“I am always doing things I can’t do, in order to learn how to do them”. – Picasso
The painter Pablo Picasso (Pablo Ruiz y Picasso 1881-1973) began as a realist painter under his father’s tuition. In 1895 his family moved to Barcelona, where the 13 year old painter was recognised as a prodigy, and from where he left to join Madrid’s Royal Academy. In 1900 he left Spain and moved to Paris. By 1905 he was being patronised by the Steins and other art collectors, had met Matisse and Braque, and was launched on his career as the most experimental and successful of modern artists. Yet he always referred to Barcelona as his real home. Barcelona was the centre of the innovative Modernista movement precisely during those years Picasso was a resident of the city.
By looking at his portraits one can see the birth of modern art, as it was to be. The First Communion was painted in 1896 and is in the realist tradition. In 1897 Picasso started to abandon realism, and experiment with both colour and form. This was before he was exposed to any examples of modern art, and invites the question, “What happened in Barcelona in 1897 to change his style of painting?” The answer may be found in a cafe called The Four Cats (Els Quatre Gats), where Picasso first saw paintings, and was first exposed to literature, that had parted with the classical tradition. Or in the fact that when he was living in Barcelona, Picasso had a studio facing the Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s modernist architectural masterpieces; it is more than likely that he saw the cubist stained-glass windows and abstract ceramic tiles on its façade. As he is supposed to have later said: “I don’t search. I find”. In France he developed many styles and participated in many movements, especially Cubism. His work seemed to develop suddenly and exuberantly during his period in Barcelona, and continued to do so to his 90s.
The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi i Cornet (1852-1926) was resident in Barcelona from 1868. From the time of his graduation from the Barcelona School of Architecture in 1878 Gaudi was seen as a prodigy and attracted many commissions from wealthy and influential patrons. At first creating in the then conventional neo-gothic style, Gaudi’s art experienced a sudden transformation. At the end of the 19th century his architecture took a sudden turn to forms based on natural structures and after 1902 developed in an extraordinary direction, as he invented technologies enabling him to parallel the shapes of foundations in nature. From 1902 his style became unique, with some resemblance to Art Noveau. The change is first seen in the Casa Calvert of 1898 and culminated in the Sagrada Familia of 1915. He utilised found objects such as broken tiles in the surface of his buildings as Picasso incorporated paper and other objects into his paintings. Gaudi became a figure of veneration for his work on churches and when he died after being hit by a tram a movement was started to canonise him. Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvdor Dali began the appreciation which has resulted in Gaudi being recognised as one of the major figures in modern art.
In Barcelona in the years 1897-1898 both Picasso and Gaudi experienced an extraordinary change in the nature of their work. They were both transformed, and began to work in entirely new directions, directions on which their fame is based. What happened to these men? Did they meet and influence each other? Was Picasso inspired by the extraordinary work of the architect Gaudi to invent modern art?