Els Quatre Gats and the expression “ser cuatro gatos” (“to be four cats”)
At Versión Original we have a wide, and constantly growing selection of Barcelona characters that we find fascinating. Sometimes because of their work, sometimes because of their person. We like them, they fascinate us and very often we used them in our Spanish courses to introduce to the student of Spanish the culture of Barcelona.
Today we chose Pablo Ruiz Picasso for two whimsical reasons.
Firstly, because this morning a song by Javier Ruibal was playing on the radio, a singer from Cádiz. This song was dedicated to “malagueñito Picasso” (who was born in Málaga) and it is a very lively song that put us in a very good mood to begin the day and the classes:
And secondly, because we just walked through Avignó Street in Barcelona and one of his paintings came to our minds:
If you enter Avignó Street from Ferran Street, you will see on your left hand side the former School of Fine Arts, which is now an abandoned building until the city council decides if it should be re-opened as a Fine Arts’ School or as a hotel.
At this school – Escuela de Bellas Artes “La Llotja” – Picasso’s father got a professorship and the whole family moved to Barcelona in the Spring of 1895.
His father managed to make Picasso skip the first course years and he got into the Llotja at 14. He had to deliver in a month his classical art and still life admission assingments for the advanced courses. It is said that Picasso delivered his assignments the day after. If that was not enough, his assignment was better that the ones of the graduate students.
Gertrude Stein says he was an infant prodigy: “He drew since he was little and those were not the drawings of a child, but the drawings of a born painter.”
When he was a child, he painted and drew like an adult and when he became an adult, he preserved something childish. Paul Eluard, when Picasso turned 70, said: “Picasso, the youngest painter in the world, is 70 years old today”
His first great painting, “La Primera comunión” (First communion) which you can see at the Museo Picasso de Barcelona, from 1895/96, was shown with other paintings from art precursos such as Santiago Rusiñol and Isidro Nonell at the the most important exhibition in Barcelona until then.
Picasso chose a religious subject –it was compulsory at the school- and a realistic way of painting – in order to agree to the academic aesthetic wishes – but he didn’t choose a scene from the Sacred History but a very private and intimate event. This painting belongs to a very polished academicism from which Picasso would soon move away.
Picasso returned to Málaga and from there to Madrid, where he enrolled at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and his frequent visits to the Museo del Prado would become essential in his later evolution.
His stay in Madrid was suddenly interrupted because he got scarlet fever and came back to Barcelona to recover.
Soon after he arrived, Picasso went to Horta de Ebro, a mountain village at the Pyrenees where he would find himself, getting away from academicism and family.
In the Spring of 1899 he went back to Barcelona with ambitious plans in mind: he was open new manifestations in Spanish painting and he was looking for contact with its most remarkable representatives.
Their meeting point was the artists bar Els Quatre Gats, it was open in 1897 and it was one of the benchmarks of Catalan Modernism.
The building is neogothic and it was constructed by Modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1896). It is located at Montsió 3, right in the centre of Barcelona. It was the place for social gatherings, artistic meetings and dinners, literary and musical nights, puppet shows, Chinese shadow theatres, and so on.
THE EXPRESSION: “SER CUATRO GATOS”
“Els Quatre Gats” means “four cats” and it is an expression that we use for saying that there are few people, always with a derogatory meaning. For instance:
- We go into a bar where there are few people and we say: “Hay cuatro gatos” (there are four cats)
- We want to organise a football game but there are not enough players: “No podemos, solo somos cuatro gatos” (We can’t do it, we are only four cats)
Back to Picasso and to the bar where they used to meet: the new artists that were looking for a new kind of art, away from the official classicism of the academy were “four cats”, that means very few and with a bad reputation for the classical artists.
He met there modernist artists Santiago Rusiñol and Isidro Nonell and he successfully emulated their art influenced by French Art Nouveau and English Pre-Raphaelites. Soon major painters started to value him and he did his first exhibition at Els Quatre Gats in February 1900.
To be continued…