Ricard Canals, the friend with an innocent child’s eyes

“The contrast between Picasso and Canals was startling for those who saw them together. Canals, tall, thin, pale, cold, with the blue eyes of an innocent child; Picasso, short, dark, compactslippery, restless, disturbing, with dark, deep, penetrating, strange, almost fixed eyes”. This is a fragment from the memoires of Picasso’s lover Fernande Olivier, which says a lot, in spite of only concentrating on the physical features of the two characters, about the relation between Ricard Canals and the artist from Malaga.

Painter and engraver, Ricard Canals (1876-1931) was one of the friends from youth of Picasso, who he probably met would have got to know in Barcelona in the moment of at the Quatre Gats given that at that time Canals was the best friend of Isidre Nonell. With him and with Joaquim Mir and Ramon Pichot, among others, he had founded the so-called Colla del Safrà, (“The Saffron Group”) a group of young painters who wanted to overcome the naturalism of the Escola d’Olot with bright colours (where the name Saffron came from) and committed to painting in plein air.

Pablo Picasso. Pere Romeu caricatured as a boer and other sketches (Quatre Gats menu). Barcelona, 1899-1900. Graphite pencil on printed paper.  Donació Picasso, Pablo, 1970. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. MPB 110.813

The friendship between Canals and Picasso, however, became bonded in Paris, where the city which Canals moved to in 1897. At first, he did quite well it was not bad for him to painting street scenes and portraits. He exhibited a couple of paintings in one of the exhibitions of Impressionism and had none other than Paul Durand-Ruel as his art dealer, the first art dealer to boost the Impressionist painters.

When Picasso settled down in Paris in 1904, Canals and he became inseparable. Both of them had a studio at Bateau Lavoir de Montmartre. In spite of having different characters, they had a great deal of complicity and in addition, the partners companions of both the two of them, both models of artists, were friends from before: Fernande Olivier and the Italian Benedetta Bianco Coletta, who was the Mrs Canals of the famous portrait from the collection of the Museu Picasso, painted in 1905. Although there aren’t any portraits of Canals done by Picasso in the museum, it is however true that in that moment, between 1904 and 1905, Picasso and Canals mutually portrayed themselves. In the case of Picasso, for example, it is known that he painted Canals on at least one occasion but for whatever reason, he regretted having done it and the work remained hidden under a very iconic canvas from the Blue Period, Woman Iironing, of now in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum.

Pablo Picasso. Woman Ironing  (La repasseuse). Bateau-Lavoir, Paris, primavera 1904. Oil on canvas, 116.2 x 73 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser  © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Kristopher McKay © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York | Composite infrared image of underlying male portrait by John K. Delaney, National Gallery of Art, Washington

If everything suggests that this man is Canals it is due to a magnificent photograph taken by Picasso in 1904 in the studio of Bateau Lavoir, which is also a Picasso self-portrait as he can be seen to be reflected in the mirror. He can also be perfectly distinguished in aA portrait of Bianco on the mantelpiece of the fireplace can also be perfectly distinguished. This photo must have been taken not too long after the moment in which the two friends decided to shave off their moustaches together, something that did not please the young women at all, according to Josep Palau i Fabre. Canals also painted Picasso at around the same time, more or less, when he had a fine mustache, in a painting that can be found in a private collection.

Photography, page 99 of the catalog “Yo Picasso. Self-portrait “. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Portrait of Ricard Canals in front of a fireplace (Picasso reflected in the mirror and portrait of Benedetta Canals on the fireplace). Paris, 1904. Old drawing. Photography in the silver salts. 15.3 x 17.7 cm. Archives Picasso, Musee national Picasso – Paris

Another proof of the strong complicity between the two friends is the fact that Picasso was the godfather of the son of Canals, Octavi, whom the two painters portrayed several times when he was a baby. At the National Museum of Art in Catalonia, some portraits are conserved of the baby Octavi, by Canals, as well as two drawings by Canals of Picasso, dated back to the mid-nineteen twenties. There is also a piece of paper that hasn’t been located where Picasso drawn the profile of Canals and a little that could be the son of Canals, as a baby.

Ricard Canals, Sick Child  (Octavi, the son of the artist). Painting. Circa 1903. 53 x 70 cm. Oil on canvas 003806-000. Plandiura Collection, purchased 1932. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

But in addition to his personal friendship, Canals, five years older than Picasso, carried out an important artistic teaching of Picasso, especially with regard to the technique of etching. Picasso had stated that Canals had taught him to engrave with a sewing needle and it was surely Canals who supervised the execution of the first important engraving of Picasso, The frugal meal, a major work from the Blue Period.

MPB_110.011Pablo Picasso. The frugal repast. Paris, September 1904. Etching and scraping on zinc plate, printed on paper. 46,3 x 37,7 cm (plate). 61,4 x 44,3 cm (irregular; paper). Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.011


Written by the Museum

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