Sleep in Picasso’s studio
Sleep in the studio where masterpieces were painted
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