04 August 2012

Picasso's favourite watering hole in Barcelona

Pere Romeu launched his restaurant, Els Quatre Gats/The Four Cats, in 1897. Located in Barcelona's gothic quarter, the tiled and panelled walls were very chic. The restaurant's own leaflet suggests that the owner had been inspired by Le Chat Noir cabaret in Paris, as we can probably guess from the name. Its special character bore a resemblance to traditional taverns, as well as the elegant bars that had popped up all over Europe towards the end of the C19th.

But the art work, designed by Ramon Casas, was modern and exciting, and helped the restaurant stand out in the crowded Barcelona social scene. The restaurant quickly turned into a watering hole for members of Barcelona's bohemian set. Modernist writers, poets and artists gathered here to exchange ideas, meet each other's sisters and get drunk. In addition to socialising, the groups also organised literary circles, gatherings and conferences.

In 1899, a young Pablo Picasso  (1881-1973) held his first-ever exhibition at the restaurant, and it was there that he received his very first paid commission  - designing the front cover of the menu. Picasso was hooked! As was the young sculptor Julio Gonzales aka Juan Gris who began to visit Els Quatre Gats where he of course met Pablo Picasso.

Entrance to the restaurant in 2012

Of course Picasso was under age, but we can see even today why this place might have attracted young artists on the make for their careers and for their social lives. Picasso had visited France a number of times, but by the time he left Spain for a permanent home in France in 1904, some of his paintings had already been hung on the walls of Else Quatre Gats.

Pere Romeu was an attentive host; he sat with his customers and presided over social gatherings in which "the world was fixed". As they did in Paris, Els 4 Gats staged exhibitions, musical meetings and every other activity that could amuse the minds of the creative set. In 1899, Ramon Casas started a literary and artistic magazine, and sought contributions from other regulars. The magazine only lasted for 15 editions, but it became the basis of other, more ongoing literary productions. Shows of Chinese shadows and of marionettes were put on and, to announce them, Ramon Casas painted posters following the fashion of the time.

Main restaurant space, 2012
Art is still hanging on the walls.

El quatre Gats went broke in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War made daily life a nightmare.

For decades the building was used for many other purposes and wasn't restored to its former glory until 1978. But the timing was right for Barcelona. The despised dictator General Franco had finally died in 1975 and the Catalan capital could breathe a sigh of relief. The transition to democracy was accompanied by great food and drink, well displayed art and a powerful sense of history.

Readers might like to read about Bar Marsella, also in Barcelona.







12 comments:

James Wei said...

This is seriously beautiful interior complementing the history on the exterior.

Thanks for this wonderful post

Love Barca said...

Barcelona is wonderful. The artists should have stayed there, instead of running off to Paris.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Hels:
This is all so very fascinating. What a wonderful restaurant and one with such an interesting pedigree and how splendid to think that Picasso had his first ever show there to be followed with, albeit quite modest, his first commission.

There are, as you may imagine, somewhat similar places here in Budapest, mostly where artists and later dissidents met.

Hels said...

James

It really is a fascinating era, thanks.

Read Ocana, M.T et al
Picasso and Els 4 Gats: the early years in turn of the century Barcelona,
Published by Liitle, Brown + Co, Boston, 1996

Hels said...

Love Barca

Paris was so seductive that ambitious and creative people left their own countries and flocked to France. At least Spanish artists, like Picasso, Juan Gris and later Salvador Dali, could visit their families more easily than could Russians and Australians, for example.

Barcelona must have been an exciting cultural centre in its own right, however. The painter-writer Santiago Rusinol spent time in Paris, but returned to Barcelona where he was particularly influential.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

Isn't it amazing to think of young, energetic and talented artists who revelled in the Bohemian lifestyle. I bet their parents didn't approve of the clothes, the alcohol and the sexual freedom!

This would have been true in lots and lots of cities, as you note with Budepest . Even though we know that most of the young Bohemians did not make long term careers for themselves in the arts.

Parnassus said...

A perfect example of originality (in this case architectural) inspiring further creativity. I can see how this restaurant would become a hangout for the avant garde.

On the exterior, I particularly like how the relatively plain areas of brickwork and stone quoins are set off by the ornate ironwork and carved stone.
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...

Parnassus,

Wouldn't you have loved to be adult enough in 1897 to have participated in those early years of music, art and drinking? If someone has images of 4 Gats' interior and exterior before World War One, I would love to see them.

babu21 said...

From last few days I'm looking like this. A great post. It's so helpful to me.
Thanks,
History

Hels said...

babu

are you in or near Barcelona? Can you study Picasso and his colleagues in their own territory?

Jim said...

I plan to visit here in a few weeks. Thanks for the info. :)

Hels said...

Jim

I have just spent 5 days in Barcelona (in late July) which was great for fine weather but full of tourists. The queue for the Picasso Museum was VERY long, so get there early before the museum opens.

Or study Picasso and his colleagues at the Els Quatre Gats instead. More expensive but no queue :)