27 April 2022

“Conspiracy to corrupt public morals...”


Ladies Directory Classified

Alfred Barrett’s lonely hearts magazine The Link, founded in 1915, was certainly ahead of its time. It published personal ads, though as its masthead proudly proclaimed, they were “NOT MATRIMONIAL” in nature. So if people weren’t looking for a spouse, what could they be looking for...? The Metropolitan Police pondered that very question, after R.A. Bennett—editor of another magazine, the moralistic Truth—sent copies of The Link to Scotland Yard.

Bennett suspected that some of The Link’s classified ads were coded messages written by gay men. One example, which he underlined with a literal blue pencil, was by someone “anxious to correspond with friend. Must be same sex, affectionate, and amiable”. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and the police seized not only copies of The Link but also letters sent to the box numbers advertised. Barrett was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1921, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

Forty years later, in 1961, another publisher was convicted of the same offence. Frederick Shaw’s Ladies Directory, founded in 1959, was a catalogue of ads placed by prostitutes (the equivalent of the ‘tart cards’ left in phone boxes). Shaw himself had sent his publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking guidance on its legality. He got his answer when the DPP charged him with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, and after his conviction he served nine months in prison. The charge—which set a legal precedent—related specifically to issues 7-10 of the Ladies Directory. (My copy of number 8 is an undated and unpaginated A5 booklet.)

In 1965, Way Out led a revival of the lonely hearts magazine, and soon inspired imitators such as Exit and numerous others. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green noted that these titles “were not prosecuted, and more respectable magazines began to run lonely hearts columns that might have been indictable in earlier years.” H.G. Cocks, however, in his book Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, demonstrates that these titles were indeed prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals: “The way the police in Britain investigated smalltime magazines like Exit and Way Out while their American counterparts merely shrugged as their own swinging industry exploded, tells us everything about the differences between the two countries.” (Classified’s coverage of the investigation into Exit and Way Out sets it apart from other books on censorship in Britain.)

The last major conviction for consiracy to corrupt public morals came in 1970, when three publishers of the underground magazine International Times received suspended sentences. In 1969 (issues 51-56), IT published a column of gay personal ads (Males), and this gave the Metropolitan Police the excuse they needed to prosecute the magazine, after several previous speculative raids on its offices. In an echo of the investigation into The Link fifty years earlier, and notwithstanding the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the police seized hundreds of letters sent in reply to the ads. The editors of a more famous underground title, Oz, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1971, though after a prolonged trial they were found guilty of obscenity (a verdict later overturned on appeal).

07 April 2022

The Greatest Movies of All Time


The Greatest Movies of All Time

The Greatest Movies of All Time, published in 2016, features a list of classic films selected by Lorri Lynn, Melody Bussey, and Peter Murray. The number of titles (eighty-eight) seems fairly arbitrary, and there are no foreign-language or silent films on the list. The introduction, which refers to “a lifetime all best movie designation” [sic], could have been written by AI software.

Each film has a double-page spread, with a single paragraph of rather simplistic text opposite a glossy full-page photograph. The photos are the book’s only redeeming feature, though their quality is variable: the stills and posters are well-reproduced, though many are merely DVD covers and one (The Unforgiven) is from the wrong film. The book is not recommended, and is included here only in the interests of completism, as Dateline Bangkok reviews every greatest-film list available in print.

PDF

05 April 2022

Heavenly Bodies:
Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs


Heavenly Bodies
Heavenly Bodies

Paul Koudounaris has written a trilogy of superb books on the display of human skeletons. The Empire of Death is a history of European ossuaries, while Memento Mori features secular and non-Christian memorials from around the world. Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, published by Thames and Hudson in 2013, focuses on the skeletons discovered in Roman catacombs during the Counter-Reformation, which were distributed by the Vatican to churches in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

After the Reformation, replacement relics were required: “Large numbers of churches had been ransacked, ensuring that high volumes of new sacred bones were needed,” and the bodies from the catacombs became convenient “replacements for lost relics.” The skeletons were presumed to be those of Christian martyrs (though the wish was father to the thought) and were known as Katakombenbeiligen (‘catacomb saints’) to distinguish them from the saints canonised by papal decree.

