The Picasso Museum: A Brief History Of The Artist’s Barcelona Affairs

Yes, our arts teachers have taught us well: Picasso really is the single most influential painter that Spain has ever raised. Baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, in honor of his family’s many saints and relatives, our favorite Cubist was actually born in Malaga, but followed his creative path beyond the Spanish borders. Ultimately, the artist within him found inspiration in France, where he spent most of his adult life. His talent, however, was discovered right here, in the heart of Barcelona.

Many years later, Picasso himself would nostalgically declare the Catalan capital as his one true home. Throughout the decades, Barcelona has continued to return the sentiments by celebrating him as one of it’s own. Here’s everything you need to learn before going back to where it all began over a century ago.

Love, Inspiration & Rebellion


When he saw Barcelona for the first time, Picasso was only a 13 year old boy. Having suffered a terrific loss of their youngest child, the artist’s family moved to the Catalan city in 1895, where Picasso’s father, a renowned artist himself, took a teaching job at the School of Fine Arts.

Until then, the boy’s artistic passions and skills were already well-known to his parents, and his father gave his best to persuade members of the school’s admissions board to allow young Picasso to take the entrance exams and join the advanced class. The story of our artist completing the enrollment process in only a week, whereas other students would usually need up to a month, is by now a thing of legend. Immediately after, Picasso settled in his studio near the academy and started to work.

His Barcelona school years notoriously remain known as the time of his first personal rebellions – regular fights with his father, the lack of studying discipline and inspiring friendships with fellow artists defined this phase of Picasso’s life.

From Carrer De La Plata To The Stars

Pablo Ruiz y Picasso

The small study room to which Picasso would return after his classes is considered the very place of the artist’s transformation. The number 4 of Carrer de la Plata still exists, with one of the most beautiful buildings of the Gothic area being turned into a lovely hotel. The Serras, however, is not the only spot in Barcelona where Picasso left his mark; Casa Llotja del Mar, which housed the aforementioned academy where the young painter had spent his first scholar years, is situated in Pla de Palau and opened for curious art enthusiasts.

When tired of endless museum gazing, order something warm and invigorating at Els Quatre Gats – this cafe was the meeting place of modernist figures, including Picasso, who decorated the Four Cats’ menu cover with one of his first artistic endeavours. Nearby, the building of Architects’ College of Catalonia is embellished with the friezes created using Picasso’s drawings, which Norwegian sculptor and the artist’s collaborator Carl Nesjar engraved in stone.

A Tale Of The Museum

Buying a Ticket To Picasso Museum

Once you’ve seen every single splash of paint Picasso has left in the city of Barcelona, the time is finally perfect for buying a ticket to the Picasso Museum. Established in 1963, it’s actually the result of a lifelong friendship the artist had developed with his secretary, Jaume Sabartés. Initially, Sabartes’ idea was to open the museum in Picasso’s birthplace, Malaga, but it was, in fact, the artist who suggested that Barcelona would be a much better choice, considering the influence the city has left on his work.

In its early days, the museum exhibited 574 works that had been a part of Sabartés’ personal collection until then, with the addition of various pieces Picasso himself donated to the city, Harlequin being among the most important of those. Because of Sabartés’ enormous contribution and Picasso’s firmly opposing standpoint to Franco’s regime, the museum was then named “the Sabartés Collection”. Over the years, the first exhibition was expanded thanks to many donations.

What (Not) To Expect

Picasso Exhibits

Today, the Museu Picasso houses 4,251 pieces of art, and is solely dedicated to the artist’s work. The permanent collection, however, is limited to 3,500 works, out of which the majority is from Picasso’s early years; from the training period in Barcelona and the Blue Period that began in 1901 and lasted until 1904, to the latter Barcelona works from 1917 and the complete Las Meninas series from 1957. In general, the Barcelona museum specializes in the artist’s early paintings, drawings, engravings and ceramics, with The First Communion and Science and Charity being two of the capital works.

Without any of the major Cubist art pieces Picasso is so famous and loved for, the Barcelona museum often leaves its visitors slightly disappointed. Still, the quality of work displayed here is just as unprecedented as the rest of Picasso’s work and, once you know what you’re looking at, the experience is equally cathartic.

Those are the very beginnings of what later became the most valuable contribution to Spanish art and the formative years of one of the greatest masters that ever lived. When preserved as such, the Picasso Museum delivers what was promised – a sneak peek into one of the most fascinating parts of the artist’s life, that is, no doubt about it, crucial for understanding Picasso’s opus as a whole.

Know What You’re Looking At

Picasso Art

That being said, five of Picasso’s works exhibited in the Barcelona museum are especially significant for experiencing the life and artistic career of this Spanish master. Until you finally see them for yourself, it is our pleasure to present Science and Charity, The Dwarf, The Mad, Person with Fruit Bowl and Las Meninas series, and put their magnificence to words as best as we can.

Science and Charity. When viewed from up close, Picasso’s doctor and his poor and sickly lady patient seem to explain the canvas title in a quite straightforward fashion. Still, there are many urban legends concerning this early painting, and one of the most intriguing ones addresses the surprising optical effect enclosed to Science and Charity. Step away to the corner, and the patient bed will start to either shorten or elongate, depending on your current point of view.

Although there is some debate that this interactive element was an intentional one, it is more likely a consequence of Picasso’s poor working circumstances. The legend hence claims that the artist’s studio was so small and narrow that it meddled with a painting’s perspective, making this canvas one of Picasso’s eternal enigmas.

The Dwarf. Although its colors might revoke the lively atmosphere of Barcelona streets, this painting is actually a comment on one of the many years Picasso spent in the City of Lights. The little lady up front is thought to be a performer in a popular Paris freak show that the artists was strongly affected by.

The Mad. Just like The Dwarf, this painting takes us back to France, but this time, the ambient is completely discarded. Instead, we’re facing Picasso’s very own mirror image of financial difficulties, dizzying nostalgia and the loss of a close friend – as one of the greatest pieces from the Blue Period, The Mad is a disturbing portrayal of the artist’s depression.

Person with Fruit Bowl. Unlike the rest of the works showcased in Barcelona museum, the Person with Fruit Bowl actually associates to what Picasso’s is famed for. By playing with geometry and perspective and by hinting to that well-known realistic clue that helps the viewer identify the painting’s theme, this canvas is recognizably Cubist.

Las Meninas series. As one of many Picasso’s artistic obsessions, Velasquez’s Las Meninas captivated the painter’s mind for a long time, until it finally turned into a series of 58 pieces that both honor and reinterpret the original. Like Person with Fruit Bowl, they are irresistibly Cubist, but unlike the former, Las Meninas series are also a commentary on contemporary events in Spain, as observed from Picasso’s exile in France. As such, this remarkable piece of art continues the painter’s political protest, twenty years after it reached its culmination in Guernica.
When in Barcelona, don’t let Gaudi seduce you too much. As equally outstanding, but in his own terms, Pablo Picasso made his artistic affair with this city a treat for every museum goer to relish.

Djordje Todorovic
Djordje Todorovic
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Djordje Todorovic is a creative writer, a part-time game designer and a linguist, with a degree from the English Language and Literature department. He takes interest in science fiction, epic fiction and horror movies, TV series, books and comic books. He is also a major fan of video games that belong to either MMORPG or point and click adventures genre; he also likes board games as well as trading card games. Djordje has a great amount of respect for the art of stand-up comedy and voice acting, it is his dream to achieve high level of proficiency in either of these areas. He admires the work of George Carlin and Dylan Moran.

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