Pablo Picasso wasn’t born in Barcelona, but upon moving here with his family when he was 13 years old, fell deeply in love with the Catalan capitol and it would never leave his mind.  Barcelona today is home to the first and largest Picasso museum, located on the Carrer Montcada in the Born district.   The museum is free to enter Thursdays after 6PM (18h) and Sundays after 3PM (15h) for anyone interested in see Picasso’s artwork for free, but what not everyone knows is you can see a free Picasso everyday right in the center of Barcelona!

What many consider to be a piece of art made a by a kindergartener or some graffiti on the Architect’s College directly across from the Roman walls in the Plaça Nova, is actually a free piece of Picasso’s artwork!  The evaluation of it seems to vary quite a degree, I have found, from “It’s cute” to my mother having a framed picture of this on her living room wall.  Opinions don’t seem to change when people find out that what they are looking at is an actual Picasso, but it leads to some great urban legends about the piece:

Coming from Malaga as a young boy, Picasso quickly set to work studying his craft and falling in love with his newly adopted city.  Showing early signs of brillance that would later become world-wide knowledge, and with a bit of aid from his father (an art professor) Pablo was admitted to the Barcelona Schools of Fine Arts.  Later moves would have him studying and living in Madrid and Paris, but Barcelona always held a special place in his heart.  Picasso himself said, “This is where it all began…There is where I understood how far I could go”.  He really grew as an artist in his formative years in Barcelona, spending much time at Els Quatre Gats restaurant where he presented his first professional art exhibit as well as designing the menus. 

While Picasso was now living in Paris, many trips back to Barcelona were made, up to 1934, his last trip to the city.  1936 brought with it the Civil War to Spain and after 3 years of gruelling battle, General Franco and the Nationalists took command, setting up a dictatorship that was to last 36 years.  Intellectuals, like Picasso, vowed not to return to Spain under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and it is for that reason, the Picasso frieze was not produced by he himself.  The unfortunate part of this idea is that Picasso passed away in 1973, while Franco lived until 1975, making it impossible to ever come back to his country or the city he loved.  

The story goes (and you will hear from several tour guides as you roam the Plaça Nova) that Picasso was in Paris at the time when he found out that Joan Miró was hired to create the frieze for the Architects College.  In a fit of rage (Picasso often thought of Miró as a rather simple artist) Pablo declared to his friends that “Anyone could do a Miró”, and ripping out a napkin at the bar they were in quickly scribbled down his design for what would be much better than anything Miró could put in place.  As his friends and Picasso exited laughing, the waiter who had over heard all of this, quickly took possession of the napkin and upon sending it to Barcelona, the verdict was quite simple: a Picasso in the center of Barcelona would look much nicer than and draw far much more attention than a Miró!

Never ruin a good story with the truth, they say, but this urban legend is told all over.  Here is the real story.

In 1955 the Architects College elected Xavier Busquets i Sindreu to decide how the school would decorate the new façades of the new headquarters.  His original idea was Antoni Cumella. Busquets having seen a collaboration between Joan Miró and Llorens Artigas, thought of creating a collaboration between Cumella and Picasso (knowing Picasso’s love for the city).  When Busquets met with Picasso to speak about his idea, Picasso outlined a new technique he had adapted to a Museum in Oslo with the help of the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, transplanting some of his drawings with a sandblast technique.  It was decided the same technique would be used in Barcelona!  The interior of the building still needed to be decorated and Busquets did originally think of Miró, but it was Picasso himself that volunteered to design the interior as well.

As far as I have heard, Picasso and Miró were actually quite good friends and even helped one another while the two fellow countrymen were living in Paris.  Within the two different accounts of how the Picsso frieze came to be, you can see where some of the information could have been miscommunicated.  Nonetheless, Barcelona has one of the few free, public Picasso pieces of artwork on display just in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona.