19th Century

In that place, also located near the Plaza de Santa Ana, until 1888 there was a set of Gothic buildings, comprising a church, a convent and an attached cloister, known as the convent of Our Lady of Montsió.

From 1420, Dominican nuns lived in the convent, but they had to leave four centuries later as a consequence of the revolutionary movement, which coincided with the Carlist uprising that began in Barcelona with the burning of the convents.

Later, the old building that had been dedicated to contemplation and reflection was used as a theater, until it was recovered by the Dominican nuns, who had to evacuate again a few years later so the militia of the First Republic could occupy it provisionally.

The original tenants of the building had to move out again. It seems those walls were not destined to enjoy for much longer the natural tranquility for which they were built. In 1888, someone had the great idea of moving the convent and the church, stone by stone, to another place. The chosen space was the Rambla de Catalunya, on the corner of Carrer del Rosselló.

Like the conflicts that would not end, the stones of the monument did not rest. With the war of 1936 the nuns were again expelled from the new site and the building was requisitioned by the Popular Front.

After the war, the convent church became the parish church of San Ramón de Peñafort and the community of nuns moved to Esplugues. There a new building was built with the same Gothic cloister of the first convent of Our Lady of Montsió.

Leaving aside the vicissitudes of the convent and the Dominican sisters, the fact is that there remained a great void in that place, still considered to be the cultural centre of Barcelona at the time. The site had a considerable economic value, so Francesc Martí, an enterprising businessman, decided to build a block of rental flats which, thanks to the work of the young architect Puig i Cadafalch, would become a four-storey building with a brick façade and cut-stone windows.

Almost everyone agrees that the Casa Marti is a peculiar Gothic style, a very particular version of the typical buildings of the Netherlands or of fifteenth century Germany.

Undoubtedly, Puig i Cadafalch’s first work is daring and with a lot of influences from different architectural trends.

Eugeni D’Ors, who apparently did not maintain good relations with the architect, defined Puig i Cadafalch’s work as “Puig I Cadafalch-style setsquare Catalan gothic”.

The Martí house, located on the corner of Carrer de Montsió and Passatge del Patriarca, was finished in 1896. Its first inhabitant was Narcis Verdaguer i Callís, a lawyer and relative of Mossen Cinto, who established his office there after having left the priesthood.

As a curiosity, it is interesting to note that Narcís Verdaguer was the founder of the Catalanist School and was also a member of the League of Catalonia. He was married to Francesca Bonnemaison of French origin. She created the Institute of Culture and Popular Library of Barcelona. Incidentally, a notable young man from Empordà, Francesc Cambó, did his professional apprenticeship at Narcís Verdaguer’s office.

To complete the activity that took place in the Casa Martí, the space beneath the law firm, at street level, was the site Pere Romeu chose for his café Els Quatre Gats. It was opened on 12 June 1897.

20th century

In 1899, when he was 17 years old, Picasso began to frequent the premises and held his first exhibition in the main room. He also designed the poster that was used as the cover of the house menu. Musicians such as Isaac Albéniz and his friends Enrique Granados and Lluís Millet, architects such as Gaudí and artists such as Ricard Opisso also frequented the premises.

The streets of Barcelona were impregnated with the bohemian spirit that they left and even today you can note the presence of those who exchanged ideas about the future of their time. Those first years, the most luminous and expressive, have been retained on the tables and are now hanging on the walls.

They are all there — Picasso, Casas, Opisso, Nonell, Rusiñol. They attest to what happened during a few vibrant years when the artistic spirit of Barcelona filled an establishment with inspiration.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso arrived in Barcelona in 1895 with his father, who was a professor at the Lonja art school, to which Pablo was admitted as a student without making much effort.
At the age of fifteen, he exhibited his painting First Communion, and shortly afterwards Charity, at the Municipal Exhibition of Barcelona, two of the paintings he gave to the Picasso Museum on Carrer de Montcada in 1970.
In 1898, after living in Madrid and studying at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts, he returned to Catalonia, to Horta de Sant Joan, the village where his friend Manuel Pallarés lived. A year later he settled again in Barcelona and began to frequent Els Quatre Gats. He was then 17 years old.
Very soon he was in his element in the crowded café, among the bohemians and artists who fired his admiration. Among them, Ramón Casas stood out, whom he admired right from the beginning, like all the young people of his time. Picasso believed that Casas was exceptionally gifted, so he tried to emulate his skill as a poster artist and portrait artist.
There are innumerable drawings and paintings that bear witness to the time Picasso spent in Els Quatre Gats, among them the picture that the young painter drew to celebrate the birth of Pere Romeu’s son in 1902.
Previously, in 1900, Picasso held his first exhibition in the main room of Els Quatre Gats. It consisted of twenty-five charcoal and watercolor portraits, nailed with thumbtacks on the wall.

