Picasso was not yet Picasso when he painted First Communion (1896). His name was Pablo Ruiz and he was a precocious 14-year-old teenager who was trying to make his way in the artistic circles of Barcelona, where he had arrived with his family a few months before. He painted it in the Plaza Universitat studio of his professor José Garnelo and it was his baptism of fire before Barcelona society, who little could suspect that the author of that religious-themed work would end up turning 20th century art upside down. Surely Picasso never forgot the emotion of that public presentation and seven years later, in 1903, in the middle of the blue period, when he had already renounced academicism with all his strength and was maintaining a fierce struggle to join modernity, he painted one of the towers of the Palau de Belles Arts in Barcelona, the scene of his first exhibition, which would later be bombed by Mussolini’s Aviazione Legionaria during the Civil War and finally overthrown in 1942.
Designed by Augusto Font Carreras for the Universal Exhibition of 1888, the palace was the first headquarters of the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts of Barcelona (whose collections are today in the MNAC) and occupied the corner of Paseo de Lluís Companys with Paseo de Pujades, in front of the Citadel Park. “The most likely thing is that Picasso painted only a part of the building because it is what he saw from his workshop on 28 Comerç Street and without a doubt for him it was a very symbolically connoted place,” says the great specialist Eduard Vallès, who located the oil painting. almost by chance in the catalog of an auction held at Sothebys in 1999 and today its whereabouts are unknown.
“That’s where it all started… That’s where I understood how far I could go,” Picasso confessed about Barcelona, whose landscape, physical and human, he became the subject of many of his paintings, today spread all over the world. It is Picasso’s Barcelona in the diaspora. Many of these works from his youth, which belonged to Barcelona collections, were dispersed after the publication by Picasso before Picasso (1946), by Alexandre Cirici Pellicer and later Picassos of Barcelona (1971) by Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera, put foreign collectors and dealers on the trail, eager for a Picasso that did not yet enjoy great recognition here and that was rising sharply in the international market.
“That’s where it all started… That’s where I understood how far I could go,” Picasso confessed regarding his stays in Barcelona.
Vallès, who is also a modern art curator at the MNAC, remembers that in 1962, Picasso himself had to buy it for 3.5 million pesetas Woman with dogthe oil painting that he had donated to an auction to benefit the victims of the Vallès floods. She was left without a buyer. And when Josefa Ochoa, the widow of Pere Mañach, Picasso’s first dealer, offered the portrait of her husband, dated 1901, in Paris to the Barcelona city council in the 1950s (she needed money to create a tuberculosis center), the The response was: “Picasso, no way!” The work hangs today in the National Gallery in Washington.
Much of the Barcelona at the turn of the century that Picasso portrayed today has disappeared. This is the case, for example, of the El Torín bullring, the first that the city had – it was inaugurated in 1834 -, in Barceloneta, very close to the Ruiz Picasso’s first home on Reina Cristina street (shortly they moved not far from there, to Mercè street) . Young Pablo went to the bullring many afternoons accompanied by his father, Don José, a great fan who as a child had introduced him to the world of bullfighting in La Malagueta and many years later he would still remember the impression that meeting the bullfighter Cara-Ancha made on him. while he was dressed in lights in a hotel in Malaga. El Torín, the place where for the first time in history a band played to accompany the work of a bullfighter, was immortalized by Picasso in a colorful canvas from 1900 that is today preserved in the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art Design.
Also in Japan, in this case in the Kawamura Memorial of Art in Sakura, there is a cake from the same year, Couple in front of a tavern of which the exact reference is unknown, “but it could be any bar of the time,” says Vallès, author of the luxury volume Picasso. Catalan work (Catalan Encyclopedia, 2015 ). “We must keep in mind that he does not always focus on reality but rather plays with what he sees, but also with imagination and memory. What we do know for sure is that he painted it here,” he says. Café Concert del Paral·lel (1900), which belonged to the Barbey collection, today in the Picasso Museum in Paris, he painted it at a time when he frequented the Eden Concert (and the brothel next door) and moved through taverns and places where they offered shows of all kinds, although the scene could be Parisian if it weren’t for the red flowers that the women wear in their buns or the costumes of the flamenco dancers in the background.
In that Picasso-style Barcelona in exile there is also a picnic area (Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts), a close-up of the fountain in the Cathedral cloister where the ducks swim today (Musée Jenisch, Switzerland) or a night view from his studio in Riera de Sant Joan, which is part of the collection of the EG Bührle Foundation, in Zurich, in which the painter seems to want to leave testimony of a corner of the city that will disappear with the opening of Via Laietana. “It would be magnificent to be able to bring them all back for an exhibition” along with those held by the Barcelona museum, some of which are magnificent, such as full moon from a rooftop either Terraces and church of Santa Marta Vallès suggests, although he admits that it is a titanic undertaking, due to the cost of transportation and insurance or the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of some loans.
The publication of two books by Cirici Pellicer and Rodríguez de Aguilera put foreign dealers on the trail, eager for a Picasso who did not yet enjoy great recognition here.
The expert emphasizes, however, that just as relevant as its urban landscapes are the “human landscapes” that today hang in the most prominent places in museums around the world. Or whose whereabouts are simply unknown. This is the case of the portrait of his friend Ángel Fernández de Soto, the famous absinthe drinker , which was once owned by Andrew Lloyd Weber and whose trace was lost after an auction at Christie’s. That of his tailor Soler coexists with the works of the Shchukin collection, while his entire family is in the Museum of Fine Arts of Liege.
For his part, the Portrait of Sebastián Junyer Vidal with a woman, Actually a prostitute, she ended up in the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. Sunyer Vidal was one of Picasso’s main collectors, with a hundred works and that portrait illustrated the cover of Cirici’s book Picasso before Picasso . It all started with him.