In October 1902 Picasso and his friend Josep Rocarol i Faura took the train from Barcelona to Paris. They were happy because they had just managed to avoid doing the military service after their respective families had paid an amount to “redeem them” from the mili. For Picasso this would be his third trip to Paris. Very excited but with not a lot of money in their pockets: Rocarol, 35 pesetas; Picasso, over confident that things would work out, not one cent. Just on reaching Paris, they went to stay in a cheap hotel of Montparnasse. Rocarol paid, of course, and that’s probably why Picasso had to sleep on the floor. Very soon after this, for unknown reasons, the two friends split up. It seems that after this trip, Rocarol and Picasso no longer kept in touch.
So, who was Rocarol? Six months younger than Picasso and born in Barcelona, he had trained as a draftsman and learnt set design, which would subsequently end up as his main trade. It is not known exactly where he met Picasso but it was probably in the tavern of Quatre Gats, given that Rocarol is one of the characters that the artist portrayed that frequented the venue. Rocarol also appeared in the group that Picasso would draw in the iconic advertisement of the tavern with the slogan “Drink and food served all hours”. What is clear is that he formed part of the intimate circle of Picasso for a time, to the extent that they shared the studio in the street Nou de la Rambla in 1902. “They called us the modernists and we used to wear large shawls, wide brimmed hats and a cane, especially the young ones. Oh, and the long hair”, recalled Rocarol in his memoires.
Without a doubt, 1902 was a crucial year in terms of the relationship between the two friends. With Àngel Fernández de Soto and Jaume Sabartés, Rocarol was also one of the colleagues of Picasso who, when Jacint Verdaguer died, would walk as far as Vil·la Joana to see the poets coffin leave the house, and would throw wild flowers on it that they had collected on the way.
When Rocarol returned to Barcelona, he started working, doing a little of everything, designing everything from figures for embroidery to labels for perfume bottles. It wasn’t until 1912 that Rocarol made his debut as a set designer with the work La Sagrada Família, by Avel·lí Artís, and this trade would become his main activity in theatres such as Goya, l’Español or Romea, although he never gave up painting. A great defender of Catalan theatre, Rocarol also did the project for the decoration, furniture and sgraffito of the Centre de Lectura de Reus.
During the Second Republic, Rocarol occupied posts in the Generalitat related to heritage, such as being the conservator of the monastery of Pedralbes. And it was here where during the first years of the Civil War that he prevented the strong-armed men from burning down the monastery and the gothic paintings of Ferrer Bassa. With the complicity of the Mossos d’Esquadra (The Catalan police force) he himself provoked a fire outside the enclosure that dissuaded the anticlerical people.
Despite this, Rocarol suffered reprisals from the Franco regime and in December 1939 he was made a political prisoner in the forced labour brigades of the prison camp of Belchite. Through the towns that the brigades passed, Rocarol devoted himself to drawing architectures, landscapes and interiors in four notebooks, which ended up being an historical and ethnographic document of the first order of this area of Aragon. When he was freed, Rocarol gave the drawings to Coronel Roque Adrada, whose family donated it to the University of Zaragoza in 2015.
Rocarol, who died in 1961, defined in this way his life philosophy in his memoires: “I have never felt envy or hate against those who have passed in front of me. I have been a modest painter”.