Pablo Picasso was born on this day, October 25th, in 1881, and today the Musée Picasso has reopened in Paris after five years of refurbishment. There are of course other Picasso museums, including one in Barcelona – where he lived from 1895 to 1905, when he went to Paris – and one in Malaga, the city where he was born and lived until he was nine, in 1891.
The years from 1891 to 1895 are often skipped over in documents about the great artist, but during that period the young Picasso was actually living with his family in the city of Coruña in Galicia in northern Spain and some of the paintings he created there now hang in those museums in Paris, Barcelona and Malaga.
Pablo, his two sisters and their parents moved to Coruña because his father, José Ruiz Blasco, had got a teaching job at the Provincial School of Fine Arts. Picasso attended classes there as well as at the local school and his first two exhibitions were held in the city in 1895, when he was just 13. One of the paintings from the second show, Man in Cap, is now at the Musée Picasso in Paris.
You can follow a route around Coruña to see the places he sketched or painted, which influenced his art for the rest of his life. Last Saturday I visited the flat where the family lived for the entire time they were in the city, at number 14, Calle Payo Gómez. The 2nd-floor apartment is now a museum, albeit very different from its more famous counterparts. The distribution is the same as when the family lived there and it has been furnished with some of their things as well as furniture that is typical of that period. There are even a few original sketches, engravings and paintings, as well as work by his father.
Of course it is wonderful to see his greatest works, such as Guernika in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, but wandering around the flat was rewarding in a different way. There was no one else there during my visit, which added to the intimacy of the experience. A long corridor runs the length of the apartment, leading to the front room with french doors to the balcony. Stepping out, I could see the sea to the right, which would actually have been a lot nearer the house at the end of the 19th century as the city has spread since then. I saw the studio where he and his father painted, his simple bedroom and a surprisingly luxurious bathroom, which would have been unusual at the time. At the rear, there is a glassed-in balcony, typical of the architecture of Coruña.
Although I’ve been to Coruña a dozen or more times, I don’t think I’ve actually ever been in anyone’s flat, so being inside this elegant building in a well-to-do area of the city centre was interesting in itself even without the attraction of its illustrious former tenant. Picasso himself always stressed how important those years in Coruña were for him and I would definitely recommend following in his footsteps around the city.
From the UK, it is easy to get there as Vueling flies from Heathrow to Coruña in about an hour and a half.