Picasso in Barcelona

Picasso’s real home, the place he dreamed of going back to, was Barcelona.
His family moved there when he was 14. It was where he really grew up, where he stopped being a boy, and where his first friends were. Catalan became his language.

His father was a drawing teacher at the government art school. As soon as he discovered his son’s remarkable talent, he gave up his own painting and devoted himself to teaching him. He was able to convince the Fine Arts School in Barcelona to allow his son to take their entrance examination, though he was underage; and he passed it easily. And to give his boy a place to paint, Mr. Picasso even rented an apartment for him. He checked up on him twice a day to see that he was really working and not getting into trouble. Fourteen was very young for that kind of independence.

Pablo soon made friends at the art school and they would meet at a beer parlor called Els 4 Gats—the Four Cats. (Four cats in Catalán means “a disappointing or ridiculous few.” “I sent out dozens of invitations to the party but only four cats showed up,” someone might say. The artists who met at Els 4 Gats of course took pride in their small number.)
Here is a photo of The 4 Cats beer parlor taken in about 1900.

And here is Picasso’s drawing of the group. He is sitting in the front.

In the evening after drawing and painting all day, Picasso would go to The 4 Cats and sit with his friends, who were all excited about art and politics. The old world was falling apart. One of Picasso’s good friends was an anarchist. Some wanted independence for Catalonia. They had been reading their Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Spengler and talked nihilism and the end of Western civilization, though their own youth and talent made them feel the future was full of promise. Picasso sat and listened to the excited talk and couldn’t take his eyes off the pictures they showed him. His father’s old art world was falling apart too. The French Impressionists were ignoring traditional painting and finding new directions not only in the themes of art but its expression and perception. “Look at the latest experiments of Cezanne,” his pipe-smoking buddies told the boy. “See how he reduces everything to basic geometric shapes?”

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9 Responses to Picasso in Barcelona

  1. ivdanu says:

    That citation of Cezanne (which he had supposedly told Emile Bernard?) about the cube, cone and sphere to which you could reduce everything in nature did a lot of harm and not a lot of good to art… I was recently reading what Picasso himself said about their “cubist” period – Bracque and himself very quickly found that cubist way to be bare and unpracticable… they didn’t called themselves cubist and only less important and more unimaginative friends (cubist of smaller importance like Juan Gris) remained forever cubist… For him, it was only an experiment – and for that matter nor a very succeful one…

  2. 100swallows says:

    Danu: I didn’t know Picasso said that about Cubism but I’m not surprised he got tired of it in a hurry. There was so much going on in art in those years–everyone tried new ways and many got lost. Modernism was another bum steer, wasn’t it? And in fact, since then….

  3. rich says:

    Somewhat similar with Pissarro’s short affair with “Pontillism”:
    What are “Isms” for?
    I personally don’t believe in them.
    Just felt like bringing in an anecdote :

    Long ago there was an exhibition in Berlin, including some of Cezanne’s works.
    Max Liebermann was there, along with one of his students. They looked at “The Boy with the Red Waistcoat” and the student immediately exclaimed: “This boy’s arm is waaay too long!”
    Liebermann looked at the white-shirt-clad arm and answered:
    “Well, the way THAT arm is painted…it can’t be long enough!”

  4. 100swallows says:

    Nice story, rich. I had forgotten about Pointillism. Of course Van Gogh tried all those out in his way years before, didn’t he? I forget the order they appeared in. I was sorry to see a good artist like Epstein get lost time and again in his work, trying for some primitive or Modernist look. Those experiments led a lot of people astray.
    Hey, rich, how did you learn English so well? And learning is one thing. The other question is: How do you keep it up?

  5. rich says:

    Huh..you consider my English so well?
    Well, mostly self-taught. I went through some real serious classical English literature armed with a big dictionnaire and a good amount of curiosity, which is still there and the dix also, still a faithful friend.
    As we are at anecdotes, let me quote another one:
    There was James Abbott McNeill Whistler: One evening he went for a stroll with a woman admirer (probably a “fan” in today’s language) and she recognized the upcoming mist of the twilight landscape and exclaimed:
    “Look at that, what magic! What an effect! Like one of those misty landscapes you so perfectly know how to render in your paintings!”

    Whistler replied: “Well, nature is also slowly getting my secrets…”

  6. 100swallows says:

    Rich: Good old Whistler! Funny, funny. I haven’t seen many of his paintings. I wonder where they all are. His “Mother” I saw in Paris (nothing to write home about–the Mother, not Paris). Here in the Thyssen Museum there’s a good portrait; but otherwise, few things.

    I have trouble believing that your classical English lit classes brought you to such perfection. I guess it was the curiosity and a natural gift for language.

  7. Brenda says:

    You can see many Whistlers in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., part of the Smithsonian.

  8. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Brenda, for saying where the Whistlers are. Now all I need to do is get to the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC.

  9. Pingback: PICTURAPixel - Bloco de Notas » Yo, Ricardo Setti y Pablo Diego José en Els Quatre Gats.

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