Before I started working at the Museum I knew next to nothing about Picasso. The one thing that really stuck in my memory was something my father told me when I was a little girl: as a boy, the great painter constantly filled the margins of his books with drawings! That and the fact that in 1906 he had stayed in Gósol, the village where my mother was born.
Of all the things I have had the good fortune to learn as head of Publications at the Museum, one of the most enjoyable has been the discovery of the places around the city with Picasso connections. I owe this in large part to the re-edition of the Guide to Picasso’s Barcelona that Josep Maria Carandell wrote to commemorate the centenary of the artist’s birth.
This project was special for a lot of reasons, but for me it will always be associated with the happy hours spent exploring the places that appear in Carandell’s book — places that have transformed for ever more my personal imaginary of a number of locations around the city. If I had to take you to just a small sample of those Picasso sites, I would single out three streets.
Our first stop would be on carrer La Plata. Though experts disagree as to just where Picasso had his first studio, I like to imagine it was at No. 5. Perhaps because the building looks especially dilapidated, with more of a flavour of the old port, or because the top floor, seen from the almost permanent gloom of the street below, seems to hide the secrets of light that enabled Picasso to draw the dome of the church of La Mercè in the middle of a red sky that I find particularly appealing.
On the left, a view of the Church of La Mercè, from the roof of a school for street Ample. Barcelona, 2006. Photo: Josep Maria Llobet. On the right Dome of the Church of La Mercè made by Picasso. Barcelona, 1897. Pastel and Conté pencil on paper.
Our second visit would be to carrer Escudellers Blancs: not on any of the usual tourist itineraries, and often all but deserted as one enters the street from carrer La Leona or carrer Rauric. Here, too, there is disagreement about the location of the studio Picasso occupied during part of 1899. I seem to recall that I spent much of my first visit trying to work out which was the window he painted in an oil that I have loved since I first saw it— a window that must have been opposite his studio. Walking on down to carrer Escudellers I discovered that the rest of the street is fascinating: quiet, balconies, light… and buildings with a discreet nobility I had not expected to find there.
Our third and last stop is in the short section that is all that remains of carrer de l’Oli. Essentially, this is a place to let the imagination fly: pure evocation… The old Plaça de l’Oli (where the Guayaba building once stood) and carrer de la Riera de Sant Joan a little further up are both long gone, demolished to make way for the new Via Laietana in the 1900s, but I still enjoy strolling through these narrow old streets between the Plaça de la Llana and the Plaça de Santa Caterina, and I imagine that the vanished houses would have been much like the one that have withstood the passage of time, their balconies decked with drying clothes. I can almost hear the clatter of carts, the running children and the women toting enormous bundles, and I look up again, searching for another window. But this time I know that what I’m looking for is not there, but very close to the Museum.
Yes; in the Plaça de Jaume Sabartés there is a building on the corner of carrer de l’Hostal de Sant Antoni, on the top floor of which, overlooking the square, there is a four-paned window with a wooden frame that seems to me identical to the one we see in the oil that Picasso painted of his sister Lola in the interior of his studio at No. 17, Riera de Sant Joan.
Two paintings by Picasso in the Carrer de la Riera de Sant Joan, 17. On the left, seen from the artist’s studio window. Barcelona, 1900. Oil on wood. On the right, Lola, the artist’s sister, in the studio on the street. Barcelona, 1900. Oil on canvas.
And this was the window he was looking through when he painted the impressive view of the street, another of my favourites. Some afternoons, when the sun strikes this window above the square, the fancy takes me that behind the glass there is someone with a brush in his hand gazing at the Museu Picasso building, seeking the inspiration that emanates from the pictures hanging in its rooms.