Sleep in Pi­casso’s stu­dio

Sleep in the stu­dio where mas­ter­pieces were painted

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - ALEX O’CON­NELL • hotelthe­ser­ras­ • muse­upi­ • barcelona­tur­

There are no can­vases lean­ing against the wall, no squeezed-out paint tubes on the ta­ble and not a nude model in sight — in fact the only one with his kit off is our two-year-old son who is bob­bing around the rooftop pool in his arm­bands.

We’re in Pablo Pi­casso’s first stu­dio in Barcelona … well, sort of. This 19th-cen­tury build­ing in the gothic quar­ter, is the place where, in 1897, the young artist with the floppy hair (be­fore the fa­mous shiny head and hard stare) honed his skills with his stu­dio-mate Manuel Pal­lares while they were study­ing at La Llotja, the city’s pres­ti­gious art school.

The boy from Malaga with the prodi­gious tal­ent, who was paint­ing so­phis­ti­cated fam­ily por­traits and bull­fights at the age of nine, had moved to Barcelona with his fam­ily the pre­vi­ous year.

He had al­ready im­pressed the city’s art estab­lish­ment with his paint­ing First Com­mu­nion and it was in this tall stately build­ing with its pretty pas­tel façade and views of Port Vell and Barceloneta Beach — then known as Car­rer de la Plata 4, and around the cor­ner from his home — that he painted his fa­mous so­cial re­al­ist work Science and Char­ity, aged 15. It is one of the ma­jor works from his early years.

The large, am­bi­tious paint­ing shows a sick woman be­ing tended by a doc­tor while a nun calms the pa­tient’s child, and is a com­ment on pal­lia­tive care.

If you close your eyes and for­get about the trendy ho­tel’s fast Wi-Fi con­nec­tion, state-of-the-art telly and se­cure de­posit boxes in each room, you can al­most imag­ine the scene be­ing con­structed here for Pi­casso to paint. We know that Pi­casso’s fa­ther, José Ruiz y Blasco, was the model for the doc­tor, two beg­gars who the artist hired for 10 pe­se­tas stood for the sick woman and her child and a friend of his un­cle Sal­vador played the nun (she bor­rowed a habit for the oc­ca­sion). Pi­casso’s fa­ther is said to have or­gan­ised the po­si­tion­ing of the mod­els in the stu­dio. That scene was per­formed in this build­ing, 120 years and one almighty makeover ago.

It is now home to The Ser­ras, a newly opened five-star ho­tel, and the view from the win­dow — the don­keys walk­ing along the sand as seen in Pi­casso’s Barceloneta Beach (1896) — has, as you would ex­pect, trans­formed. You can gaze out from the tall sash win­dows at the new- look port, a le­gacy of the 1992 Olympics, which, at Easter when we visit, is home to a fun­fair and a lot of ex­treme bungee-jump­ing ap­pa­ra­tus.

Guests sleep on beds made by the Queen’s favourite mat­tress maker (com­fier than a model’s chaise longue filled with horse hair), and there are stylish bath­rooms with Ja­panese slid­ing doors and el­e­gant vel­vet chairs. Our room has a bath in the shape of a boat, the most com­fort­able I’ve ever sailed in, which as well as de­light­ing our own lit­tle Pi­casso, has splen­did views of the port (if the artist were to work from the same po­si­tion now he would be paint­ing three lanes of traf­fic and a bunch of su­per yachts). A Soho House pri­vate mem­bers’ club is to open nearby later in the year.

From this fab­u­lous lo­ca­tion we are able to stroll to the Museu Pi­casso and see the very works that would have been cre­ated in our room (we like to think, no one would tell us the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the stu­dio). So we visit the mu­seum, with its rooms pre­sented in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, and see a self-por­trait of the 15-year-old, painted in 1896 when he was a ten­ant, as well as Science and Char­ity, First Com­mu­nion and a paint­ing of his mother from the same pe­riod. We see his ca­reer grow as he en­tered his “blue pe­riod” and ad­mire the cu­bist adventure that fol­lowed.

It be­ing a hol­i­day, only the tourist shops sell­ing fla­menco fridge mag­nets are open, leav­ing us time to visit the cre­ations of that other great Span­ish artist, An­toni Gaudí, who died when Pi­casso was 44.

We wan­der around his Park Guell, packed with fam­i­lies, a Dis­ney­land for aes­thetes (you now have to pay to get to the cen­tre of the park and tick­ets go fast, so it’s worth book­ing), and his life’s work, the cathe­dral La Sagrada Fa­milia, still a work in progress, but what a work. The con­struc­tion of the bizarre nou­veau-gothic ar­chi­tec­tural Franken­stein started in 1882; it was less than a quar- ter com­plete when he died and passed the half­way point in 2010 — and there is a rush on to com­plete it for 2026, the cen­te­nary of his death. As a re­sult, the out­side is ob­scured by scaf­fold­ing — but the in­side is mind-bend­ing in its au­dac­ity.

Tak­ing an art break, we stroll along La Ram­bla, Barcelona’s early evening cat­walk, and then on the ad­vice of the help­ful ho­tel staff we take our tod­dler to the aquar­ium — a line’s throw from The Ser­ras. It is more Damien Hirst than Pi­casso but, nev­er­the­less, an ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence: we learn that we like look­ing at sharks in the dark more than our son does (you walk along a tun­nel as they swim around you — scream­ing is op­tional).

Talk­ing of fish, we eat a few. Pi­casso once re­vealed to Vogue mag­a­zine that his favourite foods were tor­tilla niçoise and eel stew. At the ho­tel’s restau­rant th­ese are off the menu but we sam­ple some of the best tapas I’ve tasted, pre­pared by the Miche­lin-starred chef Marc Gas­cons — Cata­lan-in­spired del­i­ca­cies and lo­cal wines (mush­rooms in cream, salmon sushi and Gali­cian beef tataki are all ex­quis­ite). Our tod­dler, a boy of sim­ple but spe­cific tastes, par­tic­u­larly likes the patatas bravas and the choco­late drops the wait­ress brings for him. They couldn’t have been sweeter (the staff, that is; the drops are de­li­ciously bit­ter).

I don’t know what the no­to­ri­ously par­tic­u­lar Pi­casso would make of this new ven­ture but, if great art is, in part, trans­port­ing, soul-stir­ring and heal­ing, then he might cheer on the com­pe­ti­tion — or at least con­cede that the chef should rep­re­sent Spain at the Venice Bi­en­nale, which opens this week­end.

We wan­der around An­toni Gaudi’s Park Guell, a Dis­ney­land for aes­thetes


Clock­wise from top, the city of Barcelona; Museu Pi­casso; the artist; The Ser­ras ho­tel; Gaudi’s Park Guell



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