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It’s hard to imagine that creative giants like Pablo Picasso had formative years. Where did the teenage Picasso study? What did he paint? Did his work show signs of what was to come? The answers to those questions can be found at Barcelona’s Picasso Museum in C/Montcada.
Picasso moved to Barcelona’s La Ribera neighbourhood with his family in 1895, at the age of 14, and after intervals spent in Madrid and Paris, he left the Catalan capital definitively for Paris when he was 23. During those years, he attended the La Llotja art school, rented his first studios (not far from where the museum stands now) and found a home among the Catalan avant-garde, frequenting the Quatre Gats tavern which served as the nerve centre at the time and where he held his first solo exhibition.
Established in 1963, the museum is the first Picasso museum to be opened in the world while the artist was still alive, proving the depth of his connection with Barcelona and its influence on his work.
The museum owed its birth to the friendship and shared vision between Picasso and Jaume Sabartés. A Barcelona native who met the artist in 1899, Sabartés later became Picasso’s personal secretary in Paris. In consultation with the painter, Sabartés laid the foundation of the museum by donating his personal collection of 574 mostly early Picassos, to which the Barcelona Museums of Art added a small donation of their own (most notably, Harlequin, 1919).
On March 9, 1963, the Sabartés Collection was opened in the Palau Aguilar, so-called because Picasso’s opposition to the Franco regime made it impossible to open a museum bearing his name.
Since then the museum’s permanent collection has grown to 4,249 works, many of them added by Picasso himself (in 1970 he gave the collection his family held in Barcelona – some 920 works, made up of oil paintings and drawings from his childhood and youth).
To keep up with the growth of its collection, the museum has absorbed four adjacent medieval stone palaces over the years, two of which are dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
Las Meninas A to Z
Visitors will not find the blockbuster Picassos here. Nor will they find hits like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) or the first Cubist paintings from the time (many of them done in Catalonia), or his collage and sculpture works.
But the museum does provide an unequaled presentation of Picasso’s development from 1890 to 1904, from deft pre- adolescent portraits to sketchy landscapes to the intense innovations of his Blue Period, his first personal style.
And there are still plenty of great Picassos to see, led by the Las Meninas, a series of 58 paintings done in 1957 that analyse, reinterpret and re-create the famous painting by Diego Velázquez.
Picasso donated the series to the museum in 1968, in homage to Sabartés, who died that year.
Along with the formative works, Las Meninas is the other singular aspect of the museum – the only complete series by the artist that remains together.
In each of these Picasso paintings, it’s fascinating to observe which elements of the Velázquez Las Meninas Picasso kept and which he altered. There’s a comparison chart in Room 16 that may help, showing which characters were inspired by which (including the dog, of course).
Finally, a glimpse at the work and life of the mature Picasso is offered by 40 ceramic works, donated by his widow Jacqueline Roque in 1982. In that same year, Roberto Oterpo gave 80 photographs of the older artist and his milieu.