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Period Loft

At home with Picasso biographer Sir John Richardson.


The Study
Sir Richardson’s home office had been used as a dance studio before he bought the loft. The center table groaning with books was designed by Richardson, who says, “It is easy enough to do. I had the top cut to size and the legs cast in Connecticut.”  

It’s the morning after Sir John Richardson’s 90th-birthday party, where 100 of his famous and literary friends (among them Oscar and Annette de la Renta, Sonny and Gita Mehta, and Fran ­Lebowitz) gathered at ABC Kitchen for a dinner hosted by art dealer Larry Gagosian. Richardson is recalling the drama that went into figuring out the seating, and describing the drag performers (including one who was dressed as a nurse) who mingled with the guests, when his housekeeper announces lunch. A dining table set for five welcomes a sixth as Gita Mehta dashes in to deliver a birthday gift. Things are hectic at ­Richardson’s Fifth Avenue loft; as they are, it turns out, most of the time. When visitors aren’t around, Richardson spends six to eight hours a day finishing the fourth and final volume of his Picasso biography. He’s also preparing a large show, “Picasso and the Camera,” at Gagosian in November.

The Living Room
The enormous landscape painting over the sofa is by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer. “I spotted this rolled up at a Sotheby’s sale in London and told a friend of mine to buy it. He got it for £30. He ended up leaving the painting to me in his will. It was a good buy.”  

After lunch, we retire to Richardson’s ­turquoise study, where he peruses a ­manuscript prepared for him in large type (he has macular degeneration in both eyes). The room, like the others he carved out of the 5,000-square-foot loft he bought in 1995, feels more like part of a vast English country house, a mash-up of exotic and classical furniture: a sofa from Mercedes Bass, a carpet from the late Mark Hampton, ikat and suzani textiles that have been thrown over tables and crafted into pillows that all blend seamlessly with the artwork from friends like Lucian Freud, Andy ­Warhol, and Kathy Ruttenberg.

“I just had a Warhol of me blown up that has never been published. It's from a polaroid. When he was doing my big portrait he did these polaroids and we found this in the back of the drawer.”   

Richardson banished any traces of open-loft living by creating an enfilade of rooms, one opening onto the other through double doors topped by neoclassical pediments. As he describes his life’s adventures (his time as a journalist for the New Statesman; living with his mentor, the art collector Douglas Cooper, in a ­château in the south of France; coming to New York in 1960 and establishing ­Christie’s offices here; being knighted by the queen in 2012), it’s clear that he is that rare bridge to a bygone era. Richardson’s father (also knighted) was 70 when he was born, providing him with a unique link to the last vestiges of Edwardian England. “These ancient relatives gave me a real feel for the mid-19th century,” he says. Yet he’s ever forward-thinking, and planning his next book. “I’d like to write about my early life in New York,” he says with a grin. “But it’s difficult because so much of the material can’t be ­published.”

“This is my little world, my little family,” Richardson says of the friends and assistants who populate his life at home. “I used to go out like crazy. I don’t go out very much anymore. I go up to my house in Connecticut, which I love, and I have a garden there, which I have suddenly taken an enormous amount of satisfaction in.”  

Home Design


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