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Margarida Cortadella: «The correspondence between Sabartés and Picasso breaks the cliché that they only spoke about money»

Margarida Cortadella: «The correspondence between Sabartés and Picasso breaks the cliché that they only spoke about money»

Press conference Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés and Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili: work and friendship. 21/11/2018. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photography: Miquel Coll

 

As you know, the Museu Picasso is hosting the exhibition «Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés» until 24th February, in which we review the friendship that joined them during almost 70 years. The exhibition is curated by the director of the Museum, Emmanuel Guigon, and by the head of the library, Margarida Cortadella, who we have interviewed to get to know a little more about the contents of the exhibition.

What is the aim of the exhibition «Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés»?

Broadly speaking, we are vindicating the figure of Jaume Sabartés exactly 50 years after his death, in the moment in which we have been able to read the correspondence he received from Picasso. This period of time was the condition that Picasso imposed when he gave the letters to Barcelona after the death of his friend, which occurred on February 13, 1968. Therefore, 2018 marked the possibility of exhibiting a very important collection: we are talking about around 700 documents, including letters, envelopes, press clippings, photographs and telegrams from between 1927 and 1967.

What has the working methodology been for making these documents public?

First of all, it should be said that, from the point of view of the contents, these letters fit in with the Sabartés collection of the Musée national Picasso-Paris, where the 1,050 letters Sabartés sent to Picasso are conserved. Therefore, the methodology has consisted of both the contents of the letters of Sabartés as well as those of Picasso. As a result, fitting them together, we have obtained the confirmation of a friendship going from when he was 18 years old to the death of Sabartés, in 1968.

What conclusions can be reached from the correspondence, once it has been read?

Reading these letters it breaks absolutely with the cliché that in this correspondence they only talked about money or administrative questions, and also with the fact that Sabartés was a subdued, obedient and unfriendly person. In addition, it reinforces the desire of Picasso to read Sabartés and of Sabartés to read Picasso – the pleasure of reading letters. Sometimes, based on an anecdote they would write a letter or establish a conversation. Picasso even claims it, when he said: “What’s up, don’t you write to me? Has something happened? Come on, mate, tell me something funny! “.

The two friends met in 1899 in Barcelona, but later they were kept apart for more than 20 years and many kilometers away from each other, given that Sabartés left for Guatemala. So, how was the flame kept alive?

The flame was kept alive by Sabartés because he would regularly send news to Picasso. For example, in 1912 he sent a letter from New York and proposed putting on an exhibition. Later he wrote to tell him that they hadn’t seen each other or spoken for 10 years. In another letter written from Montevideo, he was worried that Picasso should be known throughout the world, because he believed that he was “the artist.” So, the friendship was latent and Sabartés would do the reminding. In June 1927, before leaving Guatemala, he wrote a letter filled with autobiographical content explaining his desire to return, and his tiredness.

 

Margarida Cortadella: «The correspondence between Sabartés and Picasso breaks the cliché that they only spoke about money»

Press conference Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés and Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili: work and friendship. 21/11/2018. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photography: Miquel Coll

 

An essential feature of the relation between Picasso and Sabartés is humour, as we can see in the exhibition.  Is it a corresponding humour or is always in the same direction?

Between them, the humour is totally corresponded. As with any relationship, if there was any coarse or sexual joke that didn’t go down well with Sabartés, he said so. But there wasn’t any form of self-censorship. But there was always a lot of humour: for example, at the beginning or end of the letter, or from a word of double meaning. It’s a humour that takes over everything, it’s talking of things with irony.

One example of this are the caricatures that Picasso did of Sabartés in the company of pin-up girls.

Pin-up girls are a kind of sub-category within the correspondence. In the room, you can see a pin-up that is in itself a letter, because he has written on it. Others are written on the back, and that is why we have put the transcription of the letter next to it. You can also see the folds of these magazine sheets torn out, trimmed, redrawn and written, on the front or on the back.

As we can see in the exhibition, Sabartés was also one of the key figures so that Picasso could have a museum in Barcelona.  How did this idea come about?

Sabartés is the cornerstone, but there were really a series of people who had a vision for the future and knew how to work as one. Sabartés was from Barcelona, it was the city where he always returned and where he spent his holidays. His wife, Mercedes Iglesias, was also from Barcelona, and they spoke in Catalan. In addition, Sabartés did not have descendants or heirs because his son died at the age of 30. On the other hand, Picasso gave him a copy of everything that he produced: the “Sabartés test”, which allowed the drawing of the original lithography or engraving to be printed. Then, the City Hall offered Sabartés the Palau Berenguer d’Aguilar for his collection and Sabartés told Picasso that this palace seemed worthy to host his work.

 

Margarida Cortadella: «The correspondence between Sabartés and Picasso breaks the cliché that they only spoke about money»

Press conference Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés and Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili: work and friendship. 21/11/2018. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photography: Miquel Coll

 

Once the Museum was inaugurated, did Sabartés explain to Picasso how the museum was functioning?

Well, it should be pointed out that the inauguration of the Museum, on 9th March 1963, took place right in the middle of Franco’s dictatorship; it was done without public, limiting the invitations to try to dampen the international impact. Sabartés was not there. Although there are some photographs from October in which he can be seen visiting the Museum, he had difficulty walking because of a stroke. He didn’t talk to Picasso about the public, but he did tell him that he wanted the Museum to be a living centre, not a closed and dead thing: “And if I was 10 years younger, I would achieve it,” he added. Sabartés fought, among other things, for there to be a plaque that stated it was the Museu Picasso instead of the Sabartés Collection.

What was Picasso’s reaction after the death of his friend?

We don’t have any documents that express the pain of Picasso, but there is however a gesture that expresses the recognition. Picasso donated the complete series of “Las Meninas” to the Museum and the blue portrait Jaume Sabartés with pince-nez, which presides the first exhibition room and which had been hung in the tavern, Quatre Gats. Sabartés explains in the book Picasso. Portraits and Memories that Picasso had told him that he would donate it, but he never ended up doing so.  Picasso did so after his death and I think it was a gesture in homage.  Furthermore Picasso made a commitment to donate to the Museum a copy of each print or engraving he did, always dedicated to Sabartés; we exhibit a small selection, all donated after the death of his friend and some even after the death of Picasso himself, because the heirs of the artist clearly understood that «pour Sabartés» meant for Barcelona. We could therefore say that this is the closing of a circular history that began and ended in Barcelona.

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