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.