This digital publication has been produced on the occasion of the exhibition
"Landscapes of Barcelona", shown at the Museu Picasso
from May 29th to September 14th 2014
The exhibition "Landscapes of Barcelona" features paintings and drawings of the urban spaces and seafront of Barcelona from the Museu Picasso’s permanent collection. The exhibition casts new light on these landscapes, not only recognising their worth but also showing how this genre appeared intermittently in Picasso’s oeuvre.
The works in the exhibition are accompanied by period photographs – on loan from the Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, the Arxiu Fotogràfic del Centre Excursionista de Catalunya and the Fundació Amatller d’Art Hispànic-Arxiu Mas – which document the Barcelona of the time.
The landscape genre gained sharply in currency from the mid-nineteenth century. Picasso, under the guidance of his father, witnessed its flourishing in Málaga, with the arrival of painters from the Valencia school, trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos – such as Bernardo Ferrandis and Antonio Muñoz Degrain – who had a decisive role in establishing the Málaga school. These and other artists shared a taste for the light, colour, the bustle and joy of the Mediterranean, a taste Picasso would explore fully, years later, in painting, drawing and ceramics.
Landscape painting, despite its impact in the Málaga art world, was nevertheless a prime exemplar of official painting and, as such, enjoyed prestige in old-fashioned artistic circles throughout Spain. To triumph in these circles was precisely the goal Don José wished for his son.
In Málaga, Picasso tried his hand at landscapes, but it was in Coruña that he made his first serious attempts, coinciding with the start of his academic training. But although the landscape was a subject of study at the School of Fine Arts of Guarda, he approached it as a free exercise. In his early years in Barcelona he continued to combine these two aspects.
Turn-of-the-century Barcelona was marked by industrial and commercial growth and an artistic and cultural boom abounding in innovative movements. Picasso, in his first years in the city, breathed that atmosphere and didn’t take long to join the avant-garde circles that had their epicentre at the Quatre Gats tavern.
The works on show in "Landscapes of Barcelona" trace Picasso’s creative evolution from academic training to his relationship with the Catalan artistic avant-garde and the consolidation of the first style of his own. They represent the step from an art fully rooted in the nineteenth century to an avant-garde fully embedded in the twentieth century. At the same time, they are the heartbeats of a modern city finding its way towards Europe and where the past endured and coexisted. A city that, despite living a golden age, was torn between urban growth and industrial prosperity and social and political tensions.
The paintings and drawings form a mosaic of places both familiar and unfamiliar, which we have organised according to themes defined by the works themselves: ‘Seafront’, ‘Modern Barcelona’, ‘Historic Barcelona’, ‘Rooftops’ and ‘From the Window’. This is, however, an open a script, because Picasso’s landscapes interconnect. For example, the Rooftop of Les Cases d’En Xifré (MPB 110.228) is included in ‘Modern Barcelona’, but might just as well belong to ‘Rooftops’; Dome of church of La Mercè (MPB 110.949) is placed in ‘Rooftops’, but could be part of ‘Historic Barcelona’; and in this way we could go along rearranging these landscapes rich in possible readings and associations.
Even though Picasso’s relationship with photography is a subject on its own, we won’t explore it in depth in this project. Photography was a relatively new technology when Picasso painted his early landscapes of Barcelona, and soon established itself as a way to record the urban reality. It is an essential source of knowledge about Barcelona in this period and it captured the city’s nineteenth-century transformation with what was seen as a faithful and objective representation of the reality. In this context, landscape photography is an important means of monitoring the evolution of modern Barcelona and of documenting and cataloguing historical heritage, art and architecture.
On arriving in Barcelona in 1895, the Ruiz Picasso family settled near the port. Although originally from Málaga, they had spent several years in Coruña: the sea had always been part of their lives.
The Barcelona seafront in the late nineteenth century had already acquired some of the modern contours that we know today. The medieval sea wall had been torn down, thus opening the city to the sea and integrating the fisherman’s neighbourhood of Barceloneta. We can see this in photographs, paintings, drawings and engravings from the time.
The young Picasso explored the seafront and engaged with his new surroundings in a series of small-format compositions produced primarily between 1895 and 1899 and which, in addition to their artistic merit, are graphic documents of a time past.
In paintings and drawings Picasso covered the whole of Barcelona’s coastline, from Montjuïc to the port, the Barceloneta seafront, the breakwater, Barceloneta beach, the factories of Poblenou and the coastal mountain range Serralada de Marina.
