Norman Mailer's biography of Picasso follows the famous artist from his gifted childhood in Spain through his travails as a young man in the Parisian art community to his establishment as one of the world's most famous artists. Pablo Picasso is born in Andalusian Spain in 1881. Mailer's biography covers the legend of his birth: a stillborn child brought back to life when his uncle breathes tobacco smoke into his lungs. The rest of the book appropriates many other colorful anecdotes and rumors about the famous author. A gifted child, Picasso's talent for drawing is recognized at a very early age. The young artist is trained by his middle class father, a professionally trained painter. As an adolescent, Picasso is said to have surpassed his father in the eyes of the older artist. At 13, Picasso is admitted to study art at a school in Barcelona. The young artist moves to Paris in 1900, where he attempts to make it on his own as a professional artist. Picasso lives with Max Jacob, an eccentric poet who introduces the artist to the worlds of drugs and mysticism. This is a period of extreme poverty for them both. This biography spends a great deal of time concerned with Picasso's friendships and romances during these early years. The poet Apollinaire and the art critic Gertrude Stein are two early friends of the artist who inspire and frustrate artist. One important event is the scandal surrounding the theft of several ancient artifacts from a famous Parisian art museum. The works were stolen by Apollinaire, but end up in the possession of Picasso causing him much trouble and anxiety. We also meet Fernande Olivier, the first significant love of Picasso's life. The two live together, Picasso often locking the woman in the small apartment out of suspicion and jealously. He paints her many times, along with Stein and others. Theirs is a tumultuous relationship that ends years later, near the end of the book. By now, Picasso is established in Paris, the artistic capitol of the world. He has presented early masterpieces like Geurnica to great acclaim and is seen as a peer to Matisse, his chief rival. The biography resolves just after Picasso develops the precepts and aesthetic technique of cubism with Georges Braque.
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Best part of story, including ending:
Mailer's writing is very entertaining. He has a mischievous interest in the kinky and wild behavior of the artist, making for an engaging read. He also understands Picasso's work very well, communicating the esoteric material very clearly.
Best scene in story:
I found the art theft scandal very interesting. Picasso seems like a frightened child, behavior foreign to the popular conception of the impassive and stoic artist many of us know.
Opinion about the main character:
I admire Picasso's resolve. He never stops in spite of hunger, worry, poverty. It is wonderful to see him succeed in the end.