The Katakombenbeiligen were decorated with gold and jewels and displayed in ornate reliquaries, venerated in much the same way as the relics of ‘real’ saints. That is, until archaeological evidence inevitably intervened, proving that most of the bodies dated from the time of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. These “glittering imposters”, as Koudounaris describes them, were eventually regarded as relics in that term’s pejorative sense, as obsolete. James Bentley’s book Restless Bones discusses holy relics in more depth, though it lacks the stunning photography of Heavenly Bodies.

30 March 2022

Scene through Wood:
A Century of Modern Wood Engraving


Scene through Wood
The Traveller

The technique of wood engraving was pioneered by Thomas Bewick in the late eighteenth century. Utilising more precise tools than woodcut printing, and using the end-grain rather than the side-grain, Bewick’s engravings were—according to Susan Doyle’s comprehensive History of Illustration—“capable of far more detail than earlier woodcuts”.

As William M. Ivins writes in Prints and Visual Communication, “the development of this technique under the hands of Bewick and others constitutes a very important part of the story of prints during the nineteenth century. It brought the wood-block back into books, and gave the greater public for the first time copious illustrations for its texts.” In A History of Book Illustration, David Bland agrees that the Bewick method “rescued the woodcut from oblivion and made it a suitable method of illustrating the mass-produced book”.

Scene through Wood: A Century of Modern Wood Engraving, an exhibition marking the centenary of the Society of Wood Engravers, was held at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2020 (after a slight delay due to the coronavirus pandemic), and is now on show at the Dorset Museum in Dorchester. Curated by Anne Desmet, the exhibition features more than 200 wood engravings, organised thematically, from the Ashmolean and various private collections.

The exhibition (running from 9th February to 1st May) is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue featuring artist biographies and an extensive bibliography. The first book on the subject, A History of Wood Engraving by Douglas Percy Bliss, focuses largely on European woodcuts. A later book with the same title, by Albert Garrett, is more comprehensive. Arthur M. Hind’s classic A History of Engraving and Etching covers all forms of engraving, though makes only passing mention of Bewick’s innovation.

24 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti:
Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well


Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti Headache Stencil

Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well, published last month, is the first comprehensive survey of street art in Bangkok. (Alisa Phommahaxay’s more limited Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019.) The book contrasts the insular graffiti tagging scene of the early 2000s with the emergence of more character-based street art in the early 2010s. Similar divisions persist over the increasing commercialisation of street art, and Mann addresses the nuances of these debates and places them in historical context. It is also available in a Thai edition, titled สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป.

The book’s main focus is the artistic takeover of Hopewell, the site of an abandoned elevated road and rail line. (Hopewell’s huge concrete pillars now stand as monuments to overambition, lethargy, and corruption.) The most interesting chapter covers political dissent, led by Headache Stencil’s pieces denouncing Prawit Wongsuwan (the deputy PM with a suspicious penchant for luxury watches) and Premchai Karnasuta (the head of ITD—which secured some of the country’s most lucrative infrastructure contracts—who organised an illegal hunting party), and includes a discussion of censorship and its circumvention.

20 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art:
Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise


Bangkok Street Art
Headache Stencil

Alisa Phommahaxay’s Bangkok Street Art: Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise (‘a look at the urban Thai scene’) was the first book on Bangkok street art and graffiti. It profiles seven artists, including Alex Face (“probably the most well-known Thai street artist in the world”), though it also features work by plenty of others (there are six pages devoted to Headache Stencil, for example).

The pocket-sized Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019, as part of the Opus Délits (‘criminal works’) series of monographs on urban artists. A second and more substantial book on the subject, Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well (สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป), was published this year.

04 March 2022

Kleptopia:
How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World



A mining company has lost its libel case against a journalist who implied it had arranged the killings of several senior staff. In his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World, Tom Burgis describes the mysterious deaths of former employees of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. Burgis also wrote an eight-page cover story about the case for the FT Weekend Magazine—headlined Silent Witnesses—published on 2nd October 2020.

In Kleptopia, Burgis alleges that two former ENRC staff died in suspicious circumstances, describing them as “the deceased bearers of ENRC’s secrets”. James Bethel and Gerrit Strydom died in their separate hotel rooms on the same night in 2015, during a road trip. Malaria was recorded as the cause of both men’s deaths, though Burgis points out that their malaria parasites had different genotypes, making it impossible that they were both infected at the same time. As he writes in his magazine piece, this begs the question: “if malaria did not kill the two men, what did?”

