a really sad and moving story that made me really dislike Picasso – I don’t think great art should be made at the expense of people. However, I’d really recommend reading it if you are at all interested in Picasso – her insights into his art and his genius are fascinating. And don’t be afraid the story will be too dark - it has an uplifting end!


Marian with her grandfather as a child, and in recent years with one of her grandfather's sketches

Picasso: Creator And Destroyer

by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington

Huffington strips bare the romantic myths to reveal, in all its volatile complexity, Picasso's lifelong struggle between his power to create and his compulsion to destroy.

My comments: A rather breathless style, lots of guesswork and suppositions, and a strong emphasis on Picasso’s private life rather than his art, this book is nonetheless a fascinating read … and easy to whip through in a few sittings. 

My own novel Dancing on Knives was obliquely inspired by the life of Pablo Picasso.  Set in Australia, and referencing 'The Littler Mermaid' fairy tale, it is the story of Sara, the lonely daughter of an egotistical Spanish artist named Augusto, who sought to emulate Picasso in both his art and his love life. It was my first novel, written in my 20s, and recently republished with a gorgeous new cover:  

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