Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, was inspired by many cities. There is his native Málaga; Barcelona, where he grew up; and Paris, where he inspired new artistic movements, but it was in A Coruña where Picasso the artist was born.
It was in October 1891 when the Ruíz Picasso family moved to 14 Calle Payo Gómez in A Coruña, close to the School of Fine Arts, where his father would become a teacher just a year after the school’s inauguration. Between the ages of 10 and 14, Picasso took to the streets of A Coruña with his paintbrushes, marking the beginnings of a stellar career.
A Coruña’s mark on Picasso
Inspiration was all around him, and the young Picasso poured this into his initial works. Some of his first drawings depict the people of A Coruña, places such as the Church of San Jorge, and the downtown beaches of Riazor and Orzán, all of them stop-offs on the fantastic Picasso tour that can be taken through the city today.
The Tower of Hercules, dating from the Roman period and the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, deeply inspired Picasso – it was a sight that resonated with the Málaga-born artist in the late 19th century. The painter depicted this World Heritage Site in an oil painting on panel and in one of the newspapers he edited. Father and son even renamed the lighthouse “Torre de Caramelo” [Candy Tower], in reference to the way the sunlight reflects off the granite. This is also the title of one of Picasso’s works.
From his early years as an artist came “The Barefoot Girl”, his first masterpiece, which can now be seen in the Picasso Museum in Paris, although it was A Coruña that became the first city to host a Picasso exhibition.
The first of these was at number 20 Calle Real, which was then a furniture shop, where some of his earliest canvases would be displayed in the shop window, which he probably painted at the School of Fine Arts. Soon enough he would exhibit again in another establishment on the same street, after receiving rave reviews from the local press, who predicted a “brilliant future” for the artist.
It was at this time that some of his recurring leitmotifs began to appear; the fauns, which would feature in a plaster sculpture, or “Man with a Lamb”, which had already appeared in his A Coruña iconography in a charcoal drawing from 1894, not to mention the many doves. It is said that one of the best pictures painted by his father, an oil on canvas depicting a dovecote, bore some of the young Pablo’s strokes on the birds’ legs.
Picasso’s adventure in A Coruña came to a tragic end in 1895, when the family left for Barcelona after the death of his sister Conchita from diphtheria. She was buried in the Cemetery of San Amaro, one of the oldest in Europe, and the setting for the work “Responso por la muerte de Conchita de Picasso” [Response to the death of Picasso’s Conchita], which he would paint shortly afterwards.
Picasso’s mark on A Coruña
Pablo Picasso’s presence in the city of A Coruña is still palpable today. The School of Fine Arts is no longer situated in the Plaza de Pontevedra, as it was in the late 19th century. In its place however, is the Eusebio da Guarda Secondary School, and a statue of the Dove of Peace that Picasso designed for the 1949 World Peace Congress in Paris that can be seen outside.
The new art and design school, the “Escola de Arte e Superior de Diseño”, now bears his name and has been located on the seafront promenade since 1988. A hundred years earlier, the Málaga-born artist had studied subjects such as ornamental and figure drawing, with his father José Ruiz Blasco and the masters Román Navarro and Antonio Amorós y Botella as his teachers.
During his years as a student, Picasso went from copying prints by French artists to completely mastering academic life drawing, excelling among his peers.
Casa Museo [House Museum]
Today you can visit the house where the artist grew up, at number 14 Payo Gómez, that has now been converted into a House Museum. Situated in a classic A Coruña-style building with wooden galleries, it will transport you back to the 1890s when Picasso was taking his fledgling steps as an artist. Astonishingly, the easel and the bench he used to paint are still there!
On the walls you can see reproductions of Picasso’s work in A Coruña and an original engraving. In all, there are more than 30 works in the Casa Museo, where you can visit the permanent exhibition “Soño e mentiras de Franco” [Franco’s dreams and lies].
In 2023, for the International Year of Picasso, which is being celebrated jointly by Spain and France, the first floor of the Casa Museo will be renovated, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of its inauguration.
A Coruña will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this universal artist’s death with the exhibitions ‘Universo Picassiano – Homenaje a Pablo Picasso en su etapa coruñesa’ [Picassian Universe – Tribute to Pablo Picasso during his time in A Coruña] at the Kiosco Alfonso, ‘El Humor habla de Picasso’ [Humour talks about Picasso] at the Encuentro mundial de Humorismo [World Meeting of Humourists] and ‘Picasso blanco en el recuerdo azul’ [White Picasso in blue memory] at the Museum of Fine Arts. The third edition of the International Congress on Art and Education will also be held at the Luís Seoane Foundation and there will be a series of lectures on the depiction of women in Picasso’s work.