1919 – 2019

Malén Gual

One Hundred years later

The Museu Picasso collection has developed over time primarily through donations and bequests: partly with offerings from numerous friends and collectors, but especially thanks to contributions from the artist himself. This year we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s first gift to the city of Barcelona: Harlequin, a portrait of the dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine, painted in Barcelona in 1917 and shown in the Exposició d’Art that was held in the city in 1919, the year of the donation. This masterwork is a particularly iconic piece within our collection, having often been loaned to major international museums.

Throughout his life, Picasso felt a special connection with his adopted city, and carefully chose the pieces he donated to the Museu: the works most closely linked to the city, to the artist’s formative years, and to the Spanish pictorial tradition. In 1968, the death of his close friend and secretary Jaume Sabartés, who initially set the idea for the museum in motion, spurred Picasso’s further involvement. That same year, the artist donated a unique series to the Museu Picasso, the forty-five interpretations of Las Meninas he had painted in 1957, in addition to the series of nine oil paintings titled The Pigeons, three small landscapes, and the Jacqueline portrait. In 1970, following Picasso’s request, his Vilató Ruiz nephews, together with the notary Raimon Noguera, notified the Mayor of Barcelona of the donation to the Museu of works by Picasso that had been kept in the family’s homes in Barcelona over three generations. This gift endowed the Museu Picasso with a unique and special character, turning it into a key landmark for viewing and researching the artist’s early output. Proof of this are the loans from our collection to major exhibitions such as Picasso. Blue and Rose, held in Paris and Switzerland in 2018, or the presence of Harlequin in Picasso. Between Cubism and Classicism: 1915-1925 at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome and, again, in an exhibition about Spanish realism scheduled for this summer at the Cau Ferrat Museum in Sitges.

Thanks to its origins and through its collection, the Museu Picasso is living proof of the bond between Pablo Picasso, the “poble de Barcelona” (the people of Barcelona), and Catalonia. Given the particular nature of the works in its holdings, the collection is also the element that provides the formal and historical features which define the Museu’s commitment to the society in which it is embedded.

One hundred years later, our museum is commemorating the acquisition of this painting –probably the first Picasso to ever enter a public collection– with this publication, edited by Malén Gual, to whom I am especially grateful for her involvement. Needless to say, I also wish to thank Anna Guarro for organizing the activities focused around the Commedia dell’arte and the Harlequin; Anna Bru de Sala, for coordinating this publication; and, of course, the entire staff at the Museu for its invaluable collaboration.

Emmanuel Guigon
Director, Museu Picasso

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Massine, a Russian-born dancer and choreographer who was later naturalized as a United States citizen, studied at the Imperial Theatre School in Moscow before joining Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1913. The following year, he began his training in choreography, which he continued to practice throughout his entire career. He remained in the Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes until 1920, and then left to join Ida Rubinstein’s company, Count Étienne de Beaumont’s Soirées de Paris and the Ballet Russe de Montecarlo. During World War II he moved to the United States, where he continued to perform as a dancer until after the age of sixty, when he decided to retire and focus solely on choreography.

His most prominent productions were Las Meninas, in 1916, with music by Gabriel Fauré and sets by Josep Maria Sert; Parade, in 1917, with music by Erik Satie, a libretto by Jean Cocteau, and sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso; Le Tricorne, in 1919, with music by Manuel de Falla and costumes by Picasso; in 1920, Pulcinella by Igor Stravinsky, with costumes by Picasso; Le Pas d’acier, with music by Sergei Prokofiev, in 1927; in 1925, Les Matelots, by Georges Auric; Mercure, in 1924, with music by Satie and costumes by Picasso; and Le Sacre du Printemps, by Stravinsky, in 1930. From 1936 onward, he choreographed new pieces with scores by Offenbach, Rimsky-Korsakov, Beethoven, Wagner, Gershwin, Schubert, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, among others.

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Picasso and Massine met in February 1917, when they settled in Rome with the Ballets Russes to prepare the season and especially Parade, for which Eric Satie had composed the score. The libretto was written by Jean Cocteau, the choreography was commissioned from Léonide Massine, and Picasso designed the costumes, the sets and the stage curtain. During his stay in Italy, the painter became friends with Massine and Stravinsky, and began a relationship with the ballerina Olga Khokhlova. They travelled together to Naples, Pompeii, and Herculaneum from March 9 to 13, 1917, and then returned to Naples from April 16 to 22 of the same year.

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After the season in Paris, with the premiere of Parade at the Théâtre du Châtelet in May and the ensuing scandal, Diaghilev’s company, accompanied by Picasso, travelled to Spain –first to Madrid and then to Barcelona– where the piece premiered at the Liceu on June 23. Picasso attended the open-ing night, as Màrius Aguilar described in the June 28 issue of L’Esquella de la Torratxa: “The Liceu gradually took on the equivocal and eccentric air of an ocean liner ballroom, of a southern express railway car, of the lobby of a grand international hotel. Picasso watched with a smile on his face, and Nijinsky cut a haunting figure.” It was precisely then that Diaghilev and Nijinsky quarrelled, the dancer left the company, and Massine became its principal male dancer.