Following the Picassian itinerary towards the northeast, we note the drawing from 1899, Dock with Montjuïc in the background (MPB 110.578). It shows the port with boats moored to a dock with Montjuïc behind. Josep Palau i Fabre (Picasso vivent. 1881-1907, 1980) explains that Picasso and his friends frequented a tavern called La Musclera located on the side of Montjuïc beneath Miramar, where they ate mussels from the mussel farms below the lighthouse, which appear in photographs from the period. In 1896, and until early 1897, the landscape – in particular the marine landscape – was a common theme in and central to the evolution of Picasso’s art. Subsequently, the sea disappeared from his work, until January 1899, when he returned to Barcelona after stays in Madrid and Horta de Sant Joan.
The marine landscapes preceded and coexisted with panoramic views of familiar parts of the seafront. Their compositional structure is marked by a sea–sky duality, and both paintings and watercolours show us emotional perceptions of space which underscore the ethereal mistiness of the places, in some cases not unlike Whistler, an artist who catalysed the Impressionist and Symbolist schools that enjoyed certain popularity among the Catalan painters of the time.
Familiar seafront settings are, however, also present in the work of Picasso. Places identifiable to a lesser or greater degree, such as Port of Barcelona (MPB 110.201, 1896), which presents a panorama of the Port Vell at sunset over a calm sea with sailboats floating off the quay and the first line of flats ranged in the background. Picasso offers a poetic vision of the place, exploiting the effects of the last light of the day and employing an effective palette that downplays the drama of the scene of the mare tenebrarum.
In January 1897, Picasso focused his gaze on La Barceloneta (MPB 110.220), seen from the Moll de la fusta, the quay once known for its tinglados (warehouses), and reproduced the seafront of the fisherman’s neighbourhood. It is an exercise in perspective in which the intense treatment of light and dominant yellow palette relate to other landscapes from the period.
In Breakwater and sailing boat (MPB 110.170), Picasso turns the jetty into the dividing line between the sea and the sky. The painting, from December 1896, stands out among the series of small works with significant gradations of colour culminating in a truly Impressionist sunset (MPB 110.196), in which he condenses an entire universe of feelings into a small space.
Picasso also offers, in a series of three works, a perspective of the north seafront of Barcelona from Barceloneta beach, with the factories of Poblenou in the background, to the Serralada de Marina. Of the three, all from 1896, we note Barceloneta beach (MPB 110.073). The breaking of the waves on the sand provides the slanting dividing line of the canvas: sea and land. The former is treated more emotionally, in line with the aforementioned marine landscapes. The latter, the part of the beach with buildings and the horse, is more realistic. The series is also a graphic document of industrial revolution Barcelona.
The cultural boom of turn-of-the-century Catalonia gave rise to systematic study of historic Barcelona and Catalonia in general. The drive to rediscover the historical and artistic heritage and the historical interpretation of the origins of Catalonia was linked to the growing Catalan nationalist movement that initiated the quest for a common past that would fuel the renaissance of the country’s cultural and political identity. It was this atmosphere that Picasso, at the very least, found himself immersed in.
Old Barcelona coexisted with modern Barcelona and Picasso produced landscapes featuring outstanding examples of the religious architectural heritage of the city’s historic centre. His gaze settled on the cloisters of two ecclesiastical buildings of very different styles: the one at the Romanesque monastery of Sant Pau del Camp and the one at the Gothic cathedral.
Sant Pau del Camp, located in the Raval neighbourhood, is one of the few Romanesque buildings in Barcelona. The most outstanding feature of this twelfth-century architectural complex is the cloister, with its unique poly-lobed arches (three to five lobes). In 1896, as Picasso was drawing and painting it, the building was just undergoing restoration. Picasso chose two details of a single theme: the arches. The first, Detail of the cloister of Sant Pau del Camp (MPB 111.117), is a Conté crayon sketch from a sketchbook produced in Barcelona (1896-1897, MPB 110.911c) and represents a frontal detail of two five-lobed arches, one of which is unfinished. The second work, Corner of the cloister of Sant Pau del Camp (MPB 110.195), oil on wood, shows two of the three-lobed arches. This time, Picasso included with the arches the beautiful columns that support them, crowned by capitals carved with geometric and floral motifs. The artist dated it Barcelona, December 1896; on the verso he specified the title ‘Claustros de San Pablo/48’.
Also in 1896, Picasso painted the cloister of the the Cathedral of Barcelona (built between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries) in a series of small-format oils on wood. In Man Leaning against a Gothic doorway of the Cathedral of Barcelona (MPB 110.203), he painted the door between the cloister and the chapel of St Lucia, an example of flamboyant Gothic with archivolts and columns with capitals decorated mainly with floral and geometric motifs. In Detail of the cloister of the Cathedral of Barcelona (MPB 110.219), Picasso shows an open Gothic window in a buttress beneath which a fountain spills water into the goose pond.
