The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is in the heart of the old city on the Carrer Moncada and since its recent expansion now sprawls over a row of five Gothic palaces once - in late medieval times - home to Barcelona's aristocrats.
On the trip with us was Sybille Wáchter, a Swiss girl from Zurich, who reckoned that in the 7 weeks she has been with us in Barcelona reckoned she had "done nothing cultural" and that the Picasso Museum was going to be a first - in her last week here. Well, actually, she had been to see the Barça stadium (and was most impressed), as well as the chocolate museum, did that count as cultural?
Pilar Diaz, who took us, led us on the short walk through the backstreets from the school to the Carrer Moncada, where she stopped to give us some brief background notes before we went in. "We'll meet back here in an hour," she said, which proved to be about right (though Jennie Gunter, from New Orleans who was also with us - and who liked the museum very much - said she would have wanted longer).
Picasso (1881-1973), though born in Malaga, moved to Barcelona with his family in 1895 and Barcelona was important to his formative years, with his first public exhibition at the Quatre Gats in 1897, which we went to on a previous visit to some of the hidden corners of Barcelona.
The Museum, opened in 1963, contains an important collection of his early work. If you start to think as you wander round, "Ooh, our 'arry could do better than that!", just remember that Picasso was only 15 or 16 when he was doing this early stuff. (He doesn't seemed to have learnt to write his own name until about 1900, to judge from the fact that none of the early paintings were signed - but don't take that to be historical fact!)
The collection doesn't immediately strike you as being a very extensive one. Among the early work, there are a couple of curious paintings of the beach at Barceloneta as it was 100 years ago, complete with donkeys and none of the landmarks to be seen there today - no Hotel Arts, no Forum 2004...
The Barcelona Picasso Museum, the experts say, doesn't contain his most important work - Guernica, for example is in Madrid's Reina Sofía Art Centre and you've got the Paris collections and a new Picasso museum in Malaga. Much of the really spectacular stuff is in private hands but what the cognoscenti (aka my sister-in-law) also say is that in fact the Barcelona Picasso collection is one of the best for Picasso's early work.
Probably the most famous work that the Barcelona collection does include are Las Meninas (1957), a suite of 58 works analysing Velázquez's painting Las Menas, which the museum's chronological collection suddenly jumps to. If you wonder quite where Picasso got something from in the original, there's a comparison chart in Room 16 that may help, showing which characters were inspired by which (including the dog, that is).
Gaetane Joseph, a New Yorker, had been more impressed by the palaces that house it than by the collection itself (which she liked "more than the Miró Foundation", which wasn't saying much, she said). You see just enough of the original interiors - a ceiling here, a back staircase there, the occasional glimpse of the courtyards they were built around, to make you wish they had been able to conserve a bit more.
Picasso's not really my cup of tea, I'm afraid, so personally I wasn't that impressed. It didn't compare favourably, I couldn't help thinking, with the wonderful Cartier-Bresson exhibition currently on at the CaixaForum. The area round the Picasso Musuem - as well as some of the other museums and art galleries on the same street, not to mention the Miramelindo in the Borne at the end of the street... Well, that's more my kind of scene.
So is the museum worth a visit? Silvia Di Pietro, a secondary school teacher from Zurich, thought so - definitely. She had liked the chronological arrangement of the work and it had made her want to see more of Picasso - so "yes".
"And how did you learn such great Spanish, Silvia," we asked. "Oh, by travelling," she said. And is seeing something of a country's culture important to language acquisition, as some experts say, we also asked. "No," says Silvia, "but it's certainly very interesting".
The Barcelona Picasso Museum is closed Mondays, packed in the summer, and free on the first Sunday of every month.
More information about Barcelona museums from our Barcelona Online site.
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