‘Can we see Picasso’s Mona Lisa?’ ‘Don’t you have any colour postcards of Guernica?’ Unlikely as they may seem, these are some of the odd questions and curious situations that confront the Museum staff from time to time. In its almost 50 years of existence the Museu Picasso has built up a rich stock of good stories — often funny, sometimes surprising and on occasion touching. Here are some of the anecdotes that have become abiding favourites among the Museum’s gallery staff.
Despite our wide-ranging outreach initiatives and our increasing presence on the Internet, a surprising number of visitors still come to the Picasso without really knowing what they’ll find inside. For example, one lady submitted a formal complaint because the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez was not on display alongside the series of Picasso pictures inspired by it. She said that without having the original there it was impossible to make a comparison.
On another occasion, a visitor insisted on knowing where Picasso had painted the room depicted in a certain painting, which he described in great detail: there was a large bed spread with a red coverlet, with a table beside it and two chairs placed under a window. The gallery attendant pointed out that the painting the man was describing was not a Picasso, but a Van Gogh. This visitor was not the only one to ask which rooms Pablo Picasso actually lived in, believing that the Museum is the artist’s former home. Others, even more befuddled, have asked if Sr. Picasso was in the Museum that day, being unaware that he has been dead for almost forty years.
However, in some cases it is not only the visitors that are less than well informed. A few weeks ago a guide from outside the Museum was overheard telling a group about the recent discovery in France of a collection of drawings attributed to Picasso. According to this guide, the drawings were going to be authenticated using the Carbon-14 dating system — a somewhat unusual choice considering that the Carbon-14 method is especially useful for establishing the age of archaeological finds anywhere up to 60,000 years old.
At times the visitor is genuinely concerned with helping to improve the Museum. A memorable instance here is the ornithologist who demanded to speak to some member of the Museu Picasso staff with the authority to change the titles of the works on display, because he had spotted a mistake in the identification of a bird represented on a piece of pottery in the collection.
The Offering, Pablo Picasso. París 1908
Finally, let’s not forget that the Picasso’s galleries have also been the scene of heart-warming occasions. Surely one of the most moving — and surprising —is the marriage proposal that an American boy made to his girlfriend in front of The Offering. The girl was a passionate art-lover and admirer of Picasso, and she was really thrilled at the thought of coming to Barcelona and visiting our Museum. As the couple began to prepare their trip, it occurred to the young man that the Museu Picasso was the ideal place to ask his girlfriend to marry him. No doubt he decided to do so in front of The Offering on account of its amorous connotations: Picasso painted it to celebrate his reconciliation with his first mistress, Fernande Olivier, and the canvas shows a male figure offering a bouquet of flowers to a half-naked woman. To make sure there would be no problem, the young American suitor contacted the Museu Picasso from the USA and asked for our help. The Museum staff provided some advice and logistical support at the crucial moment, moving other visitors away from the painting just before he proposed. Her answer was an unequivocal ‘Yes’, and the happy couple went back to the United States engaged.
These are just a few of the curious incidents that have taken place in the Museu Picasso in recent years. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of interesting stories, and new ones are being added all the time. Perhaps we’ll tell you a few more one of these days.
On practical placement at the Museu Picasso as part of his Master’s in Cultural Management at the Universitat de Barcelona
What about you? Have you witnessed any amusing incidents in the Museu Picasso or some other museum?