Equal parts literary and social figure, John Richardson leaves a monumental life of his own alongside his biography of Pablo Picasso
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Page Six reported this evening that Kenny Schachter’s son, Kai, has died in London. The artist was 19.
- “Kai’s death is a devastating loss, he was a hugely gifted artist with a wonderful spirit and a sense of humor that touched everyone he met,” the Rich and Schachter families said in a statement. “The family is asking for privacy at this time as they take time to grieve and gather all of the details.”
The Life of John Richardson
“It’s not just the passing of a friend, but the passing of an era,” Larry Gagosian told ArtNews in a statement yesterday about the death yesterday of John Richardson, the biographer and bon vivant. “We won’t see another like him.”
Richardson led a long and varied life that reached back through history. His own father was born in 1856, early in the reign of Queen Victoria. And though there remain wealthy heirs who travel easily across the art world today, few can hope to match Richardson’s ability to connect broadly through so many aspects of society.
Richardson’s ability to connect personally with artists ranging from Picasso, Braque and Légèr to Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol and Nicolas de Staël was only matched by his rapport with literary figures like Jean Cocteau, W.H. Auden, Nancy Mitford and Tennessee Williams or his social ease among the jet-setters Ahmet Ertegun and Oscar and Annette de la Renta.
Richardson devoted the latter part of his life to a literary pursuit, his four-volume biography of Picasso which the AP’s Hillil Italie, cribbing from Robert Hughes, described as filling the same role for the art-obsessed as “Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson series” filled for the politically minded. “Like Leon Edel’s five-volume epic on Henry James and Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce,’ Italie wrote, “Richardson’s books were regarded as biographies of the highest literary quality, graced by knowledge, poetry, passion and insight.”
Italie also offered some insight into Richardson’s personal life with the observation that “when John was just 5, his father died and his mother sent him to a boarding school so ‘horrendous’ that Richardson once ‘was left dangling by the wrists from a hook in the ceiling, my shrieks disregarded by those in authority.’”
Italie also points us to the most significant relationship in Richardson’s life. After abandoning plans in his early 20s to become an artist, Richardson found his calling during a decade-long relationship with Douglas Cooper, an heir to an Australian property fortune who eventually served in the Second World War hunting down art stolen by the Nazis and used a third of his inheritance to acquire a stellar collection of Cubism.
It was through living with Cooper in the South of France that Richardson met many of the great artists of the early 20th Century and developed a friendship with Picasso that led to his becoming the artist’s biographer. But before that, Richardson and the prickly Cooper would have to go their separate ways, as Italie shows in this quote from Richardson’s memoir of his life with Cooper:
- “Their relationship was damaged for good after Richardson questioned the authenticity of two paintings allegedly by the French artist Fernand Leger.‘There was a terrible silence, during which Douglas’s pink face turned the color of a summer pudding. ‘What a little expert we’ve become,’’ Richardson wrote.‘And then came a shriek like calico ripping — comical but also alarming. ‘How dare you pontificate to me about Leger!’ he yelled. ‘Those paintings are absolutely authentic. Get out, get out.’ And then he took another look at the photographs, and I realized that he realized that I was right and he was wrong. Things would never be the same again.’”
- “Mr. Richardson eventually tired of Provence and moved to New York in 1960. He organized major exhibitions of Picasso and Braque; opened a Manhattan office for Christie’s, the British auction house; presided over 19th- and 20th-century paintings at the storied gallery Knoedler and Co.; and was managing director of Artemis, a consortium of art dealers, before turning to writing full time in the late 1970s.”
- “In 1962 Richardson approached the artist with a plan to do a book on his portraits. “He was very cooperative and gave me a mass of information,” Richardson told ARTnews in 2012. What began as a catalogue intended to cover one part of the artist’s oeuvre became a larger undertaking—a full-dress biography spanning the whole of Picasso’s career.Each part of Richardson’s biography, A Life of Picasso, ends with a milestone. The first covers the years 1881 to 1906, and culminates in Picasso painting one of his first masterpieces, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907); the second spans 1907 to 1916 and finishes with the artist abandoning Cubism; and the third moves from 1917 to 1932, concluding with his first retrospective.” (The fourth, written with Michael Cary, is expected to cover the remainder of Picasso’s career, though details have not yet been released.)
The New York Times, relying on an obituary by Carol Vogel prepared long before the nonagenarian’s death, talks about the final phase of Richardson’s career lending the glamour and social connections to Larry Gagosian:
- “Mr. Richardson’s last act, beginning in 2008, was as a consultant to the Gagosian Gallery in New York, where he organized six Picasso exhibitions starting with “Picasso: Mosqueteros.” Roberta Smith of The New York Times called it “one of the best shows to be seen in New York since the turn of the century.”Through his connections with members of Picasso’s family, Mr. Richardson was able to secure paintings that had never before been seen publicly. He was also able to persuade major museums and celebrated collectors to lend late Picasso paintings and prints for the exhibition, at Gagosian’s West 21st Street gallery in Chelsea.It was a hit. For the entire run of the show, lines snaked around the block. His last exhibition, “Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors,” was held at Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill space in London in 2017. At his death he was working on an exhibition of Warhol portraits that was also to be held at the Grosvenor Hill gallery, although an opening date had not been set.