On Wednesday morning I caught an early flight out of Orly to El Prat Airport, just to the south of Barcelona, on the northeast coast of Spain. Barcelona is another one of those cultural centers of the European nations that would have to be lived in for a year to only begin to take it all in. I remember my last time here was years ago while still working. While on business near Barcelona, I had the opportunity to spend some time with an associate who had an apartment right on Barceloneta Beach on the Balearic Sea, the “in” spot for beach goers and sun bathers with amazing views. My clients would take me to lunch while over two hours we would consume copious amounts of wine and food, they would then go home and nap for two hours and return to work until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. A regular routine for them. But I digress. On to today’s destination, less than one kilometer from my hotel, so I walk.
One of the most unique art centers in Europe is right here in Barcelona. It is the Museu Picasso, the "Picasso Museum". It houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by the 20th-century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
With 4,251 works exhibited by the painter, the museum has one of the most complete permanent collections of his works. The museum is housed in five adjoining medieval palaces in Barcelona's La Ribera neighborhood, in the Old City, and more specifically, it is located on Montcada Street, a formerly very prestigious street home to wealthy merchants and nobility from the Gothic to the Baroque periods. It opened to the public on 9 March 1963, becoming the first museum dedicated to Picasso's work and the only one created during the artist's lifetime. It has since been declared a museum of national interest by the Government of Catalonia.
Highlights of the collection at the museum include one of his first major works, The First Communion (shown on the left) completed in1896. Hardly what you expected, is it? Looks more like a work of the old masters, like a Vermeer rather than the famous Picasso and his recognized cubist style.
But compare that to The Red Armchair (shown on the right) completed in 1931, and you would hardly expect these two works were painted by the same artist.
I have never been much of a Picasso fan but there is no denying the impact he has had on the world of art.
Pablo Picasso painted numerous portraits of the many women in his life. Often the circumstances surrounding his relationships, or the distinct personalities of his sitters seem to have precipitated stylistic changes in his work. Marie-Thérèse Walter came into the artist’s life around 1925. Though twenty-eight years older and married, the smitten artist began to furtively reference her blond hair, broad features, and voluptuous body in his work. Perhaps acknowledging the double lives they were leading, he devised a new motif: a face that encompasses both frontal and profile views.
Picasso experimented beyond form and style, exploring different materials—including found objects such as newspaper, wallpaper, and even studio scraps—in his work. The Red Armchair demonstrates the artist’s innovative use of Ripolin, an industrial house paint would you believe that he first employed as early as 1912 for its brilliant colors as well as for its ability to provide an almost brushless finish if used straight from the can. In preparation for an exhibition of his work at the Galeries Georges Petit in 1931, Picasso began a series of large paintings of Walter, of which The Red Armchair was the first. Here he mixed Ripolin with oil to produce a wide range of surface effects—from the crisp brush marks in the yellow background to the thick but leveled look of the white face and the smooth black outlines of the figure.
Want to know something even more amazing about The Red Armchair? You can see it in person! It is part of the permanent collection at the Chicago Art Institute, on Chicago’s magnificent mile. As some of you know, one of the fun things I like to do is introduce young (and old) art enthusiasts to the Chicago Art Institute, where one can indulge themselves for hours into the works of the great masters and Picasso himself as well as lesser known artists. An hour and a half train ride to downtown Chicago from Milwaukee’s Intermodal station and a 15 minute walk from Union Station to the Institute, I am your official escort on a day trip to experience the wonders of the Art Institute of Chicago. Give me a call or email if you have an interest!