27 November 2021

A Life of Picasso:
The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943


Guernica

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, the fourth and final volume of John Richardson’s definitive Picasso biography, was published posthumously this month, some fourteen years after volume III. (Richardson died in 2019, aged ninety-five.) The Minotaur Years covers the decade from 1933 to 1943, during which Picasso created some of his greatest works, most notably the vast anti-war painting Guernica.

Richardson writes that “Guernica would establish Picasso as the world’s most celebrated modern artist.” It has its own chapter in The Minotaur Years, as do Pêche de nuit à Antibes (‘night fishing at Antibes’), the satirical etching Sueño y menitra de Franco (‘dream and lie of Franco’), and—“unquestionably his most celebrated engraving”—La Minotauromachie (‘minotauromachy’).

A Life of Picasso ends in 1943, thirty years before the artist’s death, though one of Richardson’s earlier essays, published in the exhibition catalogue The Mediterranean Years, is effectively a continuation of the biography. The Mediterranean Years covers Picasso’s life from 1945 to 1962, so its chronology matches almost perfectly with The Minotaur Years, leaving a gap of only a single year (1944).

The first three volumes of A Life of Picasso are: The Early Years, 1881-1906; The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916; and The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. Richardson also wrote and presented the excellent three-part Channel 4 documentary Picasso: Magic, Sex, and Death.

Of the hundreds of monographs on Picasso’s art, Picasso (by Wilhelm Boeck and Jaime Sabartes) stands out as the first extensive survey, though it was never reprinted after its original publication in 1955. Pablo Picasso (by Carsten-Peter Warncke) and The Ultimate Picasso (by Brigitte Leal, Christine Piot, and Marie-Laure Bernadac) are the most comprehensive books on Picasso, and have both been reprinted in various editions.