A third man associated with ENRC, James Bekker, died when his parked car caught fire in 2016. His body was found on the back seat. In Kleptopia, Burgis implies that he was silenced: “Bekker knew... that the valuation must have been inflated. And he had started telling people as much.” In Silent Witnesses, Burgis alleges that Bekker was the victim of a contract killing: “local crime gangs claimed to have a source who said a contract on Bekker’s life had been paid out.”

ENRC sued Burgis and HarperCollins, who published Kleptopia, though the case was dismissed at yesterday’s High Court hearing in London, and any potential appeal was denied. The judge ruled that ENRC was not defamed by Burgis, as a corporation cannot be held legally responsible for murder. Speaking outside court, Burgis said: “I’m delighted that this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.”

23 January 2022

10 ราษฎร


Family Club

Five plainclothes police officers made an unannounced inspection of the new 1932 People Space Library at Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok today. They confiscated a copy of 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’), which features portraits by Chalermpol Junrayab of ten activists charged with lèse-majesté.

One of the officers returned the book a few hours later, claiming that he had merely taken it for his young son to read. 10 ราษฎร is part of a series of eight children’s picture books investigated by the Ministry of Education last year.

20 January 2022

The Monarchy and Thai Society



Thai police raided the offices of Same Sky Books this morning, looking for copies of Arnon Nampa’s booklet The Monarchy and Thai Society (สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย). (Its English title comes from an authorised online translation by PEN.) Around thirty officers searched the premises; they didn’t find any copies of the booklet, though they obtained a court order to confiscate Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s mobile phone and computer instead.

10,000 copies of the booklet were seized from Same Sky last year, and their offices were also raided in 2020. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ in 2014, and he was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

The Monarchy and Thai Society is one of three booklets written by anti-government protesters, published in the colours of the Thai flag. The others are The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา; also translated by PEN) and บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’).

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations


Familiar Quotations

John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations was first published in 1855, with expanded editions released every ten years or so. Its chief competitor—The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Alice Mary Smyth—first appeared almost ninety years later. (My first edition copy of Smyth’s book was published with corrections in 1942.)

Bartlett’s serves as a comprehensive cultural history, covering not only literature (Hamlet: “To be, or not to be: that is the question”) but also political speeches (the Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”), interview soundbites (Princess Diana: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), and film dialogue (Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects”). The eighteenth edition, edited by Geoffrey O’Brien, was published in 2012.

I have a rather niche non-transferable skill: correctly predicting the pull quotes that will be reported by news organisations after interviews and speeches. It’s also highly satisfying, when conducting interviews for publication, if the interviewee says something that makes an ideal pull quote. Effectively, Bartlett’s collects the pull quotes that stand the test of time, and a new (nineteenth) edition will be released later this year.

Many reference books have migrated online, where they can be more easily searched and updated. But print editions of dictionaries of quotations remain necessary, as online quote databases are filled with paraphrases and misattributions. (This has been parodied in an online meme: a fake quote from Abraham Lincoln warning people not to believe what they read on the internet.)

In a 1993 Quote... Unquote newsletter, Nigel Rees described the problem of “Churchillian Drift”, whereby quotations are commonly misattributed by default to either Winston Churchill or George Bernard Shaw. But even when their attributions are correct, most quotation websites provide no context whatsover: publication dates and sources are rarely cited, making annotated dictionaries such as Bartlett’s essential resources.

07 January 2022

#WhatsHappeningInThailand
และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ


#WhatsHappeningInThailand

#WhatsHappeningInThailand และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’) is the first book to document the anti-government protest movement that began in Bangkok last summer. Journalist Karoonporn Chetpayark gives her reflections on covering the demonstrations, accompanied by Asadawut Boonlitsak’s photographs of the protests. The book covers a period of exactly a year, from the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2020 to the first anniversary of that event last year, when protesters were met with a much more violent police response.

05 January 2022

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021:
The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats


VideoHound

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021: The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus, is the final edition of the last remaining film guide in print. VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever first appeared in 1990 and was updated annually, though the 2022 edition was cancelled by the publisher. With reviews of almost 30,000 films released on video, and over 2,000 pages, the 2021 edition was approaching the physical limits of a manageable single-volume book. In fact, the total number of films in recent editions had been gradually declining, as obscure older films were deleted to make room for new releases.

