In Barcelona, my brother and I visited the Museu Picasso, a well executed collection of Picasso’s earlier works (spanning his student, blue and rose years) and some later works (including ceramics). According to the Museum, Picasso spent a considerable amount of time during his formative years in Barcelona, frequenting a cafe called “Els Quatre Gats.” Wandering among the labyrinthian streets of the Barri Gotic, we stumbled across a cafe called “4 Gats.” We wondered if this could be the same night haunt of Picasso.
Sure enough, the interior matched descriptions in the museum, as well as photographs of the cafe from the time of Picasso’s youth. Upon entering, I could immediately sense the vapor of history permeating the eatery. A few small groups of locals and a pair of tourists sat in the back, drinking coffee. We decided to stay a while and partake in the cafe culture of Barcelona.
Drinking my tiny cup of espresso, I felt displaced in time– like Picasso and Santiago Rusinol could have been sitting right next to me, discussing the latest exhibition. At the Museu Picasso, I spent a long time perusing the collection of the young Picasso’s works as a student. Although his drawings and figure studies were more impressively rendered and composed than my own, I identified with him… I connected with Picasso’s experience. Sitting in the 4 Gats Cafe, I observed that maybe the young Picasso had once sat where I was sitting, and had once tasted the same taste of coffee as I was tasting.
The most striking section of the museum was Picasso’s forty-four variations of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. These interpretations ranged from large canvases, warping and simplifying the figures, to small studies of the Infanta Margarita. In 1957, Picasso obsessed over this one famous painting in the Prado, feeling the penetrating gaze of Velazquez. Through his visits to Las Meninas, Picasso basked in the presence of one of the greatest painters in history. Similarly, through my visit to the 4 Gats, I experienced the presence of Picasso, a feeling that neither the Museu Picasso, nor the lingering taste of espresso, will let me forget.
— Through the lens of the Ocular Omnivore