April 30th, 2019: The Picasso Museum and Gaudí’s Casa Milà – La Pedrera!!!

This morning we took the Barcelona Metro to the old city, the Barri Gótic, to go to Barcelona‘s world-renowned Picasso Museum, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. The city renovated the Berenguer d’Aguilar Palace to accommodate the collection.

The courtyard of the Picasso Museum

The Barri Gótic quarter encompasses the oldest parts of the city of Barcelona, and includes the remains of the city’s Roman wall and several notable medieval landmarks. The Barri Gòtic retains a labyrinthine street plan, with many small streets opening out into squares. The modern portions of Barcelona are laid out on a grid, with regular, broad diagonal boulevards.

The medieval tangle of streets of the Barri Gòtic, juxtaposed with the modern grid with diagonal boulevards of Barcelona
The medieval streets of Barcelona‘s Barri Gótic

“Born in Malaga, in 1895 Picasso, only fourteen years old, arrived in Barcelona with his family, and lived there until 1904. These nine years were the years of academic training, the emergence of adolescence and the formation of the his character, and the first step in his artistic ascent in a Barcelona immersed in a dense intellectual world, a framework of passionate ideological and social struggles. The artist lived in old Barcelona, ​​in the Ribera district and its surroundings. During those years, Picasso created an artistic and friendship circle that would last forever and that would definitely link him to the city.” (from the museupicasso.bcn website)

Picasso‘s self portrait in 1896, at age 15. Already hugely talented!

Josep Carandell describes the Picasso of that time with the following words:

“He sees everything, looks at everything, captures everything, everything serves him as a raw material for the works.”

I admired Picasso’s early, realistic work and many pencil and paint studies, which were very interesting. “Picasso painted mostly from imagination or memory. According to William Rubin, Picasso “could only make great art from subjects that truly involved him … Unlike Matisse, Picasso had eschewed models virtually all his mature life, preferring to paint individuals whose lives had both impinged on, and had real significance for, his own.”

Science and Charity, 1897

The art critic Arthur Danto said Picasso’s work constitutes a “vast pictorial autobiography” that provides some basis for the popular conception that “Picasso invented a new style each time he fell in love with a new woman”. The autobiographical nature of Picasso‘s art is reinforced by his habit of dating his works, often to the day. He explained: “I want to leave to posterity a documentation that will be as complete as possible. That’s why I put a date on everything I do.” (from the museupicasso.bcn website)

Study by Picasso

There was a painting undergoing restoration, which was fascinating to watch. I also thought it was interesting to see the influence of the Post-Impressionists on Picasso, primarily Paul Cézanne, whom Picasso was inspired by when he first visited Paris in 1900, which is directly evident in one painting on display. “Cézanne wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks. These experiments would ultimately prove highly influential for the development of Cubism by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.” (from the artstory.org)

An early Picasso undergoing the process of restoration
Still Life, Paris, 1901. Picasso was inspired by the post-impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne, when he first visited Paris in 1900

There were even interesting early ceramics by Picasso – he seemed to like owls. Owls, harlequins, bulls, centaurs – all were eventual central figures in Picasso‘s paintings and studies.

An owl ceramic plate by Picasso

“Picasso was exceptionally prolific throughout his long lifetime. The total number of artworks he produced has been estimated at 50,000, comprising 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs.

Picasso was hugely influenced by the Spanish painter, Valázquez.  “In the 20th century, artists such as Pablo PicassoSalvador Dalí and Francis Bacon paid tribute to Velázquez by re-interpreting some of his most iconic images”

Picasso was, and still is, seen as a magician by writers and critics, a metaphor that captures both the sense of an artist who is able to transform everything around him at a touch and a man who can also transform himself, elude us, fascinate and mesmerize us. Just like William Shakespeare on literature, and Sigmund Freud on psychology, Picasso’s impact on art is tremendous. No one has achieved the same degree of widespread fame or displayed such incredible versatility as Pablo Picasso has in art history. Picasso’s free spirit, his eccentric style, and his complete disregard for what others thought of his work and creative style, made him a catalyst for artists to follow.” (from https://www.pablopicasso.org/)

The medium in which Picasso made his most important contribution was painting. In his paintings, Picasso used colour as an expressive element, but relied on drawing rather than subtleties of colour to create form and space.” (from the museupicasso.bcn website) “Pablo Picasso paid homage to Velázquez in 1957 when he recreated Las Meninas in 44 variations, in his characteristic style. Although Picasso was concerned that his reinterpretations of Velázquez‘s painting would be seen merely as copies rather than unique representations, the enormous works—including the largest he had produced since Guernica in 1937—obtained a position of importance in the canon of Spanish art.” (from Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso paid homage to Velázquez in 1957 when he recreated Las Meninas in 44 variations, in his characteristic style
The original Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez, whom Picasso greatly admired

“In addition to his artistic accomplishments, Picasso made a few film appearances, always as himself, including a cameo in Jean Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus (1960). In 1955, he helped make the film Le Mystère Picasso (The Mystery of Picasso) directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.” (from the museupicasso.bcn website) I remembering watching the fascinating The Mystery of Picasso as a young architectural resident, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1986. In the film, a smoking Picasso, wearing an undershirt, creates a number of original works before our very eyes.

