“My dear Philip,” Kingsley Amis wrote to Philip Larkin in April 1973, after learning that Picasso had died. “So Pablo the piss-poor paint-pusher has fallen off the hooks at last, eh? Ho ho ho. Beckett next?”

The British came late to Picasso, but once they did, they came en masse. Before the War, Picasso was almost the private property of the avant-garde in art and, after Guernica (1937), those who believed themselves to be the vanguard in politics. Institutional skepticism about Modernism remained strong after the War. An apocryphon has it that Winston Churchill told Sir Alfred Munnings, the president of the Royal Academy, that if he saw Picasso walking in front of him in Piccadilly, he would kick his backside. When Munnings told this story after an RA dinner in 1949, the war-winning...


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