The two paintings are analogous in terms of form and colour, with shades of brown in the stone darkened by the passage of time. In the case of the Gothic window, the artist highlights parts of the composition with dirty white to give it luminosity. In 1898, Picasso did another rendering of the same place (Z1, 5), and between 1899 and 1900 he included it in sketches mixed with other themes. In ‘De los claustros de la catedral’ and other sketches (MPB 110.670), for example, it appears among other sketches and caricatures. It is possible that the drawing was part of a more ambitious project, because it is framed and Picasso specified the title.
In the latter third of the nineteenth century, Barcelona was undergoing major change. The liberal revolution of 1868, La Gloriosa, led to the incorporation into the city of a virgin urban space, soon to become Parc de la Cuitadella, part of which would be used as the grounds for the 1888 Universal Exposition. Moreover, the huge urban development project of the Eixample was underway, the seafront was being urbanised and the infrastructures of the old town upgraded.
The Ruiz Picasso family rented a flat in carrer Reina Cristina, no. 3, on the corner of carrer Llauder (through no. 4 of which one entered the family residence). The area enjoyed easy access to the new Parc de la Cuitadella, and the family home was next to the first modern block of flats in Barcelona – Les Cases d’En Xifré – with its domed household water tanks on the rooftop, visible from the roof of the Picassos’ building.
Two of the first paintings Picasso did in Barcelona are details of these water tanks. The first, dated by the artist 4 October 1895, is Rooftop of Les Cases d’En Xifré (MPB 110.172). The verso is a full moon (MPB 110.172R), a theme repeated in other oil paintings from the period. The second, of the same title (an oil on canvas, later glued to wood, MPB 110.228), is believed to be from the same time. The first is a frontal view and the palette is dominated by shades of green and earthy colours, which he continued to use in subsequent small paintings. The second is looking upwards and the colours and atmosphere are similar to those of the marine landscapes he did during the trip from Málaga to Barcelona in late summer 1895 and in 1896.
Picasso went often to the Ciutadella Park – formerly Ribera Park. Palau i Fabre (Picasso vivent. 1881-1907, 1980), wrote that, according to the artist himself, Picasso went there with his mother, Dona María, and his sister Lola. The park derives its name from the citadel built by Felipe V after the War of the Spanish Succession. A symbol of repression, the citadel was despised by the people of Barcelona, whose persistent opposition finally led to its demolition. The disappearance of the building left a large area of open land that the city turned into the park. A public competition was held and won, with much controversy, by the master builder Josep Fontseré i Mestre, who was the effective director of works and designer of most of the buildings and monuments in the park, among which The Pool pond of Parc de la Cuitadella Park (Z6,28) and Waterfall of Parc de la Ciutadella Park (Z6,27), were drawn by Picasso.
Inside the park, within the former grounds of the Exposition, vestiges remained of elements created for the event, including the diorama of Montserrat by the set designers Urgellès and Moragas. This mock-up of the mountain undoubtedly captured Picasso’s interest, given that he did three small oils of it (MPB 110.184, MPB 110.179 and MPB 110.198), undated, but probably from the first months he lived in the city.
In the same period, Picasso painted with summary brushstrokes a series of highly luminous landscapes: Grove (MPB 110.181), Landscape with Trees (MPB 110.167) and Stall in the park (MPB 110.157). Related to these are two works with the same title, Ciutadella Park (MPB 110.070 and MPB 110.226), from April 1896 and December 1896, showing landscapes very similar to those of the park shown in two contemporary photographs, one by Adolf Mas (Fundació Amatller d’Art Hispànic. Arxiu Mas) and the other by Josep Esplugas Puig (Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona). These landscapes are among those which prelude the work he would produce in Madrid in the academic year 1897–1898.
From the late eighteenth century, with industrialisation and population growth, new building in Barcelona gradually switched from sloped tiled roofs to flat roofs, an architectural solution that was both lighter and cheaper.
The flat roofs provided a new space for the uses and habits of everyday life, and fit in with the customs of the working classes. Picasso and his family had access to these privileged viewing platforms in their successive changes of address and the various studios occupied by the artist, as shown in graphic documents from the period. Picasso did a series of works devoted to these rooftops: Barcelona on high, unique and with its own identity.
The first of these views is of the roofs of the Xifré block of flats, of which we have already spoken in the previous chapter. In 1896, Picasso painted several unidentified rooftops: Full moon from a roof (MPB 110.130) and two small oils entitled Barcelona rooftops (MPB 110.087 and 110.206). These works feature a bipartite roof–sky structure and the scenes share a poetic ambience, underscored by the treatment of light enhanced with colour effects.
That same year, the Ruiz Picasso family moved to carrer de la Mercè, no. 3, and Don José rented a studio for his son at carrer de la Plata, no. 4, located between the family home and the Llotja. This part of the neighbourhood is presided over by the dome of the church of La Mercè, which Picasso drew in January 1897 (MPB 110.949). The composition, similar in structure to the previous ones, shows the neighbouring buildings, executed with vigorous strokes and shading, and a blue-reddish sky rendered in watercolour. The result is a skyline that, in our opinion, is one of the most masterly landscapes of Barcelona portrayed by Picasso.
