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The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Picasso, Provence, and Douglas Cooper





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About the book:

The eyes have it. Where Richardson's twinkled and Picasso's scorched with Andalusian mirada fuerte, Douglas Cooper, a comic fiend something between Dame Edna Everage and Ignatius Reilly, had "scary little avian eyes", one of which bore a sightless pupil shaped like an inverted keyhole from a Magritte, and a malevolent temper that poured venom like lava. It was impossible to work out which he hated more, himself or the world, but the one fed off the other with magnificent fury, while Richardson followed a step behind rebuilding bridges from the rubble and learning. Cooper pulled strings "so hard they snapped". Two quotations from Francis Bacon, no angel himself, bookend this curious, exasperatedly affectionate memoir by John Richardson, distinguished art historian and 1991 Whitbread Award-winning biographer of Picasso (who is put in the shade by Cooper's hefty shadow): the prophetic "she'll try to lure you to bed, and then she'll turn on you. She always does", finds its uncanny conclusion in "Didn't I warn you she was a thoroughly treacherous woman?".

The sorcerer and his apprentice lived for 10 years in the grandiose "folly" Chäteau de Castille in Provence, where they entertained a circle that included Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Angus Wilson, Tennessee Williams and a range of the usual suspects from that period's artistic fraternity. When Richardson left Cooper for the lights of New York, the outrage of the spurned lover led him to burn his possessions, steal his paintings, denounce him to friends and employers, and even to attempt to arrange his arrest by Interpol. He was a duplicitous, sadistic bully, but, importantly, he was not a bore (among his more outrageous acts was loudly booing Queen Elizabeth II outside Westminster Abbey at her Coronation). Moreover, his knowledge for his subject, classical Cubism, and his pioneering collecting of the works of Picasso, Braque, Léger and Gris, were an essential counterpoint to the staid, unenlightened policy of the Tate Gallery and its director, Sir John Rothenstein, for whom he held a deteriorating scorn which finally resulted in the "Tate Affair", when Rothenstein publicly thumped Cooper. He was certainly not to first that wanted to. On occasion Richardson lapses into routine recall, but generally his delight in reviewing this formative, rites-of-passage period, re-ignites the fire in Cooper flaring nostrils, and borrows some of its flame to stoke a bitchy, enriching addendum to his Picasso magnus opus, which, appropriately, bears a dedication to his old sorcerer. --David Vincent

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