Picasso’s Barcelona: in the footsteps of the artist as a young man | Barcelona holidays

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in Málaga and spent most of his life in France, but it was arguably in Barcelona that his evolution as the most celebrated artist of the 20th century began.

The family moved to Barcelona in 1895 when Picasso was 13 and he lived and studied there for nine years before heading to Paris in 1904.

Picasso’s first home in the city was in the Porxos d’en Xifré, a large block near the port which also houses the restaurant 7 Portes. The building is across the street from La Llotja, the old stock exchange building which was home to the School of Fine Arts, which the artist attended from the age of 13.

Much of what is modern Barcelona was still under construction at the time and Picasso spent most of his life in Ciutat Vella, the old town.

Pablo Picasso and Olga Khokhlova. Photograph: Album/Alamy

There are several early works depicting locations within a stone’s throw of La Llotja, among them the Moll dels Pescadors, the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, Barceloneta beach and the home in Carrer de la Mercè, where the family moved in 1896.

Picasso’s first studio is now a restaurant and hotel in Carrer de la Plata, and the Sala Parés in the narrow Carrer de Petritxol, where Picasso exhibited in 1901, is still in business. Then, as now, the street was famous for chocolate and pastries: Picasso and other artists would regularly pop out for supplies. Petritxol Xocoa is a good place to try them. Close by is Carrer d’Avinyó, where there was a brothel (at No 44), which may be the inspiration for Picasso’s early cubist work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The artist’s biographer, Josep Palau i Fabre, is among those who assert the title refers to the Barcelona street and not the French city. Picasso dismissed the theory, then fuelled the ambiguity by saying: “You must not always believe what I say.”

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – which may have been inspired by a brothel that used to be on Carrer d’Avinyó. Photograph: Tracey Whitefoot/Alamy

Such sites can be explored thanks to a new book, Picasso-Barcelona: A Cartography (Editorial Tenov SL), from which aficionados can retrace the artist’s steps around the city and visit his favourite watering holes.

Written by Claustre Rafart i Planas, a former curator at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, the beautifully illustrated book offers a vision of Barcelona as it was then.

Its eight chapters each has a map showing the locations mentioned in the text, with a key indicating whether they still exist or are open to visitors.

Perhaps Picasso’s most famous hangout was Els Quatre Gats, the elegant bar designed by the Catalan modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch and commissioned by the artists Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol. It was inspired by the Parisian bar Le Chat Noir and sought to bring the Bohemian spirit of the French capital to Barcelona. The Catalan expression quatre gats (four cats) means “hardly anyone”.

Picasso hangout Els Quatre Gats

There are many sites on La Rambla associated with Picasso, among them the Canaletes fountain which he sketched from memory in 1968, and the Liceu theatre and opera house, where the Russian ballet performed in 1917. The dancers stayed at the Hotel Ranzini on La Rambla, which Picasso visited often because he was infatuated with Olga Khokhlova, the dancer whom he later married, despite Picasso’s mother warning her off, saying: “I don’t believe any woman would be happy with my son.”

Outside the old town, Picasso also frequented the theatres on the Avinguda Paral·lel and the bullrings of Las Arenas and La Monumental. Bullfighting is banned in Catalonia, and Las Arenas is now a shopping centre, while La Monumental, where the Rolling Stones performed in 1976, has fallen into disuse.

In 1970 Picasso donated hundreds of his works, including 236 oil paintings, to the city: they form the basis of the Museu Picasso’s collection.

Picasso-Barcelona: A Cartography is published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death. The exhibition Miró-Picasso runs at the Fundació Miró and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona until 25 February

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