This intriguing book is ostensibly an account of the long personal friendship between Roland Penrose and Pablo Picasso. It is indeed full of fresh, useful and often entertaining material that Elizabeth Cowling has drawn from the vast personal archive of papers, letters and notebooks that Penrose left to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh on his death in 1984. But if it confirms and even adds to our incidental understanding of Picasso, in his temper as an artist and a man, its essential subject is Penrose himself.
Sir Roland Penrose was one of the great panjandrums of the mid-twentieth-century British art world, and as typical of the species as could be, his career following that not uncommon trajectory from youthful bohemian avant-gardista to establishment grandee. Born in 1900, he read architecture at Cambridge but then turned to