Appearing in these portraits were Ramón Casas, Santiago Rusiñol, Pere Romeu and also other artists and some peculiar individuals who frequented the premises.
In these caricature pictures, Picasso himself can be seen together with his closest friends, such as Ángel Fernández Soto and Jaume Sabartés.
Also interesting are the sketches of children at the door of Els Quatre Gats, as if they are going to see a puppet show. There are more drawings that testify to Picasso’s time in Els Quatre Gats. In one of these you can see a woman dressed elegantly, sitting before a tankard of beer and, in the background, the neo-Gothic façade of the building. As if it were the design for a poster, in this drawing you can read: 4 Gats.

Better known is the poster design that served as the cover of the house menu, in which you can see a group of clients sitting in front of the façade, although it mimics the more spontaneous style of Casas.

The restless spirit of Pablo Picasso cannot be limited to Barcelona, Catalonia or Spain. Attracted by the admiration he felt for Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, he went to Paris, where he finally found the help of Gertrude Stein.
In this way and thanks also to Henri Matisse, he managed to paint, in those early years, many of his masterpieces. Street vendors, scoundrels, prostitutes, acrobats and drunks are the subjects of the paintings of his famous blue period.
Afterwards, everything was pink and in the pictures of this stage the characters dragging the burden of their sorrows disappeared. Their place was taken by harlequins, joyful girls and acrobats in the fullness of their lives.
Antonio D. Olano, in his book Picasso intimo, reproduces the text in which Picasso officially donates of his legacy in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. A legacy that says, among other things: “I, Pablo Picasso, of Spanish nationality and a resident of Mougins, in memory of my unforgettable friend Jaime Sabartes:
I. grant a donation to the city of Barcelona, and to the City Council of the same, for its installation and conservation in drawings and tomorrow works reviewed in the list attached to the following minutes …
II. Likewise, I declare and grant that the collection referred to in the previous section, that of the paintings known as Las Meninas and all the morning paintings, drawings and engravings, ceramics and tomorrow works that has been delivered to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona …”
In this way, the artist, consecrated and known worldwide, demonstrated in 1970 his gratitude to a city that had welcomed him and to the friends who had loved him when he was just a child.

End of an era

But Pere Romeu was an idealist and not a practical businessman. It seems that if someone did not have money to pay for their drinks, this was not taken into account and they were not made to wash the dishes. In addition, those who did pay paid very little. Thus, every day there was less income and more debts accumulated. Until June 1903, when he closed the café that he had opened with such enthusiasm in 1897. The closure surprised the whole of Barcelona. Pere Romeu devoted himself to other activities such as motorsport but continued to be poor until his death, in 1908, of tuberculosis.

His friend, Santiago Rusiñol wrote: “That picturesque place, full of dreams, that frightened the artisan; those pictures on the walls that the house girls could not look at because they liked them too much; that pipe smoke that left the parishioners of the house drunk with ideas. Sleep in peace, my friend, you deserve it. You have only done good, and do not be sorry to leave! We will miss you, and in you we will miss a time when fantasy made us live.”

The reopening

Later, the place became the headquarters of the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc art society, until 1936, when the civil war changed everything. It took many years for Els Quatre Gats to emerge from its lethargy and begin its journey again. At the end of the 1970s, three gastronomy entrepreneurs, Pedro Moto, Ricard Alsina and Ana Verdaguer, joined forces to reopen its doors, with a new proposal for Barcelona’s cultural scene.
In 1988, the businessman Josep Mª Ferré, with renewed enthusiasm, started to run the restaurant and the Casa Martí, where it is located, was restored in 1991 within the framework of the “Barcelona ponte guapa” city renovation campaign.