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PICASSO. Controversial new biography reveals a tormented man

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No wonder the public was intrigued. Here, indeed, was a Great Man with not only feet of clay but a colorful array of fascinating vulnerabilities and vices.

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A careful reading of the book, however, reveals that the author's intentions were not to sensationalize Picasso or to diminish his importance, but to shed light on the man behind the art from the perspective, primarily, of the women in his life.

For that we should be grateful. It was these women, after all, who actually lived with the Great Man, who saw him at his best and worst, his most charming and most destructive, and who suffered the most at his hands. And it was they who, almost without exception, preferred to remain close to him - no matter at what cost - rather than leave the world he dominated so completely by his genius, powers of persuasion, trickery, and outright cruelty.

Not surprisingly, considering the care with which Huffington tackled her subject, the Picasso who emerges from this book is not significantly at odds with the Picasso we've come to know through his art. Such tragic and tormented works as ``The Old Guitarist,'' ``Guernica,'' and ``Weeping Woman'' do not, after all, spring from the sensibilities of a simple or untroubled man.

And neither should we be surprised to learn how uncompromisingly, even ruthlessly, he pursued his goddess/demon of creativity to the bitter end. He simply couldn't stop at half measures. ``Are you happy with what you did?,'' he was asked during the filming of some of his work. ``Yes, yes,'' he replied, ``but it's still too external. ... I have to get to the bottom ..., risk everything. Show all the paintings that could be behind a painting.'' And later, ``You have to risk adventure to surprise truth at the bottom of the well.''

Anyone so obsessed with the search for truth (or was it merely for the ultimate illusion?) that he would probe for it anywhere, in anything and anyone, could not possibly have been an easy man to live with. That he could be awesomely vindictive has been established by other writers - although none has made as convincing a case as the author of this book. And that, I believe, is all to the good. The time has come for us to examine art's major 20th-century genius for his flaws as well as for his virtues. And to understand that Picasso was, at heart, a lost soul, an artist without a cohesive vision to support or engage him. He was a titan who had lost his way. Rather than finding serenity, or a least a sustaining meaning, in art, as had C'ezanne and Matisse, Picasso rattled the gates of both heaven and hell for entry - and demanded that all those nearest him pay homage to his courage and his pain.

Knowing this should not lessen our respect for his accomplishments. They were major, and they will remain a significant part of art history for centuries to come - a conclusion Huffington obviously has also come to, regardless of what she might think of Picasso the man.