The apotheosis of the Barcelona rooftops is found in the canvases from 1902 and 1903, among which Barcelona rooftops (MPB 110.020) stands out, with Landscape with lake, (MPB 110.020R) on the verso. The work, dated 1902, was done in Picasso’s studio at carrer Nou de la Rambla, no. 10. Sabartés (Picasso. Retratos y recuerdos, 1953) describes the place: ‘[...] it’s on the roof of one of the first buildings, on the right, coming in from the Rambla: next to the Edén Concert. Angel F. de Soto rented it to live in while his family was away, and the painter Rocarol pays half of the rent to use it as a studio.’
In the foreground, we see a stairway shed on a roof terrace; behind, in a close background, the neighbouring rooftops, in a dramatically moonlit night. Picasso turned the composition into an admirable study in the construction of forms – making the most of a renewed vision of volume – and into a hymn to the night. The blue is more intense than the grey-blue or greenish-blue he used in Paris. The intensity of the light in Barcelona makes the shadows denser and enhances blues: ‘the blues of Barcelona’ (Sabartés).
In January 1903, following a stay in Paris, Picasso returned to the Catalan capital and to a studio that he had previously occupied, at carrer de la Riera de Sant Joan, no. 17, where he portrayed the rooftops of neighbouring buildings: the spires of the cathedral and the church of Santa Àgata and the roof of the church of Santa Marta, as he mentioned in the letter he sent to his friend the poet Max Jacob in the summer of 1903.
Also from this period is Barcelona rooftops (MPB 112.943), to which Picasso applied his most brilliant technical skills: the mastery of the plastic construction of the forms, the exquisite use of colour and the harmony of the whole. Contemporary photographs of the Barcelona rooftops such as the one by Adolf Mas, Pont de la Parra Street, document the skyline of the city at the time. This canvas was owned by the artist until the end of his life. When Jacqueline showed it to Malraux, he said: ‘I think I recognize the theme: the line of the dawn sky as we were returning with the squadron of our aeroplanes’ (La tête d’obsidienne, 1974). He’d seen them during the Spanish Civil War.
Maurice Raynal (Picasso; 1922) wrote: ‘[...] in this blue period  Picasso painted several architecturally organized landscapes that show affinities with Italian painting before the Renaissance. Perhaps we can see here a preview of the architectural concepts of Cubism.’
Between 1899 and 1900 Picasso portrayed the landscapes he could see from his studios.
The window, or its equivalent – balcony, door, etc – served as a point of transmission or communication between two spaces: interior and exterior. Through these elements he created essentially frontal and high-angle perspectives, and composed forms and rhythms.
Barcelona viewed by Picasso from windows comprises the views rooted in classical perspective and, in the last landscape from 1917, of avant-garde postulates.
In 1900, from the window of the studio at Riera de Sant Joan, no. 17, Picasso painted a frontal view of the Rooftops and church of Santa Marta (MPB 110.102). It’s a luminous exterior landscape, rendered with a vibrant palette, dominated by the yellow of the walls and the orange of roofs and influenced by the Colla del Safrà (the group of Barcelona artists founded by Isidre Nonell), in which one senses the interior space.
In the drawing and oil The street of Riera de Sant Joan from the artist’s studio window (MPB 110.213 and MPB 110.898), Picasso offers a high-angle perspective, reminiscent of film. Through the window, of which we see only the lower right corner of the frame, Picasso portrays the bustling street, the profiles of the balconies of the building opposite and passersby. He describes the scene with spots of colour, leaving out detail.
Riera de San Juan was a long, narrow street, running perpendicular to the sea from the cathedral to Santa Caterina market, as far as the intersection of carrer Sant Crist de la Tapineria and carrer Gracià Amat. It was a very lively street with establishments of note. The street disappeared when Via Laietana was built, under the so-called Reform Plan initiated in the first decade of the twentieth century.
In 1917, Picasso returned to Barcelona twice, early in the year and during a longer stay from June to November, with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He was in love with the ballerina Olga Khokhlova, whom he married the following year.
Picasso produced a number of paintings, including his last Barcelona landscape: Columbus Avenue (MPB 110.028). It’s a view from the balcony of the Hotel Ranzini, where Olga was staying. It’s preceded by drawings from an album conserved at the Musée Picasso in Paris. This landscape, which the artist donated to Barcelona in 1970, constitutes an avant-garde vision of the city that had opened the doors of modernity for him.
The Barcelona landscapes form one of the threads of Picasso’s creative process during the artist’s formative period. These are places chosen by Picasso – his personal guide to the Barcelona of his youth.