The annual film guide format was pioneered in 1958 by Steven H. Scheuer, who reviewed 5,000 titles in his TV Movie Almanac and Ratings. A decade later, in 1969, came Scheuer’s first competitor, Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, and after another decade Leslie Halliwell launched his Halliwell’s Film Guide. This triumvirate ruled the roost for another decade, until smaller guides such as Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (by John Elliot) and The Virgin Film Guide were published in the late 1980s and early ’90s. (The Virgin guide was notable for its lengthy reviews of significant films. On the other hand, Elliot even stooped to reviewing some of the more outré ‘video nasties’.)

The next wave of film guides was dominated by major magazine publishers. The Empire Film Guide followed the Virgin formula, while the Time Out Film Guide and the Radio Times Guide to Films both aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. Time Out found room for more independent and arthouse titles, while the Radio Times adopted an even-handed reviewing style, perhaps to differentiate itself from the more opinionated Halliwell’s Film Guide. The Radio Times Film Guide also had a little-known predecessor: Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film and Video Guide, which was pulped after a plagiarism lawsuit from the publishers of Halliwell’s.

After the boom came the bust, and—like other printed reference books—the annual film guide eventually became an endangered species. 1992 saw the final edition of Scheuer’s book (retitled Movies on TV and Videocassette). The Virgin and Empire guides ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The last Halliwell’s Film Guide came out—somewhat contentiously—in 2007, and the brand died an ignominious death the following year with The Movies That Matter. Maltin’s book was last updated in 2014 (retitled Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide). Time Out’s guide ceased publication in 2012, and the Radio Times’s followed suit in 2017.

31 December 2021

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli:
The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’


Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

There are six books on my shelves about the making of The Godfather: The Godfather Family Album, The Official Motion Picture Archives, The Annotated Godfather, The Godfather Notebook, The Godfather Book, and now Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’. As Seal acknowledges in his preface, “The Godfather has spawned its own massive field of study, a trove of books, articles, documentaries...” Some familiar production anecdotes are inevitably duplicated throughout these six books, though each title also provides ample original material, and each has a different approach to the making of the film.

What distinguishes Seal’s new book? Firstly, it has an extended interview with Francis Ford Coppola (who admits that, “at the root of it all, I was terrified”). Also, one chapter quotes extensively from a stenographer’s transcript of a six-hour pre-production meeting. This document is a valuable primary source, as it accurately records exactly what was said at the time, such as Coppola’s explanation of the film’s opening line: “Just starting with, ‘I believe in America,’ because it’s what the whole movie is about.” Previously, Seal wrote a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film for the magazine’s 2009 Hollywood issue, and an oral history of Pulp Fiction for the 2013 Hollywood issue.

28 December 2021

The King of Bangkok


The King of Bangkok

The King of Bangkok, the English-language edition of the Italian graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok, was published last month. A Thai edition was released last year, retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang). The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri, and is the product of meticulous ethnographic and archival research into Thai political and cultural history. The English edition features several new appendices, including a timeline of political events giving extra context to the narrative.

There is also an extensive interview with the authors, in which they discuss their goal of counteracting the ‘Teflon’ effect, whereby Thailand’s violent political climate is so successfully expunged from its international image by the Ministry of Tourism, “one of the most effective propaganda machines in the country.” The interview also touches on the book’s slightly censored Thai translation: “The solution we finally adopted in Thai was to cover three particularly sensitive sentences with a black line, a strategy used by progressive Thai filmmakers to pass state censorship while indexing its presence and effects.”

22 December 2021

Surrealism Beyond Borders


Surrealism Beyond Borders

The Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition, currently on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will transfer to London’s Tate Modern next year. Curated by Stephanie D’Alessandro and Matthew Gale, it’s the first exhibition to consider Surrealism from a global perspective. As the foreword to the exhibition catalogue explains, it “moves away from a Paris-centered viewpoint to shed light on Surrealism’s significance around the world from the 1920s until the late 1970s.”

The 400-page catalogue, published in October, includes essays on Surrealism in Egypt, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Syria, China, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, and Thailand. (Apinan Poshyananda also covered Thai Surrealism in Modern Art in Thailand.) While not as definitive as Gérard Durozoi’s monumental History of the Surrealist Movement (Histoire du mouvement surréaliste), the Surrealism Beyond Borders catalogue is unique in its extensive international coverage of Surrealist art. (Maurice Nadeau wrote the first history of Surrealism in 1944, Histoire du surréalisme, though it was not translated into English until twenty years later, as The History of Surrealism.)

