John Richardson. Photo: François Halard.

John Richardson (1924–2019)

John Richardson, an art historian and curator best known for his prodigious scholarship on Pablo Picasso, died at his home in New York today at the age of ninety-five, reports the New York Times. Richardson opened the New York branch of Christie’s in 1960 and went on to serve as vice president of M. Knoedler & Co. and managing director of the art investments firm Artemis. In the 1990s, Richardson’s focus became more academic, and he joined the British Academy and taught art at the University of Oxford. He published his first biography on Picasso, Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881–1906, in 1991_; _it was followed by Life of Picasso: The Painter of Modern Life, 1907–1917 (1996) and Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932 (2007). A fourth volume is expected to be forthcoming.

In the December 1999 issue of Artforum, Robert Rosenblum wrote of Richardson’s books: “The prose is so swift and nimble that, even if this were merely a life of the mayor of Málaga, we would read it breathlessly; but given the titanic subject, every precise and gossipy detail about friends, artists, dealers, and lovers casts new light. Unlike most artist biographies, this one needs—and gets—hundreds of images, producing a seamless weave of life and art. I am cliff-hanging for Volume 3.” 

Richardson was born in London in 1924. The son of Sir Wodehouse Richardson, a Boer war general who cofounded the Army and Navy stores and was knighted by King Edward VII, he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London before beginning to write for the New Statesman. Throughout the 1950s he lived with his former partner and the journal’s theater editor, Douglas Cooper, in a château in the south of France, where he met Picasso, Fernand Léger, Jean Cocteau, Georges Braque, and others. (Those in Richardson’s social orbit over the years also included Peggy Guggenheim, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and Andy Warhol, whose eulogy he delivered in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1987.)

In 2008, Richardson began working as a consultant for Gagosian Gallery in New York, where he also organized six exhibitions on Picasso. In the November 2012 issue of Artforum, Robert Pincus-Witten described the 2012 exhibition “Picasso and Françoise Gilot: Paris-Vallauris 1943–1953” as “jaw-dropping and, disputatiously, eye-opening.”

“I’m always interested in the ways that people’s views over the years change,” Richardson said in a 2018 interview in Gagosian Quarterly. “I think one should always question things. Everything never makes sense and shouldn’t make sense.”