Claustre Rafart: «For Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili, private and professional formed a whole»

Claustre Rafart: «Per a Picasso i els editors Gustavo Gili, la vida personal i la professional formaven un tot»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.


Until 24th February you can visit the exhibition «Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili. Work and friendship» in the Museu Picasso of Barcelona, which reviews the relation of the artist with this family from Barcelona from the 1920s onwards.  We have been talking with Claustre Rafart, curator of the exhibition that you can visit together with the exhibition of «Sabartés by Picasso by Sabartés». Both shared the city of Barcelona as a backdrop.

What is the aim of «Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili. Work and friendship»?

Basically, to highlight the value of the two collections that were included in the Museum in 2014: on the one hand, that of Anna Maria Torra and Gustau Gili Esteve, which was acquired by the Fundació Museu Picasso; and on the other hand, the donation that the publisher Gustavo Gili made of his documentary collections. It is an important heritage of which we exhibit a representative part that includes three blocks: the collection of high-level bibliophilia, the legacy of unpublished dedications and drawings by Picasso, and an archive of letters and photographs that allow us to build the history of the two phases of the relationship between the artist and the publisher.

What was the profile of the founder of the publisher, Gustavo Gili Roig?

Agustí Calvet, alias Gaziel, produced a delicious manuscript in which he defined Gili Roig as a man who loved friendship and intelligence. He was a businessman, tough and sometimes with a bad character, but with a very important publishing vision. The passion he had for the artist’s book led him in 1926 to create a line of high-level modern bibliophilia that he called “Ediciones de la Cometa“, for which he counted on two great people: Gaziel as publishing director and the bookbinder Hermenegildo Alsina i Munné as artistic director. The fact that from beginning they wanted to have Picasso as an illustrator made one think that they wanted the collection to have an international impact.

What was the reaction of Picasso regarding this project?

Picasso accepted it immediately. Although he never answered the letters sent by the publisher, he responded by voice or through intermediaries. The correspondence shows us that they proposed illustrating The three-cornered hat and a project on Góngora that did not work. The third was La Tauromaquia or The art of bullfighting, by the bullfighter José Delgado, alias Pepe Illo. Picasso did 7 engravings of the 10 that Gili Roig commissioned him to do, which also closed an agreement with Henry de Montherlant to write the prologue. But the project stagnated and we do not know why. Only 1 of the 7 engravings came to light, in the book by Balzac Le chef d’œuvre inconnu. The rest were left in Picasso’s studio, then they moved to the Musée Picasso-París and now they can be seen in the exhibition.


Edouard Pignon, Anna M. Torra, Pablo Picasso i la Sra. Lacourière al restaurant La ColombeEdouard Pignon, Anna M. Torra, Pablo Picasso and Ms Lacourière in the restaurant La Colombe. Sant Paul de Vance, 11/10/1958. Photography, unknown author. Photography with silver salts [intervened], 13 x18 cm Collection Gustau Gili and Anna M. Torra. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. FGG/FOT/1/57 © Successió Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2018


Gili Roig died in 1945 and his son Gili Esteve took over the publisher.  How was the collaboration with Picasso resumed?

On January 6, 1956, Gili Esteve wrote a letter to Picasso, saying that he wanted to personally bring him a new book from the publisher to resume the old relationship he had had with his father. Picasso opened the doors of La Californie to him, in Cannes, in a meeting in which Anna Maria Torra and Jacqueline Roque also attended. That was the beginning of a sincere and loyal friendship with women as great creators. In fact, Picasso told Jacqueline: “You can trust them”, and the trust reached the point that, after the death of Picasso, Jacqueline would stay at the Gili’s home when she visited Barcelona.

But this second phase of the relationship was also a working phase.

Yes, in fact a series of very important publishing works were consolidated. But I would like to make it clear that this part of the relationship between Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili was polyhedral. In the exhibition we focus on high-level modern bibliophilia, but the work aspect also includes publishing lines such as phototypography and works for the diffusion of Picasso. And we should not forget that the Gili were part of a city such as Barcelona, very powerful at the European publishing level, as well as the movements of civil society that led to the creation of the Museu Picasso.


Roda de premsa al voltant de «Sabartés per Picasso per Sabartés» i «Pablo Picasso i els editors Gustavo Gili: treball i amistat».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.


What part of this work can we see in the exhibition?

We have selected the high-level bibliophilia. Picasso illustrated 156 books of this type throughout his life, of which he did six of them for the publisher Gustavo Gili. These six books include a total of 49 engravings on copper plates, but four books only have one engraving on the header copies. The rest are divided up between La Tauromaquia or The art of bullfighting and The burial of the Conde de Orgaz, which has an added value because the text is by Picasso. In this sense, it should be said that Gili Esteve realized that the Picasso’s handwriting was art in itself and he commissioned a facsimile to attach it to the illustrated book.

Finally, in the exhibition we can see photographs that show this complicity between both couples, made up of Picasso and Jacqueline on the one hand, and Gili Esteve i Torra on the other.

Yes, but the Gili were very discreet people, and Picasso and Jacqueline too: one thing was the ‘show business’ and the other, the feeling. With the death of the four protagonists, a lot of information disappeared. All we could find out was through photographs and letters where personal and professional issues were mixed, and for them they formed a whole. There was also a talk that Gili Esteve gave at the Picasso Museum in the 1970s, where he describes the friendship a little that, it is true to say, was very loyal: to the point that the only two people from Spain who went to the Picasso’s burial apart from the artist’s barber, Eugenio Arias, were Gustau Gili Esteve and Anna Maria Torra.


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