Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Portrait of the writer Ramon Reventós
Signed P. Ruiz Picasso in the lower section
Barcelona, 1899-1900
Watercolour, charcoal and Conté pencil on paper
66.5 x 30.1 cm
Donated by the artist, 1970
MPB 110.872

There is an academic drawing on the back
in Conté pencil on paper (MPB 110.872R),
a copy of a plaster moulding
showing a forearm and a hand holding a disk.
Unsigned and undated. Barcelona, circa 1899.

Picasso the Portrait Artist

This fluid and steady stroke portrait is part of the Modernist portrait series Picasso produced of his friends and acquaintances. They were all regulars at Quatre Gats– a Barcelona meeting place for avant-garde artists.

This portrait gallery made up Picasso’s first individual exhibition at Els Quatre Gats in February 1900. In this way, he was trying to win himself a place in the artistic genre then dominated by Ramon Casas – the official portrait painter of Catalan bourgeoisie. In fact, the idea for a monographic show came from Picasso’s circle after the great success of Ramon Casas’s exhibition at the Parés Gallery in October 1899 where, amongst other works, he showed 132 charcoal portraits.

The collection of portraits each expressly resemble the style, technique and format of Casas’s portraits, but Picasso’s are more spontaneous, more clearly sketched and, often, more than seeking a detailed resemblance, stress the permanent traits of the subject, being interested in the character’s psychology.

In his book Retrats i records, Sabartés sets out the spirit of the time: ‘what we want is people to see there is somebody else drawing and that Casas does not paint everyone there is and at his exhibitions not everyone, that should be there, is there [...] Picasso's drawings are more spontaneous, his strokes are franker, more decided, madder, if one likes, but surer, more precise, denoting more humour and perceptiveness, a deeper observation and quicker understanding.'

Reviews of the Portrait Exhibition

The show gave Picasso the opportunity to make a name for himself but failed to have a strong impact on the press. Below, three excerpts from press reviews in 1900 are reproduced here for their historic interest.

‘Ruiz Picasso, a young man, almost a boy, has put together a drawing and colour note show at “Els IV Gats”.
He demonstrates an extraordinary ability in working with pencil and brush in all the works on display, dominating, in this way, elegance in the lines - always convenient - but becoming prejudicial when it is placed above any other quality. It is not the result of long conscientious practice.’ La Vanguardia, 3rd February1900

‘There are some drawings and colour notes by D. R. Picasso on display in the lounge at "Los Quatre Gats", a young man entering the world of art with a most extreme modernist obsession. There is no doubt as to Mr. Picasso’s talent and feeling for art (…) but the exhibition, as with many other previous artists enamoured into madness by this School, shows the painter's lamentable breach of artistic sense and misunderstanding of the concept of art.

The crayon portrait collection has highlights thanks to the skilled sketching, but one only need look at the whole to see that this is a gallery of melancholic, taciturn, bored characters giving spectators a less-than-favourable sense of sadness and compassion for those portrayed.’

Diario de Barcelona, 7th February1900

‘The large lounge at the IV Gats is displaying a collection of drawings and proper paintings by the young artist Roig Picasso, offering different viewpoints to judge the artist’s talent. The latter belongs fully to the entirely new Impressionist school and brings together conditions not all sectarians thereof usually offer: a gift for correct drawing and a certain instinct for colour. In this way, although faced with a possible true artist, there is, on the other hand, a monotony of themes and tonalities, all gloomy and dark. He seems to see nature from behind a black gauze.
Even so, some paintings such as The Invalid and The Priest [Last Moments, now disappeared] and the odd notes, as well as some charcoal portraits, give us the right to expect more drive and quality.'

La Renaixença,10th February 1900


Room 4


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