Last Thursday we began a series of annual master conferences based around the work of Picasso in honour of the founder of the museum, Jaume Sabartés. The first of these was given by Elizabeth Cowling, exploring the role that caricature played in Picasso’s portraits based on the ones he did of Sabartés during the years of friendship they shared.
Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Jaume Sabartés, Seated. 1900. Watercolour and charcoal on paper. 50,5 x 33 cm. MPB 70.228 | Pablo Picasso. Blue portrait of Jaume Sabartés. Oil on canvas. 46 x 38 cm. MPB 70.491 | Pablo Picasso. “Poeta decadente”. Portrait of Jaume Sabartés. 1900. Charcoal and watercolour on laid hand-made paper. 48 x 32 cm. MPB 70.232
is an honorary fellow of History of Art from the University of Edinburgh and she has carried out a particular study about the work of Picasso, about which several books have emerged. She visited the Museu Picasso of Barcelona for the first time 30 years ago and read the book Picasso. Portraits and Memories by Jaume Sabartés when she was 20.
As Cowling commented, and we were able to discover further throughout the talk, the devotion of Sabartés for Picasso was legendary; for him there hadn’t been and would never be any other painter like Picasso.
Often criticised by the people closest to Picasso, especially the female ones as shown in the memoires of Françoise Gilot, Sabartés kept up an unequal friendship with Picasso, asymmetric and at the same time fascinating, that would last more than 60 years. Both were the same age, and they met in Barcelona when they were 19 years old, when Sabartés was studying to be a sculptor and also wrote poetry. From the outset, the charisma of Picasso captivated Sabartés and his belief in the genius was absolute.
Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Jaume Sabartés with ruff and hat. 22/10/1939. Oil on canvas. 46 x 38 cm. MPB 70.241 | Pablo Picasso. Sabartés as a gentleman in the age of Philip II. 25/12/1938. Graphite pencil on printed paper. 28,7 x 20,7 cm. MPB 70.231
Sabartés himself said in his book:
“I still remember my leave-taking. […] It was noon. My eyes were still dazzled by what they had seen among his papers and sketchbooks. Picasso […] intensified my confusion with his fixed stare. On passing before him to go, I sketched a kind of obeisance, stunned as I was by his magical power, the power of a Magi, possessing gifts so astonishingly full of hope and promise.” [Jaume Sabartés, Picasso: An Intimate Portrait. Translated from the Spanish by Angel Flores. London: WH Allen, 1949, p.18.]
Over the years they developed their own language and their own rituals and the portraits and caricatures (with the respective warm dedications) that Picasso did of his friend were carried out year after year, whether they lived together or were separated, hundreds of kilometres apart.
Pablo Picasso. Jaume Sabartés as a faun playing the aulos. 14/10/1946. Oil and charcoal on paper with watermark R ARCHES. 65 x 50 cm. MPB 113.143 | Pablo Picasso. Humorous Composition. Portrait of Jaume Sabartés with Neile Adams. 04/12/1957. Pen and Ink and coloured grease pencil on cut magazine printed paper. 35,6 x 26 cm. MPB 70.674
Picasso represented him in an infinite number of portraits and caricatures through different techniques and personages. We can see Sabartés portrayed as a knight, a monk, a clown, a faun, a bullfighter, a blind man, a melancholic, among starlets, with a ruff, etc., by not only representing the physical aspects but also the personality. However, some essential features of the appearance of Sabartés were constantly repeated: the long and straight hair, the pointed nose, the feminine full lips and the prominent chin.
Sabartés was never offended by, or opposed, these caricatures that he understood as part of his accomplice friendship, capable of perpetuating the trust of their youth. It was an honour for him to be represented by Picasso even if it was in the form of a caricature because he knew that he couldn’t be an inspiration compared with that suggested by the women who shared the life with the artist. The humorous portraits were the way in which Picasso thought in him.
The creation of the Museu Picasso on March 9th 1963 was to a great extent the result of the devotion that Sabartés showed towards Picasso, the culmination of a friendship that would last a lifetime.