The tavern-bar, the Quatre Gats was founded in June 1897, on the ground floor of the Casa Martí, work of the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch; the promoters were Miquel Utrillo, with the support of Ramón Casas and Santiago Rusiñol and the financial collaboration of Manuel Girona. Placed at the front of the establishment was Pere Romeu. Food and drinks were served in the Quatre Gats, like any other tavern, but concerts were also organised, as well as sessions of Chinese shadows and puppets, literary evenings, and exhibitions, and it mainly became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals of various generations to meet up and chat.
Pablo Picasso. Joan Vidal i Ventosa. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Charcoal, black pencil and wash on paper. 47.8 x 28 cm (irregular). Acquisition, 1967. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 70.802
Picasso started to frequent the tavern on returning from his stay in Horta de Sant Joan, in 1899. It was then that Picasso met and gradually became integrated in the circles of the Quatre Gats, thanks to his friends Carles Casagemas, Josep Cardona, Manuel Pallarés, Ramon Reventós, Ángel and Mateo Fernández de Soto and Jaume Sabartés. Little by little he got to know the artists and writers from the previous generation, and began participating in the activities organized in the tavern.
Ramón Casas was the most admired painter of the time, as well as being the model to follow for a large number of young artists. In October 1899 he exhibited a number of oil paintings in the Sala Parés as well as a collection of charcoal portraits of personages from the cultural and political life of Catalonia. Picasso and his group visited the exhibition, and according to how Sabartés explained it, his friends encouraged him to do another: “It’s a long time since the show hall of the Quatre Gats has been used for anything. If Casas can capture the conspicuous men, then Picasso can draw what is left: he could draw us, for example […] But what we want, more than anything else, is to put Picasso in front of the “Barcelona idol” and to make the people angry: the people and Casas, should the occasion arise”” (Jaume Sabartés, Picasso. Portraits and memories, Madrid, Afrodisio Aguado, 1953)
Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Jaume Sabartés, seated. Barcelona, 1900. Charcoal and essence on laid paper. 48.5 x 32.4 cm. Gift of Jaume Sabartés, 1962. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 70.228 | Pablo Picasso. Eveli Torent i Marsans. 1899-1900. Charcoal on laid paper. 47.5 x 31.4 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.855
In February 1900, Picasso filled the large room of the Quatre Gats with his gallery of portraits – around one hundred, and included some oil paintings, among them Last Moments, which he would later send to the Universal Exposition of Paris. The portraits were drawn with charcoal, coloured on some occasion with pencil and watercolours, hung directly on the walls, one above the other, with no frames and no catalogue. That’s why it is difficult to identify all the characters; however, thanks to the notes made by the artist himself, comparisons with photos, and other portraits of the period, and the words of Sabartés, we are able to discover that Picasso did portraits of his circle of friends, of new artists, of apprentice writers, and of those who would be, but weren’t yet, well-known: the above-mentioned friends and also Daniel Masgoumeri, Ricard Opisso, Josep Rocarol, Joan Vidal Ventosa, Ramón Reventós, Eveli Torent and Josep Maria Folch i Torres, among others.
The exhibition served to place Picasso in the artistic panorama of the city and also for him to be fully integrated within the ambience of the Quatre Gats, to the extent that Pere Romeu commissioned him to do the drawing for the menu of the establishment ?Picasso did the drawing of the cover and on the back a portrait was reproduced of Pere Romeu which had been done by Casas.
Pablo Picasso. Miquel Utrillo. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Pen and sepia ink and wash on paper. 9.2 x 7.8 cm (irregular). Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.260 | Pablo Picasso. Santiago Rusiñol. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Pen and ink and watercolour on paper. 10.3 x 9.2 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.433 | Pablo Picasso. Hermenegild Anglada i Camarasa. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Pen and sepia ink and wash on paper. 9.6 x 10.7 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.434 | Pablo Picasso. Josep Rocarol i Faura. Barcelona, 1899-1900. Pen and ink and brush and watercolour on paper. 9 x 7.9 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.435
In a similar way, his portrait painting activity would continue, with a new series of drawings, with different protagonists to the previous ones, and in a new format. The people who were portrayed were now famous characters, the true representatives of the Catalan artistic and cultural life: Ramón Casas, Santiago Rusiñol, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, Ramon Pichot, Joaquín Mir, Pujolà Vallés, Pompeu Gener and Pere Romeu, as well as his friends Casagemas, Rocarol and his self-portrait. These ones, which were done with pen and watercolour, were much more like caricatures than those presented in the exhibition. Their reduced size, and the dark background that surrounded them, made one think that they were done with the intention of publishing them in artistic or humoristic magazines.
Even though they were very different in terms of format and style, the series of portraits of the personages of the Quatre Gats revealed Picasso’s facility for capturing the essence and the characteristic features of the personages, and his capacity for observation and synthesis. However, the comparison between both series showed the rapid evolution of the artist and the faculty for overcoming the styles of his predecessors and the willingness to forge his own language.
Some of the portraits mentioned above can be seen in the gallery 8 of the permanent collection of the museum until September
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