Pablo Picasso, the eccentric painter and sculptor known for his work in Cubism, spent his formative years in Barcelona. Born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, Picasso moved with his family to Barcelona in 1895 at the age of fourteen. The city had a profound effect on this teenage artist where he began to embrace the industrial city’s progressive ideas about society and art. When Francisco Franco took control of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was forced to flee to Paris where he lived the rest of his life. Though he was never able to return to his beloved Barcelona, he always considered it his home.
You can still see the remnants of Picasso’s life in Barcelona and the great architecture and culture that influenced him. The Barcelona Tourism Office on Placa de Catalunya has a very good 2-hour walking tour that takes you through the Bohemian Barcelona where Picasso lived and worked. It includes a guided tour through the Museu Picasso (PicassoMuseum). You can purchase tickets for the tour online. I got mine through GetYourGuide.com.
On the tour, you’ll learn about Picasso’s life in Barcelona as a teenager, his influences, friends, education, early paintings and career. View the exterior of Llotja de Mar, the art school where he studied, and other significant places of his youth.
We stopped at Els Quatre Gats, 4 Cats tavern, Barcelona’s version of the famous Le Chat Noir in Paris. It became a second home for Picasso where he met, exchanged ideas and drank with avant-garde artists and intellectuals. In 1900, he had his first solo exhibition here. Catalan artist Ramon Casas and his friend Pere Romeu opened the establishment in 1897. The two men are the subject of Casas’ famous painting depicting them on a tandem bicycle. You can see a replica of the original painting in the bar area of the restaurant. While there, check out the menu cover. It was drawn by Picasso himself. I returned to the restaurant one evening and was fortunate to get a table to have dinner there. It’s a bit of a tourist trap but worth the visit, nonetheless.
The Museu Picasso, which opened in 1963, was the first museum dedicated to Picasso’s work. While there, you’ll have an opportunity to wander around the museum after the guided tour and spend as much time as you like to study Picasso’s early work. In addition to his paintings, there are examples of the ceramics that he created. Don’t miss the room that contains photos of the artist in his later years. They’re fascinating studies of Picasso in his studio and with friends and family.
Several of Picasso’s studios and apartments still exist in Barcelona. They are not on the tour, but the Museu Picasso website has a list of addresses on the Picasso trail, if you’d like to walk there on your own.
The only Picasso work in Barcelona that is visible to the general public are three friezes on the façade of the College of Architects of Catalonia building, which ironically is the ugliest architecture in the city. The building can be found opposite the Cathedral of Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter. Picasso drew the designs for these friezes on paper while living in Paris. Since he could not travel to Barcelona to do the work, the scaled versions of the designs were executed in 1961 by Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar. The friezes were done with a subtractive technique. The black lines may look like paint, but they’re actually a black stone that underlies a lighter layer. The lines are where the lighter layer has been stripped away to reveal the black stone underneath. In his later years, Picasso moved to a simpler style. The friezes look like graffiti in a playful, child-like, even primitive, motif. They reminded me of my favorite Picasso quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”