Few painters have ever dominated their century as much as Pablo Picasso. Yet within his home country during the long period of Franco’s rule there were many who dismissed Picasso’s work as the ‘manic doodles of that artist from Malaga’ and reviled them as Communist bunk. Such works as were in Spain were secreted in clandestine private collections.
All that has now changed. In Barcelona, always keen to thwart Castilian orthodoxy, and the beloved city of Picasso’s anarchist youth, he was honoured in the 1960s with the opening of its Picasso museum. It continues to expand and now occupies five adjacent mediaeval palaces. In 1981, just months after a coup attempt failed to overturn the new post-Franco order, Guernica arrived in Madrid to stamp its imprimatur on a young and fragile democracy. In late 2003, his home town of Málaga opened its own Picasso museum.
This tour is not just centred on museums. There is as much to learn about Cubism in the mirrored reflections of Madrid’s Café Gijón as by studying Girl with Mandolin. In the country of café culture, understanding of his life and personality can be enlarged in Málaga’s Café Chinitas, his father’s favourite watering hole, and Barcelona’s legendary Els Quatre Gats.
If Picasso was quintessentially modern he was also completely submerged in Spain’s glorious artistic past. In Barcelona we study Picasso’s feverish encounter, late in life, with Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and in Madrid we see the original.
If once Picasso was seen as French, today it is essential for our understanding to see him and situate him in Spain. It was a culture he carried with him into exile, guarded fiercely, and hankered for as he grew old and isolated. Surrealist twists of mind, torn scraps of paper, lightning notations, doodles and bottle-top sculptures were endlessly fashioned as he remembered and pored over the Spain of his youth. This tour recovers Picasso’s world – the world of the strong gaze – the ‘mirada fuerte’.
Málaga. Fly at c. 9.15am from London Gatwick to Málaga (British Airways). The afternoon walk includes the house where Picasso was born, which houses a small collection of his belongings, and the church of his baptism. First of two nights in Málaga.
Málaga. The Carmen Thyssen museum has a fine collection of old masters and 19th-century Spanish painting. The afternoon is spent in the Picasso Museum, housed in a fine 16th-century building, where over 200 works from family members span his entire career.
Málaga, Madrid. Morning visit to the Museo de Málaga with works by Picasso in its fine arts section before travelling by high-speed AVE train to Madrid. Lunch is served on board. In the afternoon visit the Prado Museum, one of the world’s greatest art galleries. The evening is spent in Picasso-related haunts. First of two nights in Madrid.
Madrid. Start the day at the National Museum of Archaeology, good on ancient Iberian civilisation and Roman Spain. In the late afternoon visit the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, one of the greatest modern art museums and home to Picasso’s Guernica.
Barcelona. Take the high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona with lunch on board. Visit the National Museum of Catalan Art with its extraordinary collection of romanesque church frescoes and works from late 19th-century Barcelona life art world. First of two nights in Barcelona.
Barcelona. A morning walk includes the rooftop views from the Palau Güell, the Carrer d’Avinyó, inspiration of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and Els Quatre Gats, the bar where Picasso held his first one-man show. The afternoon is devoted to the Picasso Museum: portraits, landscape sketches, Blue Period, cubism, late oils.
Sitges. Travel to Sitges, one of the most fashionable of coast towns, and visit the house-museum of Picasso’s friend Santiago Rusiñol, which contains works by both artists. See also the adjoining Museu Maricel with its frescoes by Sert. Drive to the airport for the flight to Gatwick, arriving 4.45pm.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,270 or £2,070 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,660 or £2,460 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with Iberia (aircraft: Airbus 320); first class train travel; travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 6 dinners and 1 lunch with wine or beer, soft drinks, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips; all state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Molina Lario, Málaga: functional 4-star in the centre. NH Palacio de Tepa, Madrid: small and excellently located 5-star hotel. Rooms are comfortable and décor is contemporary. Hotel Condes de Barcelona: 4-star hotel, in a convenient location. Rooms are modern and comfortable. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
This tour involves two train journeys and three hotel changes, but driving is kept to a minimum. There is inevitably a lot of standing around in museums and galleries, and so should not be attempted by anyone who has problems with everyday walking and stair climbing. Dinners tend to be at 8.30 or 9.00pm in Spain, so you might get to bed later than you would usually.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Suggested travel for combining with Modern Art on the Côte d'Azur, (18–24 October 2018)
24th October: stay extra night in Nice.
25th October: Fly with Air Nostrum Nice-Madrid 12.30-14.25. Stay nights of 25th, 26th & 27th in Madrid.
28th October: Fly with Air Nostrum Madrid-Málaga 16.10-17.25. Stay one night in Málaga before meeting the Picasso group at the hotel on 29th October.
MRT can book the extra hotel nights in Nice, Madrid and Málaga. Prices on enquiry. You would need to book the flights yourself.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.