The Birth of a Genius: Paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona

When you think of Spanish art, few figures are as prominent as Pablo Picasso.

Born in Málaga, he spent much of his formative teenage years in Barcelona and held the Catalan capital close to his heart throughout his life. In fact, when the idea of a Picasso Museum was first proposed, it was the artist himself who suggested Barcelona as its location, donating many works from his own private collection. That makes the city an essential stop for anyone who wants to understand the modern master. But with over 4,000 paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and a focus on lesser-known works, it’s hard to know where to start. Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.

This guide to paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona will help you understand one of Spain's most iconic artists, and what to see during your trip to his emblematic museum. #art #Picasso #museums #Barcelona #culture

Photo Credit: Edgardo W. Olivera, Text Overlay: Devour Barcelona Food Tours

Prepare yourself

Queues at peak times can last for over an hour. We highly recommend buying tickets online in advance. That way, you can spend more time looking at the paintings in the Picasso Museum and less time waiting in line. If that’s not possible, try to come first thing in the morning or in the final hours before closing midweek. Though the museum is free on Thursday evenings and on the first Sunday of every month, bear in mind that many other bargain-hunters will have the same idea. Once you’re in, the museum is organized chronologically, making it easy to follow the development of Picasso’s genius.

After exploring the paintings of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, take a break and relax in the lovely outdoor courtyard.
Outside the museum, a peaceful courtyard offers a break from the crowds. Photo credit: Wes Neuenschwander Photography

Early works (Rooms 1-7)

The early, pre-cubist paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona are where the collection truly shines. His Self-Portrait and Science and Charity show Picasso’s astonishing mastery of more academic, realistic styles of painting at the age of just fifteen. Years of experimentation followed, represented here by the abstraction of Riera de Sant Joan Street or the vibrant colors of Mas del Quiquet. But it was his first stay in Paris in 1900 that would put Picasso in contact with the European avant-garde. The Wait, showing a Parisian “lady of the night,” was among the works shown in his first major exhibition in the city, and still surprises with its loose brushstrokes and captivating gaze.

Many of the paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona focus on the artists's early work.
Picasso’s early works are a defining feature of the museum. Photo credit: Alex Grechman

The Blue and Rose Periods (Rooms 8 and 9)

While the museum focuses on earlier works, it also contains paintings from his first major phases as an artist: the so-called “Blue” and “Rose” periods. The first of these, named after its melancholy use of color, was provoked in part by the suicide of Picasso’s close friend, the Catalan poet Carlos Casagemas, in 1901. Largely rejected by the art community in Paris at the time, these days these paintings are recognized as the start of the artist’s mature works. Motherhood shows his interest in the psychological burden of his sitters at this time.

Later, finding himself happily in a relationship with the model Fernande Olivier, his painting took on lighter notes and themes: the “Rose” period. The museum has just one work from this phase, but it’s a great one: the Portrait of Señora Canals. Showing the partner of the Catalan painter Ricard Canals, it sees Picasso bringing together all his many influences: the psychological interest of the Blue period, his fascination with the history of Spanish art, and the new lightness of tone of the Rose period. All in all, one of the finest paintings in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

Later works

Those expecting to see Picasso’s African-inspired or cubist works might be in for a bit of a shock: the museum focuses on the lesser-known early and late paintings rather than “peak” Picasso. That said, one of the gems of the collection is the Las Meninas series from 1957. Showing Picasso’s obsessive study and re-working of the masterpiece by Velazquez, it’s a great example of the modern artist’s engagement with the masters of the past. More than that, it’s a rare opportunity to see a complete series by Picasso in its entirety.

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