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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Museu Picasso de Barcelona

What is the Museu Picasso?

The Museu Picasso, or Picasso Museum Barcelona in English, is an outstanding collection of works by a painter, draughtsman and sculptor who was the 20th century’s most influential artist, housed in an architectural complex made up of five Catalan-Gothic palaces.

museu picasso in barcelona

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Museu Picasso History

Pablo Picasso stands out, in many ways, as the artist of the 20th century. In 1895, aged just 13, he moved with his family from La Coruña (in northwest Spain) to Barcelona. Nine years later he left, but his years here proved formative: it was in Barcelona that he developed from a teenager showing promise into an artist of multifaceted, revolutionary genius. With a collection of over 4,000 works, the Museu Picasso focuses on these pivotal years in the artist’s career. (For many artists, such a number would comprise the whole oeuvre.) It sheds light on Picasso’s deep relationship with the city of Barcelona, enduring from his adolescence until his death. The collection, easily one of the most comprehensive in the world, has been divided into chronological sections. It encompasses painting, sculpture and ceramics, as well as a vast quantity of works on paper.

Highlights from the collection include the rooms exhibiting work from the artist’s early years. Science and Charity and First Communion were painted when Picasso was still a teenager, showcasing the mysterious confidence and maturity he seemed to possess from birth. The artist’s ‘Blue’ and ‘Rose’ periods (named after the colours to which he obsessively returns) are also well documented here. Picasso’s austere Blue Period was perhaps prompted by the suicide of his childhood friend, Carles Casagemas. These dark works stand in sharp juxtaposition with the joy of his Rose Period paintings, colourful canvases filled with clowns, harlequins and circus performers. Later highlights of the collection include the brilliant Las Meninas series, a Cubist take on Diego Velázquez’s famed 17th-century work of the same name.

Picasso moved permanently to Paris in 1904, but retained strong ties to Barcelona. He had spent his years here frequenting Els Quatre Gats, famously a centre of gravity for those moving in creative circles, and had become a central figure among the city’s artists. While in France, he continued to donate artworks to the city. In fact his first gift, Harlequin, donated in 1919, is still on show here today.

The museum, which has expanded over the years to occupy five Catalan-Gothic palaces, was founded according to the express wishes of the eponymous artist. In 1960, Picasso’s personal secretary and close friend, Jaume Sabartés, proposed (on behalf of the artist) the creation of a museum dedicated to Picasso’s work. Three years later, the Sabartés Collection opened to the public, located here in the Ribera neighbourhood, the area in which Picasso had lived between 1895 and 1904. (Picasso’s opposition to General Franco’s regime prevented the museum from being named after the artist.) It was also Sabartés who donated the museum’s initial holdings, supplemented later by Picasso himself, who donated much of the work from his childhood and teens. In fact, you’ll find many portraits of Sabartés in the collection. Picasso began depicting him in 1900, just a year after they first met, and continued drawing on him as a model throughout their lives.

Picasso was an outspoken and fierce Republican. Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1939 meant he never again returned to Spain. However, those early years spent in Barcelona remained pivotal to his artistic career, and his affection for the city shines through in this outstanding collection.

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