Spain has had a huge impact on the history of Western art, producing a number of hugely influential artists over the years. In Barcelona's Ciutat Vella (Old City) there are two galleries which house some of Spain’s most notable works.
1. Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (MEAM)
An intimate collection of figurative art housed in the spectacular Neoclassical Palau Gomis
The well-hidden Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (or MEAM for short), nestled down a narrow medieval street in Barcelona’s El Born neighbourhood, showcases an intimate collection of art. The museum occupies the beautifully restored Palau Gomis, a magnificent 18th-century palace surrounding a peaceful, shaded courtyard, where the Napoleonic general, Marshal Lecchi, once had his residence. The palace’s grand Neoclassical exterior isin striking contrast with the collection of bold modern and contemporary figurative art you’ll find within.
Among the showcasing of today’s talent there’s also plenty of the past. MEAM holds a significant collection of elegant Art Deco figurines; European sculpture is also well represented, with a collection of just over a hundred pieces focusing on Catalan work. Materials vary from bronze, marble, and terracotta to cardboard and paper–look out for Abraham Nevado’s beautifully crafted Sinergia, two heads modelled from 4,289 intricately sliced sheets. Paintings range from traditional portraiture and unflinching nudes, to the mind-bogglingly precise Hyper- and Photorealism of Jesús María Sáez de Vicuña Ochoa and Iván Carlos Franco Fraga. You won’t be the first to have that strange feeling that many pairs of eyes are following you around the room...
The Museu Europeu d’Art Modern calls itself a ‘living museum’, and this seems true in more senses than one. Some works in the collection may be unsettling, perhaps slightly uncomfortable to look at, in their sometimes horrifying vivacity: Rigoberto Camacho’s hostile Identity, for example, or José Miguel Jiménez Scheroff’sVanitas, a staring head stripped back of its muscle. But each work has been chosen deliberately to give visitors an absorbing visual experience. This is art that will stay with you long after you leave the museum; the eyes will continue to follow you around.
2. Museu Picasso
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
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.
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.