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 of leading 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.