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?”