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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

El Quatre Gats

All artist like to "hang out." The actual hangout might be as wholesome as a local McDonald's or as colorful as a seedy, cockroach-infested dive you wouldn't like your mother to even know about. The Impressionists had their Cafe Guerbois. In the 1940s and 50s, the New York Abstract Expressionists hung out at the Cedar Tavern on Eighth Street and University Place in New York.  And, if you were an artist living in turn-of-the-century Barcelona, you went to Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats). It was a bar. It made no pretense about being any kind of an eatery. It had a huge mural on the wall by Ramon Casas, a successful local artist, which depicted himself and the bar's owner, Pere Romeu, riding a tandem bicycle.  And 110 years ago, if you wanted to find Pablo Picasso, it would have been a good place to look.

He was seventeen, maybe eighteen, in an era when no one worried about how old you were when you entered such an establishment.  He was a talented, prolific artist with a knack for capturing the essence of an individual in charcoal, crayon, gouache, watercolor, pen and ink, just about anything that would make a mark on paper. He was poor, too poor, at least, to be able to afford frames for the amount of work he turned out, so he took to thumbtacking them up on the walls of El Quatre Gats. He drew the regular customers as well as his friends. They were knows as his "tertulia" which is a Spanish word for a group of friends who meet daily. It was at El Quatre Gats, in February, 1900, that Picasso mounted his first one-man show.

El Quatre Gats as it appears todayt.

He was a big hit.  The customers, and others who were not regular bar patrons, saw his work and loved it. Even as a teenage, Picasso was a gregarious, outgoing, high spirited man, quick-witted and quite intellectual for his age. His style, and that which prevailed in Barcelona at the time, was called Modernisme (a branch of Art Nouveau), and his portraits ranged from fairly realistic to caricature, but never did they fail to project far more than a mere likeness. Ramon Casas, who was the leading portrait painter in town, was also a patron at El Quatre Gats, and he recognized young Pablo's talent, even if it rivaled his own. Picasso's "show" at the bar drew more interest than had Casas' own exhibition just a few months before at the luxurious Peres salon. He wasn't worried though. He saw the talent, intellect, and drive and realized Pablo Ruiz Blasco Lopez Picasso was more than just a big name.  Later, that same year (1900), Picasso moved on to Paris and proved him right.

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