South of Sant Pere, across c/de la Princesa, La Ribera sports Barcelona’s biggest single tourist attraction, the Museu Picasso. The sheer number of visitors in this neighbourhood rivals the busiest streets of the Barri Gòtic, and this has had a knock-on effect in terms of the bars, shops and restaurants found here. La Ribera is at its most hip, and most enjoyable, in the area around the Passeig del Born, the elongated square leading from Santa María church to the old Born market. This area – widely known as the Born – is one of the city’s premier nightlife centres.
The celebrated Museu Picasso is housed in a series of medieval palaces converted specifically for the museum. It’s one of the most important collections of Picasso’s work in the world, but even so, some visitors are disappointed: the museum contains none of his best-known works, and few in the Cubist style. But what is here provides a unique opportunity to trace Picasso’s development from his early paintings as a young boy to the major works of later years.
Particularly fascinating are the early drawings, in which Picasso – still signing with his full name, Pablo Ruíz Picasso – attempted to copy the nature paintings in which his father specialized. Paintings from his art-school days in Barcelona (1895–97) show tantalizing glimpses of the city that the young Picasso was beginning to know well – the Gothic old town, the cloisters of Sant Pau del Camp, Barceloneta beach – and even at the ages of 15 and 16 he was producing serious work. Later, there are paintings from the famous Blue Period (1901–04), the Pink Period (1904–06) and from his Cubist (1907–20) and Neoclassical (1920–25) stages. The large gaps in the main collection (for example, nothing from 1905 until the celebrated Harlequin of 1917) only underline Picasso’s extraordinary changes of style and mood. This is best illustrated by the large jump to 1957, a year represented by his 44 interpretations of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas, in which Picasso brilliantly deconstructed the individual portraits and compositions that make up Velázquez’s work.
Although born in Málaga, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) spent much of his youth – from the age of 14 to 23 – in Barcelona, and there are echoes of the great artist at various sites throughout the old town. Not too far from the Museu Picasso, you can still see many of the buildings in which Picasso lived and worked, notably the Escola de Belles Arts de Llotja (c/Consolat del Mar, near Estació de França), where his father taught drawing and where Picasso himself absorbed an academic training. The apartments where the family lived when they first arrived in Barcelona – Pg. d’Isabel II 4 and c/Cristina 3, both opposite the Escola – can also be seen, though only from the outside. Less tangible is to take a walk down c/d’Avinyó, which cuts south from c/de Ferran to c/Ample. Large houses along here were converted into brothels at the turn of the twentieth century, and Picasso used to haunt the street, sketching what he saw – women at one of the brothels inspired his seminal Cubist work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.