With its expansion of Surrealism’s geographical boundaries, Surrealism Beyond Borders follows in the footsteps of the Futurism and Futurisms (Futurismo e futurismi) and International Pop exhibitions and catalogues, which undertook similar internationalisations of Futurism and Pop Art, respectively. Earlier, Norma Broude’s book World Impressionism examined the worldwide impact of Impressionism, and Robert Rosenblum’s Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art considered Cubism from an American and pan-European perspective. (Incidentally, the first two editions of Rosenblum’s book, published by Abrams with tipped-in colour plates, are superior to the subsequent reprints.)

The Madman's Library:
The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History



The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History includes hundreds of examples of odd, unusual, and unconventional books. There are fascinating and lavishly illustrated chapters on, for example, microbooks and elephant folios, literary hoaxes, and texts written on 3D objects. The highlight is a chapter on books bound in human skin (anthropodermic bibliopegy) and written in blood, which is the first illustrated survey of the subject. Author Edward Brooke-Hitching is one of the ‘elves’ (researchers) from the excellent TV series QI.

21 December 2021

แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย



แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย (‘Thai consonant textbook: contemporary politics edition’), PrachathipaType’s parody of an alphabet picture book, was launched at the Bangkok Art Book Fair last month. (In an installation at CityCity Gallery, people sat at wooden desks and posed as students reading copies of the book.) The project is a collaboration with Rap Against Dictatorship, who released a song—กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap [prostration]’)—and animated video based on PrachathipaType’s illustrations. (The song’s lyrics are printed at the back of the book.)

Each of the forty-four Thai consonants is represented by images satirising the government, the monarchy, and the justice system. Specific themes include mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, state budget allocations, and the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of popular political parties. Thammanat Prompao, surely the most disreputable Thai politician in recent memory, is namechecked for his insistence that the 3kg of heroin he was convicted of smuggling into Australia was actually flour. (Incredibly, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could still serve as a cabinet minister, as his crime was committed outside Thailand.)

30 November 2021

Gothic:
An Illustrated History


Gothic

Roger Luckhurst’s Gothic begins with the pointed arch, the archetypal element of the Gothic style, though the book explores the Gothic influence far beyond its architectural and literary origins. As Luckhurst writes in his introduction: “Gothic: An Illustrated History takes up the challenge of building a global history of the Gothic, attempting to glimpse this protean creature as it shape-shifts.”

This is a guide to Gothic geography and cryptozoology, organised thematically rather than chronologically. Gothic motifs and settings are explored, and the book is truly international in scope. Unlike previous histories of the subject, popular culture—especially Gothic cinema—is given serious consideration, and there are around 350 superb historical illustrations.

Famously, Giorgio Vasari described Gothic architecture as “monstrous”, and Luckhurst’s book features a comprehensive bestiary of monsters of all kinds. Like the chapters on monsters, the collection of extended essays on the “Gothic Compass” (southern, western, eastern, and northern Gothic) could stand as a separate book in its own right.

With its shadowy subject matter and the sheer range of material under discussion—from medieval churches to computer games—Luckhurst’s book is similar to Marina Warner’s equally impressive No Go the Bogeyman. Music and fashion are surprising omissions, though: the goth subculture and bands such as the Cure really deserve to be included.

Henri Focillon’s The Art of the West in the Middle Ages (Art d’Occident) was the first comprehensive history of Gothic architecture. More recently, Rolf Toman’s Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting is a lavishly illustrated history of the subject.

28 November 2021

If We Burn:
Before


If We Burn

The first issue of the journal If We BurnBefore, edited by Wassachol Sirichanthanun—is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, and photography created since the 2014 coup. The title, If We Burn (“...you burn with us”), is a quote from The Hunger Games, the series that also inspired the three-finger salute adopted by anti-coup activists.

The collection includes new writings from Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Dawut Sassanapitax, amongst others. Artworks include an infographic documenting the casualties of the 2010 military massacre. The grey cover image is described as “ด้านหลังของภาพขนาดใหญ่ภาพหนึ่ง ณสวนสัตว์เขาดิน” (‘the back of a large portrait at Dusit Zoo’), a similar concept to Wittawat Tongkeaw, who exhibited the back of a painting of that person’s husband—The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ)—earlier this year.

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.