We are inaugurating the exhibition “Picasso’s passion for El Greco”

In collaboration with the Museo Nacional del Prado, we present El Greco’s An Old Gentleman, The masterpiece is shown together with works from our own collection which Picasso created under El Greco’s influence or in homage to his work.

El Greco Vell CavallerMPB 110.034

El Greco. Old Gentleman. Oil on canvas. 46 x 43 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid © Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid | Pablo Picasso. Portrait of an unknown man, after El Greco. Barcelona, c. 1899. Oil on canvas. 34.5 x 31.2 cm (irregular). Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona © Successió Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2015

Picasso’s admiration for El Greco began in his youth, following visits to the Museo del Prado, and continued throughout his life. This fascination was particularly strong during the period of Modernism in Barcelona, during the Blue Period, at the beginnings of Cubism and also in Picasso’s later years, when he turned his attention to the Spanish Golden Age.

In the autumn of 1897, the young Picasso moved to Madrid to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. He soon rejected the school’s teaching methods and decided to train himself, learning directly from the observation of masterpieces at the Museo Nacional del Prado. The artist clearly stated his intentions, his preferences and his new role models in a letter to his old friend from the Llotja, Joaquim Bas:

“The museum of paintings is very nice indeed: Velázquez is first-rate; El Greco has some magnificent heads; Murillo, I’m not convinced by all his paintings; Tiziano has a very good Dolorosa; Van Dyck has some portraits and an Arrest of Jesus, which are tremendous; Rubens has a painting (The Serpent Python) which is prodigious; Teniers has some very good small paintings, of drunks, but now I don’t remember any others”. (Letter of Picasso to Joaquim Bas, Madrid, November 3rd 1897, Fundació Palau, Caldes d’Estrach)

A year later, during his stay in Horta de Sant Joan, he filled a sheet of drawings with inscriptions asking El Greco and Velázquez to inspire him.


Pablo Picasso. Greco, Velázquez INSPIRE ME. Horta de Sant Joan, 1898-1899. Conté crayon on paper. 24.3 x 16.2 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.747R

On his return to Barcelona, through the Quatre Gats circle, Picasso met Santiago Rusiñol, Miquel Utrillo and Ignacio Zuloaga, who were admirers, collectors and champions of El Greco. The interest of Picasso became revitalised and he did several drawings and paintings in which the references to the painter from Toledo are clear in the pronounced elongation of the figures, the sobriety of the backgrounds, and in their depiction in 16th century clothing.


Pablo Picasso. Head of a man, after El Greco, and other sketches. Barcelona, c. 1899. Conté crayon on laid paper. 24 x 16.1 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.641 | Pablo Picasso. Grecoesque figure. Barcelona, c. 1899. Conté crayon on paper. 21.8 x 15.5 cm. Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 110.316R

The continual presence of El Greco in the work of Picasso is evident in the Blue Period.  For example, for carrying out the Evocation (The burial of Casagemas) in 1901, it was inspired by the composition The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and in The adoration of the shepherds by El Greco. And, throughout the period, we can find a certain mysticism and mannerism in the figures that lead us to the representations of the Apostles by El Greco.

In the later work of Picasso a renaissance of the inspiration of El Greco can be observed. The artist told his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler that what attracted him most of El Greco were the portraits. As a result, most of the works with links to him carried out between 1950 and 1970, using all sorts of techniques, including linocut and etching, are basically portraits, heads or busts of masculine personages.


Pablo Picasso. Portrait of a man in a ruff. Variation after El Greco. Mougins, , 9th April, 1962. Etched with a gouge in five colours on two linoleum plates, printed on Arches vellum paper (Sabartés proof, IV and final state). 34.8 x 27 cm (plate); 62.5 x 44.5 cm (paper). Acquisition, 2007. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 113.128 | Pablo Picasso. Portrait-caricature of one of the characters in “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz” in tears. Mougins, 29th June, 1968 (I). AEtching on copper plate, printed on Rives vellum paper (Sabartés proof). 20.8 x 15 cm (plate);  34.6 x 28.5 cm (paper). Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1971. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photo: Estudi Gasull. MPB 111.967

The exhibition can be seen in the galleries of the museum until January 17th 2016, and you can also follow it on the social networks through the hashtag #PicassoElGreco.

Malén Gual
Curator of the exhibition and curator of the museum collection

Relatetd links
Web of the exhitbition “Picasso’s passion for El Greco”

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