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

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

by John Richardson


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John Richardson brings the same dazzling narrative style to this memoir as he did to Volumes I and II of A Life of Picasso. Robert Hughes called the second volume "a masterpiece in the making, the most illuminating biography yet written on a twentieth-century visual artist and the only one that can sustain comparison with Painter on Proust, Ellman on Joyce, or Edel on Henry James"; he also praised Richardson's "crispness of writing" and "impressive eye for the offbeat or scandalous detail." All these qualities conspire to make The Sorcerer's Apprentice a brilliant and fascinating chronicle.

This book is a sharply etched portrait of Douglas Cooper, the colorful Evelyn Waugh-like figure who single-handedly assembled the world's most important private cubist collection. It is also the story of Cooper and Richardson's association, which began in 1949 and came to fruition — and ultimately disaster — at the Chateau de Castille, the eighteenth-century colonnaded folly in Provence that they restored and filled with masterpieces by Picasso, Braque, Leger, and Juan Gris. Besides these artists and the women in their lives, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden, Cyril Connolly, Marie-Laure de Noailles, Helena Rubenstein, Peggy Guggenheim, and Anthony Blunt are just some of the figures who, through Richardson's insightful prose, leap off the page to appear before us in an entirely new light. A major revelation of the book is its portrait of Picasso in private; Richardson's friendship with the artist coincided with a period of dramatic change in the artist's life. Not since Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas has anyone given so intimate a picture ofleading modern artists and their circle at work and play, or with such insight and understanding.

The flawless style, highly tuned sensitivity, and incisive wit of The Sorcerer's Apprentice make it one of the most entertaining and captivating memoirs of one of the great periods of artistic activity in this century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375400339
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/18/1999
Pages: 318
Product dimensions: 6.47(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.33(d)

About the Author

JOHN RICHARDSON is the author of A Life of Picasso (3 volumes; the first volume won the 1991 Whitbread Book of the Year Award), Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters, and books on Edouard Manet and Georges Braque. Richardson was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2012. He died in March 2019.

JED PERL is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. His previous books include Magicians and Charlatans, Antoine's Alphabet, and New Art City, which was a New York Times Notable Book and an Atlantic Book of the Year. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

To cheer myself up, I would sneak off with friends my own age. Sometimes we would cruise the Soho pubs, especially the Golden Lion, or the French Pub, where we would watch Francis Bacon on the prowl. Sometimes we would go to the Gargoyle Club, whose mirrored dance floor had seen up the knickers of most of the girls I knew, not to mention their mothers', but it was too full of raffish upper-class drunks for my taste. In quest of hotter music, we would go to the darker, loucher Caribbean Club, where we would find more stimulating company -- Lucian Freud or Michael Wishart or some wild girls we had known at the Slade -- and boogie the night away. I picked up my first and last whore at the Caribbean. Carmencita, she was called. As I hoped to be a father, I thought this experience would straighten me out. No such luck. Carmencita had a terrible cold and, instead of being exhilaratingly whorish, was depressingly genteel. After it was all over, she told me there was "a little pink taowel at the bottom of the bed."

And then one fateful day, in the spring of 1949, Cuthbert said he was taking me to a party given by John Lehmann, the editor of a little magazine called New Writing, in honor of the publication of Paul Bowles's painfully good book, The Sheltering Sky. I was delighted. American writers had a way of heading straight for Paris and missing out on London. Scenting free drink, Grub Street arrived en masse, and the wine ran out even faster than usual. Lehmann was famously parsimonious, and used postwar shortages as a cover for his economies. Unless they had brought hip flasks, thirsty guests had to fall back on assorted bottles of invalid port, cooking sherry, or a nausea-inducing"cup." Bowles had arrived from Tangier with a supply of hashish fudge, something few of us had tried.

As the mixture of drinks, not to mention the fudge, began to take effect, I realized I was being stalked by a stout pink man in a loud checked suit. At first I did not recognize him out of uniform. "You may not remember me," he said in his aggressively accented voice. "We met at the house of that Poufmutter, Mrs. King. My name is Douglas Cooper." This time I was too full of curiosity to flee. I blurted out that I wanted to see his pictures. "Right now, my dear, if you can tear yourself away from these hideous mediocrities," he replied. Despite (or maybe because of) Francis's warnings, I agreed to do so. Then, remembering that Cuthbert expected me to dine with him, I hurried over to ask him whether he minded. "Of course I don't," he said. As if to confirm that this was not true, he allowed a tear to trickle slowly out from under his glasses. People noticed, nudged each other, and pointed. "Poor old Cuthbert," somebody said as I left the room. Parked outside was Douglas's car (at least he said it was his): an ancient Rolls-Royce two-seater with a jump seat at the back. It was painted bright yellow and black like a wasp -- a villain's car if ever I saw one. I climbed up into it, and after some tallyho blasts on an antiquated horn, we sped away -- and then abruptly stopped, a mere two or three hundred yards away. Home, Douglas announced, disconcertingly. That this would soon be my home never occurred to me.

Table of Contents

Army and Navy Child
Douglas Cooper
First Night
Grand Tour
Back on the Road
The Revelation of Castille
Miscreants, Pets, and Neighbors
A Trip with Picasso
The Visitors' Book
Graham Sutherland and the Tate Affair
God Save the Queen
Painters and Paintings
Picasso and Dora
Picasso and Jacqueline
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The Beginning of the End
The End
Select Bibliography

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