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Inhabitants of the Museum: Pere Romeu, the soul of Quatre Gats

Inhabitants of the Museum: Pere Romeu, the soul of Quatre GatsPablo Picasso: Pere Romeu. 1900. Sepia ink with pen, wash and watercolour on paper.  17.9 x 12.9 cm. Contribution of Barcelona City Council, 1963. MPB 50.488

 

In the review of the inhabitants of the Museu Picasso, we take a stop at the figure of Pere Romeu, who we refer to as the soul of the Quatre Gats. A bohemian character and cultural promoter – but without capital for carrying out his projects, Romeu is the protagonist of some of the drawings that Picasso did in Barcelona’s legendary tavern and that form part of our permanent collection.

Pere Romeu i Borràs was born in Torredembarra in 1862. From an early age he tried to make a living as a painter, and he kept up a relationship with the modernist group of Ramon Casas. When he was 31 years old, he began an adventure abroad and, in collaboration with Miquel Utrillo and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, he organized a Chinese shadow puppet show at the Parisian Puppet Theatre of Paris. The trio attempted to export the show to New York and Chicago, but they were not successful.

On his return to Paris, Romeu managed to get a job as an entertainer at the cabaret, Le Chat Noir, in the neighbourhood of Montmartre thanks to his good relation with the owner, Louis Rodolphe Salis. This experience gave him the idea of opening a venue of similar characteristics in Barcelona, but he didn’t have enough money to do so.  That’s why he got together with Miquel Utrillo, Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol, and it was in this way that the Quatre Gats was inaugurated on 14th June 1897.

Physically speaking, Romeu was a picturesque character: tall, rambling and bearded, his figure was portrayed and caricatured not only by Picasso, but also by other artists such as Casas, who made him the protagonist of his well-known work, Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a tandem, a paradigmatic example of the fusion between painting and posters.

 

Inhabitants of the Museum: Pere Romeu, the soul of Quatre GatsPablo Picasso. Pere Romeu caricatured as a Boer, and other sketches (menu of Quatre Gats). Barcelona, 1899-1900. Graphite pencil on printed paper. Donation Picasso, Pablo, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. MPB 110.813

 

In terms of the drawings that Picasso dedicated to him, it is especially worth highlighting the two that you can see in this post.  The first is a portrait with ink and watercolour which includes a joke in the form of an inscription: « Mr. Romeu cheats on the maids. Mr. Romeu eats shit with a string», after a Catalan children’s tune in which “Mr. Ramon” does so. In the second one, we can see a drawing of Romeu on the back of the menu of the Quatre Gats characterized as if he was a Boer from the South African wars.

Prior to closing the tavern, which would take place in 1903, Romeu promoted the publication of a magazine which took the same name and which was published for the first time in 1899. He dedicated the last years of his life to sport: he ran the Gimnasio Catalán in Provença street, where he worked as a fencing teacher, he opened a garage and he even participated in some automobile races.

Pere Romeu died in Barcelona on 23rd December 1908, at the age of 46 years old. The newspaper, La Vanguardia, reported the news in this way: «The death of the popular Pere Romeu has been extremely heartfelt, someone so appreciated by those who knew him. Without having been either a writer or an artist, he occupied an important place in the advancement that in recent years the intellectual life in Barcelona has taken on […] Romeu gave a great boost to modernism, which has had since then many imitators in terms of clothing.»

An obituary that confirms that Romeu was one of those characters to whom the phrase «genius and figure» can be applied.

 

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