Picasso made many donations to the fledgling museum in his beloved home city during his lifetime, setting it up to become a world-class institution. ‘During many unforgettable hours, Picasso certified the genuineness of each copy, barely containing his emotion. Revealing a prodigious memory, he identified places and people, recalled anecdotes and illustrated the drawings with shrewd and precise comments, most of which were jotted down, that made his evocation of Barcelona more vivid and human.’

Picasso returned to the theme of his beloved pigeons again and again
Another self portrait sketch

After the Picasso Museum, we explored the Barri Gòtic some more and eventually found our way back onto the broad streets and avenues of modern Barcelona. There we were very excited to stumble upon a beautiful Antoni Gaudí-designed lamppost and bench, along with some very interesting tiles paving the sidewalks. After this, we had another tapas lunch, at a restaurant recommending by A.

A beautiful Antoni Gaudí-designed lamppost and bench
Mandy posing on an Antoni Gaudí tile bench
Me on an Antoni Gaudí tile bench
Antoni Gaudí’s sidewalk tiles

After a hearty tapas lunch, we walked over to another Antoni Gaudí masterpiece, the Casa Milà, nicknamed La Pedrera (the Quarry), “in part because the cliffs near Barcelona were the inspiration of the great architect but also because of the appearance of the wavy facade of the building.” (from the barcelona.com website) Watch this well-done video of La Pedrera. This incredible building is also one of the 7 buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona that have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Casa Milà, nicknamed La Pedrera (the Quarry). Note the Antoni Gaudí designed iron street lamp in the foreground
A scale architectural model of the incredible masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. Note the scale of the chimneys and ventilation towers in relation to the rest of the building – they are huge!
The incredible ornamental iron handrails on the balconies of Casa Milà
One of the incredibly interesting ventilation towers or chimneys atop Casa Milà

For Casa Milà, we bought a full tour which came with an audio guide. First off for the tour of Casa Milà, we went directly to the roof – “the exceptional roof-terrace, also called ‘the garden of warriors’, with ventilation towers and chimneys turned into sculptures.” (from the barcelona.com website) Indeed, these ventilation towers and chimneys terminate in every way imaginable.

The remarkable roof plan punctuated by two open-air courtyards

The undulating roof is like a scene from the ocean, and the broken tiles covering the chimneys and ventilation towers are very effective at capturing one’s attention and imagination.

“The exceptional roof-terrace, also called ‘the garden of warriors’, with ventilation towers and chimneys turned into sculptures”
The incredible Casa Milà roof landscape
Looking down into one of the open-air courtyards from the roof
Looking down on one of the balconies and the street below from the roof terrace

The top floor had the private residence of the Milàs, with apartments below that. The apartment was sumptuous in its appointments and finishes – as modern as it could be for its time.

The plan of the first floor apartments

Between the apartment and the roof-terrace was the attic, a fascinating space in which the roof is held up with brick block catenary arches, which look like a whale’s ribs. Antoni Gaudí experimented with the shapes using suspended chains.

The catenary arches of the attic, with the suspended chain experiments exploring catenary arch design for this building

Here, “a model of suspended chains is on view. A mirror below the model shows the reflected image of the structures. The reflected image clearly shows a collection of arched buildings formed by the catenoids, In the Sagrada Família a similar model is on display, but the chains are now weighted with small bags.” (from the https://mathstat.slu.edu/ website)

Shadows of the catenary arch experiments

There were also excellent architectural models of Park Güell, the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló.

After touring the apartment and the attic, we went to the beautiful, multihued tile courtyard on the ground floor. From the interior courtyard there was a carriageway down to an underground parking garage. There was a restaurant looking out to the street on the ground floor, with an amazing “cloud” plaster ceiling as envisioned by the architect.

The incredible multi-hued tile ceiling of the ground floor open-air courtyard
A group of school children gathered in the ground floor of the open-air courtyard
Looking up through the open-air courtyard from the ground floor
The plaster “cloud” ceiling of the ground floor restaurant, Cafè de la Pedrera, where we had some nice afternoon refreshments in a highly imaginative space
The fanciful street entrance to the Cafè de la Pedrera
The undulating façade of La Pedrera and its balconies

After Casa Milà and dinner, we wandered around Park Güell again in the evening.

A parting thought for the day………