Leon Black: The Picasso Connection

The art world has no √©minence more grise than John Richardson, art historian extraordinaire and author of an enormous biography of Picasso which, three volumes in, is still 40 (of Picasso’s) years from completion. Part of the problem is that Richardson has had trouble funding the book:

I understand that the funding for the book has been a challenge. I’ve heard that the image costs have been greater than the sales revenues. Is it true that you published two books between volumes two and three in part to raise money?

Well, it’s partly correct. Far more to the point, Picasso was extremely generous to me and gave me a number of drawings and prints and other things, virtually all of which have had to be sold to pay for the book. It wasn’t the illustrations so much — although the charge for copyright and for royalties is considerable — but the research, travel, books. And the advances from my publishers weren’t nearly enough to keep me going for the ten years volume three took to write. In the end, my friend Mrs. Sid Bass came to my rescue and got a lot of her collector friends to contribute to the John Richardson Fund for Picasso Research, and that’s what’s kept this labor of love going. …

Have you managed to hold onto some of your Picassos? I hope you haven’t sold them all.

Only a couple of the drawings he gave me — also a few prints and things. All my other Picassos had to be sold in order to pay the expenses of the biography.

So while Megan Barnett is piqued by Jeffrey Epstein’s appearance on the IRS returns of Leon Black’s charitable foundation, I’m more interested in this:

The foundation lists upcoming donations of $1.6 million to such groups as the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the J. Richardson Fund for Picasso Research.

I like the idea that Black is doing his part to allow Richardson, who’s now in his mid-80s, to finish this massive and important project. Black is certainly a well-entrenched member of the Art Establishment: a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he’s described by Colin Gleadell as "a generous donor and known as a buyer who seeks only historically significant art of the best quality".

As such, Black bought Brancusi’s gray marble Bird in Space for $27.4 million in 2005 — a record for a sculpture at the time, and surely a much better investment than similarly-priced objects by Jeff Koons. But the investment in Richardson could prove to be better still, if it ends up giving the world the long-awaited fourth volume — the one in which Richardson meets Picasso and starts writing from personal experience — before Richardson can write no more.

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