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.
Barcelona's best museums
If you're used to being soft-soaped by eager-to-please art centres, you'll have to adjust to the cryptic minimalism of the MACBA, where art is taken very seriously indeed. Yet if you can navigate the fridge-like interior of Richard Meier's enormous edifice, accept that much of the permanent collection is inaccessible to the uninitiated, tackle shows that flutter between the brilliant and baffling, and, most important, are prepared to do your reading, a trip to the MACBA can be extremely rewarding.Since its inauguration in 1995, the MACBA has transformed itself into a power player on the city's contemporary arts scene. Its library/study centre and auditorium host an extensive programme that includes accessibly priced (or free) concerts, conferences and cinema, while two floors of exhibition rooms offer a spacious showcase for large-scale installations and exhaustive, multidisciplinary shows. La Capella, a former medieval convent across the square, is free to enter, and provides a project space for specially commissioned works.The permanent collection sits on the ground floor of the main building, and is rooted in the second half of the 20th century. Media, sound and performance art experimentalists of the 1960s and 1970s, including Bruce Nauman, Joan Jonas and John Cage, are well represented, as are Spanish and Catalan artists such as Antoni Muntadas, Antoni Tàpies and the Dau al Set group.Temporary shows take the form of highly ambitious research projects. Smaller-scale shows
'One museum, a thousand years of art' is the slogan of the National Museum, and the collection provides a dizzying overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. In recent years the museum has added an extra floor to absorb the section of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection that was previously kept in the convent in Pedralbes, along with the mainly Modernista holdings from the former Museum of Modern Art in Parc de la Ciutadella, a fine photography section, coins and the bequest of Francesc Cambó, founder of the autonomist Lliga Regionalista, a regionalist conservative party.The highlight, however, is the Romanesque collection. As art historians realised that scores of solitary tenth-century churches in the Pyrenees were falling into ruin – and with them, extraordinary Romanesque murals that had served to instruct villagers in the basics of the faith – the laborious task was begun of removing the murals from church apses. The display here features 21 mural sections in loose chronological order. A highlight is the tremendous Crist de Taüll, from the 12th-century church of Sant Climent de Taüll. Even 'graffiti' scratchings (probably by monks) of animals, crosses and labyrinths have been preserved.The excellent Gothic collection starts with some late 13th-century frescoes that were discovered in 1961 and 1997, when two palaces in the city were being renovated. There are carvings and paintings from local churches, including works by the indisputable Catalan masters of
One of the masterpieces of industrial Modernisme, this former yarn and textile factory was designed by Puig i Cadafalch and celebrated its centenary in 2011. It spent most of the last century in a sorry state, briefly acting as a police barracks before falling into dereliction. Fundació La Caixa, the charitable arm of Catalonia's largest savings bank, bought it and set about rebuilding. The original brick structure was supported, while the ground below was excavated to house a strikingly modern entrance plaza by Arata Isozaki, a Sol LeWitt mural, an auditorium, a bookshop and a library. In addition to the permanent contemporary art collection, there are three impressive spaces for temporary exhibitions – often among the most interesting shows to be found in the city. Other notable Puig i Cadafalch buildings in the city include the Els Quatre Gats café and the Casa Amatller.
Can Framis was just another Poblenou factory at the end of the 18th century. In 2009 it was converted into a museum of contemporary painting, thanks to the Fundació Vila Casas. The walls of Can Framis hold some 300 works by Catalan native or resident artists, dating from the 1960s to the present day. Temporary exhibitions are held in the Espai A0.
Opened in 2007, the foundation's two floors house the contemporary art collection of businessman Josep Suñol. There are 100 works on show at a time, including painting, sculpture and photography, shuffled every six months (in January and July) from an archive of 1,200 pieces amassed over 35 years. The collection includes historic – and predominantly Catalan and Spanish – artists of the avant-garde: Picasso, Miró and Pablo Gargallo, with international input from Giacometti, Man Ray and Warhol.With superfluities removed, including labels, and chronology abandoned, works are arranged in careful, coherent compositions, by style, colour or even mood, in serene interlinking rooms. Helpful English-speaking staff and a pamphlet aid visitors. Nivell Zero offers a large exhibition space to younger avant-garde artists, with shorter-term poetry cycles, installations and multimedia projects.
Antoni Tàpies exploded on to the art scene in the 1950s when he began to incorporate waste paper, mud and rags into his paintings, eventually moving on to the point where his works included whole pieces of furniture, running water and girders. Today, he's Barcelona's most celebrated living artist, and his trademark scribbled and paint-daubed pieces are sought after for everything from wine bottle labels to theatre posters.The artist set up the Tàpies Foundation in this, the former Montaner i Simon publishing house, in 1984, dedicating it to the study and appreciation of contemporary art. In a typically contentious act, Tàpies crowned the building with a glorious tangle of aluminium piping and ragged metal netting (Núvol i Cadira, or 'Cloud and Chair'). The building remains one of the earliest examples of Modernisme to combine exposed brick and iron, and is now a cultural centre and museum dedicated to the work and life of the man himself, with exhibitions, symposiums, lectures and films.
Josep Lluís Sert, who spent the years of the Franco dictatorship as dean of the School of Design at Harvard University, designed one of the greatest museum buildings in the world on his return. Approachable, light and airy, these white walls and arches house a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró's graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings. The permanent collection, highlighting Miró's trademark use of primary colours and simplified organic forms symbolising stars, the moon, birds and women, occupies the second half of the space. On the way to the sculpture gallery is Alexander Calder's rebuilt Mercury Fountain, originally seen at the Spanish Republic's Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Fair. In other works, Miró is shown as a cubist (Street in Pedralbes, 1917), naive (Portrait of a Young Girl, 1919) and surrealist (Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement, 1935). In the upper galleries, large, black-outlined paintings from Miró's final period precede a room of works with political themes.
The Fundació Foto Colectania is a private nonprofit which opened in Barcelona in 2002 with the aim of disseminating photography and collecting through exhibitions, activities (conferences, seminars, trips) and the publication of catalogues. Foto Colectania also has a photography collection that includes more than 2,500 works by Spanish and Portuguese photographers from 1950 to the present. It also has a free consultation library and a holding room where they keep their photographic backlog, the Paco Gómez collection (donated by his family in 2001) and part of the John Redón collection.