Picasso produced five portraits of Massine dressed as Harlequin during that month of June, 1917. In the oil painting, the character of Harlequin, extensively depicted in Picasso’s oeuvre, is onstage, next to a balustrade that is partially covered by a red curtain which contrasts with the ochre hues in the flesh tones and the pastel colours in the figure’s diamond-patterned costume. The atmosphere, the figure, and its clothing suggest the wall paintings of the Italian Cinquecento and the characters from the Commedia dell’arte. In addition to this oil painting, the artist also produced four drawings of Massine. There is a rough sketch of the dancer’s head, also from the Museu Picasso collection; a fulllength pencil sketch owned by the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; another sketch on the page of a notebook held at the Musée Picasso in Paris; and a fourth image drawn on June 16, 1917 on the endpapers of the guest book for the Galeries Laietanes exhibition organized as a tribute to Picasso, Francisco Iturrino and Gustavo de Maeztu. It was precisely at the lunch offered by the Galeries Laietanes as part of this event that the seed was planted for the future donation of Harlequin. According to an article published in La Publicidad on June 17, Miquel Utrillo suggested contributing a hundred pesetas to start raising funds to buy a work by Picasso for the future Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona; Luis Plandiura offered four hundred pesetas and Maeztu, an additional fifty. At the time, there was also talk of devoting an entire room to Picasso at the upcoming “Exposición de Arte Internacional”.

The oil Harlequin, along with most of the other paint-ings Picasso produced in Barcelona between June and November, 1917 —excepting Olga Khokhlova in a Mantilla and his sketchbooks— were left at his family’s home: France was in the midst of the war, and works of art, considered luxury items, were not allowed across the border.

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The Donation

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The fundraising effort proposed by Utrillo never materialized, but from that moment on there was an awareness of the need to purchase a Picasso and to strengthen the artist’s ties to Catalan art circles.

In February 1918, only a few months after Picasso left Barcelona, Ricard Canals, a friend from the artist’s bohemian years in Paris, wrote him a letter voicing his chagrin about the absence of works by Picasso in the museum and inviting him to show in the 1919 Exposició d’Art, as part of the Les Arts i els Artistes association, of which Canals was the president.

Along the same lines, in August 1918, Vell i Nou magazine published a special issue on Picasso, with a reproduction of Harlequin on the cover. It included an article by Joan Sacs (a pseudonym for Feliu Elias) on Picasso’s art since his departure to Paris at the beginning of the century up to the most recent works he had produced in Barcelona, in which “alongside his deliberately transcendent cubism, he aims to cultivate the most disinterested realism.”

Somehow Picasso came across a copy of the magazine and believed the author of the article was Manuel Utrillo –an assumption that Angel Fernández de Soto contradicted in a letter dated November 17, in which he insisted that Picasso ought to show in the exhibition that was being organized, and telling him it struck him as a splendid idea for him to donate Harlequin. Be that as it may, between November 1918 and January 1919, Picasso confirmed his gift of the paint-ing, as is apparent in the article “La liberalidad de Picasso” published in La Publicidad on January 17: “Pablo Picasso has decided to relinquish one of his most significant and most recent works to benefit our struggling Modern Art Museum. Picasso is giving us one of latest paintings from Barcelona, his half-length Harlequin, which we reproduce in these pages.”.

In a letter dated March 11, Canals requested the artist’s authorization to show the pieces he had painted in Barcelona two years earlier, at the time in the hands of the Picasso family, so he could exhibit them alongside “the one that you have had the courtesy to selflessly cede to the museum.” Last of all, at the Exposició d’Art held from May 28 to June 30, 1919 at the Les Arts i els Artistes association, he included eight works by Picasso, including Madame Canals [Benedetta Bianco] (1905), Blanquita Suárez, Columbus Avenue and Harlequin (1917). A list of the works on display appeared on pages 68 and 69, and number 517 was listed as Arlequí (Ofert als Museus Artístics Municipals), a reproduction of which was printed on Plate 14.

After the exhibition closed, Canals forwarded a letter to Picasso from the Board of Museums thanking him for the donation and assuring him that they would do everything within their power to purchase another painting, although that never came to fruition. Bureaucratic problems slowed down the donation process, and it was not until 1921 that Harlequin was officially included in the Museo de Bellas Artes collection, according to the minutes of the Board of Museums.

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Harlequin 1919 - 2019

This digital journal has been made based on the printed publication l’Arlequí 1919 – 2019 published to commemorate that a hundred years ago, Pablo Picasso donated his first work to Barcelona: Harlequin, Painted during his stay in the city on 1917.
edited and produced by: Fundació Museu Picasso de Barcelona author: Malén Gual Introduction: Emmanuel Guigon Publication coordinated by: Anna Bru de Sala and Montse Salvadó Digital Journal coordinated by: Anna Guarro and Mireia Llorella Design and Digital Journal layout: Todojunto works: © Successió Pablo Picasso. VEGAP Madrid 2019
Museu Picasso de Barcelona: Fotografia, Gasull Fotografia © Successió Pablo Picasso. VEGAP Madrid 2019, Musée national Picasso – Paris: Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / image RMN-GP, Paris, musée d’Orsay: Photo © RMN-Grand Palais(musée d’Orsay) / image RMN-GP
Picasso y Léonide Massine sentados en jardín de la casa de Marco Lucrezio
ruines de Pompéi, març de 1917. circa 1937 – 1940. MP1998-146. Maar Dora (dite), Markovitch Henriette Dora (1907-1997).© ADAGP, Paris. Massine Léonide (1896-1979). Cocteau Jean (1889-1963) (d’après), © ADAGP, Paris. Musée national Picasso - Paris. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Muséenational Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau
Pablo Picasso con el coreografo Léonide Massine en las ruinas de Pompeya
marzo 1917. MP1998-139. Cocteau Jean (1889-1963). © ADAGP, Paris. Musée national Picasso - Paris. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Franck Raux
Carnet 20 varano - Otoño de 1917
MP1866. Picasso Pablo (dit), Ruiz Picasso Pablo (1881-1973). © Succession Picasso Musée national Picasso - Paris. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais. (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau
this journal