The newborn was so small and lifeless that the attending nurse thought he must be stillborn. Placing the baby on a kitchen table, the nurse turned her attention to the mother after the difficult delivery.
But the baby’s uncle thought there might still be a chance. Taking a puff on his cigar, the uncle breathed warm smoke into the child’s lungs. The result was immediate. The baby that had been feared dead began breathing and moving.
That is how famed artist Pablo Picasso entered the world on Oct. 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain. On April 8, 1973, Picasso took his last breath in the French town of Mougins. He died of a heart attack at the age of 91.
But what a life he lived and what an astounding artistic legacy he created during his lifetime – more than 148,500 works – paintings, sculptures, ceramics and illustrations. He even authored books and wrote two plays.
I didn’t visit Málaga on a cruise but I saw that the harbor had several large cruise ships including Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Celebrity Constellation and a Viking ship. Walking around town, I saw tour groups from cruises following in the footsteps of Picasso during this special commemoration year.
Celebrity Constellation and other large cruise ships docked in Málaga, Spain.
The world is now commemorating 50 years since Picasso died. Exhibitions, conferences and cultural activities are taking place, particularly in Spain and France. A genius artist and controversial celebrity, Picasso spawned new artistic movements including Cubism.
However, Picasso’s childhood dream was not to become an artist. Rather, he wanted to be a picador in a bullfight arena.
“To understand Picasso, you must understand where Picasso was born and where he came from,” says tour guide Isabel Caballero Cano. “His family left Málaga when Picasso was 10 years old. But Picasso had Málaga in his heart all his life.”
Museums in Picasso’s hometown
A thriving Mediterranean seaport, Málaga is on Costa del Sol in the sunny south of Spain. The house where Picasso was born, the Picasso Birthplace Museum, boasts a permanent collection of original pieces by the artist and helps set the stage for Picasso’s life.
Statue of Picasso in his hometown of Málaga, Spain.
“Picasso’s father, José Ruiz, was an art professor and painter,” Isabel says. “He specialized in realistic depictions of birds.”
According to his mother, Maria Picasso, her son’s first word was ‘piz,’ which is short for ‘pencil’ in Spanish. “Seeing that his son was talented, Picasso’s father gave him art training when he was very young,” Isabel says.
A life-size photo of Picasso welcomes visitors to his birthplace museum.
However, it wasn’t long before the young boy had far surpassed his father as an artist. “My father handed over to me his brushes and palette. At the time, I didn’t understand why. I was too young,” Picasso is quoted in a museum display. “It was not until much later that I came to understand the full significance of his gesture.”
Isabel explains, “His father knew that Picasso was what he couldn’t be.”
Picasso’s “The Bull” at his birthplace museum.
The birthplace museum has art work by Picasso’s father and Picasso, the baby’s christening gown, brown baby shoe (the first shoes worn by Picasso when he was learning to walk), tin soldiers he played with and a recreated living and dining space furnished as it might have been when the family lived there.
Also displayed is a reproduction of a Spanish cape given to Picasso by bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin in 1956. “Picasso and his father went to the bullfights here in Málaga,” Isabel says. “You can see how bulls and bullfights played an important part in Picasso’s life and art.”
A reproduction of a Spanish cape given to Picasso by bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin in 1956 is in Picasso’s birthplace museum.
Panoramic views from mountain-high Málaga Parador
For an excellent view of the Plaza de Toros la Malagueta bullring where Picasso spent so many exciting hours with his father, visit Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro. High upon a hill surrounded by pine trees, the hotel built of stone offers the best panoramic sights of the city and bay of Málaga where large cruise ships are docked.
View of Plaza de Toros de la Malagueta bullring and cruise ships docked in harbor in photo taken afrom Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro.
The sight was spectacular, as was lunch at the Parador. Paradors are one of my cherished reasons for visiting Spain. Paradors are a network of 96-state-run hotels in restored castles, monasteries, convents, palaces and fortresses as well as some exceptional modern properties.
In Málaga, I stayed three nights at the Hotel Molina Lario, a beautiful hotel with easy walking access to city sights. A short walk away is a hop-on hop-off bus that gives a wonderful overview of what the city offers.
For dinner, El Pimpi not only offers delicious food – especially Spain’s famous jamón (ham) – and great décor, the restaurant is co-owned by one of my favorite actors, Antonio Banderas. Born in Málaga – just two blocks from Picasso’s birthplace – Antonio portrayed Picasso in the 11-part TV series on “Genius” by National Geographic.
Antonio Banderas signs a wine barrel in his El Pimpi restaurant in a photo displayed in the restaurant.
Opened in 2003, the nearby Museum Picasso Málaga exhibits more than 230 works by Picasso. The collection shows the different artistic phases Picasso went through, with examples of his drawings, oil paintings, engravings, sculptures and ceramics.
Picasso’s “Head of a Bull” made from two pieces – bicycle handlebars and seat at the Museo Picasso in Málaga.
Picasso’s “Child with a Shovel” at the Museo Picasso in Málaga.
Picasso’s famous “Guernica” in Madrid
In Madrid, the Reina Sofia Art Center is home to one of Picasso’s most well-known paintings, the vast, mural-sized “Guernica.” Made in 1937, the painting documents the horrific bombing of the Spanish Basque town named Guernica under the command of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso’s “Guernica” at Reina Sofia Art Center in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Reina Sofia Art Center.
An estimated 1,654 people were killed and another 889 were injured in the morning attack on market day when most people were at the market. That is one-third of the population of Guernica. Many survivors were left homeless from the bombing.
“One of the worst things you can do to a Basque is to take away his home. Ninety-five percent of the buildings in Guernica were destroyed or partially destroyed,” says tour guide Jorge Román. “It was devastation.”
Although Picasso usually avoided making political statements, he was horrified by the death and destruction. His massive 11.5-foot by 25.5-foot artwork done in black and white speaks of the horrors of war.
“Guernica” became a symbol for Spanish democracy and freedom. Picasso decreed that the painting would not return to Spain until Franco was out of power. Tragically, Franco remained the dictator of Spain for the rest of Picasso’s life and the painting safely stayed in New York.
On Sept. 10, 1981, “Guernica” was sent to Madrid. In 1992, the masterpiece was moved to the new Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. “It took Picasso 35 days to paint this,” Jorge says. “It’s an allegory about what horrors modern war can inflict without warning on the lives of everyday people.”
Very superstitious man
Picasso was a rarity among artists. He became quite wealthy during his lifetime but he was also extremely superstitious. He died without a will because he feared that putting such death thoughts down on paper might hasten his demise. Therefore, the fight over his wealth and belongings consumed the family for quite some time after his death.
Although Picasso had many women, he had only two wives – his first wife, ballet dancer Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova who he married in 1918 – and his last wife, Jacqueline Roque, who he married in 1961 and was with him until his death in 1973.
Picasso also superstitiously believed that a person’s hair possessed magical powers and should not fall into the wrong hands.
As a result, Picasso always dreaded having his hair cut until he found a barber he trusted to properly dispose of his shorn locks. In fact, the friendship between the trusted barber and artist is honored in a museum in the small medieval hamlet of Buitrago de Lozoya in the Madrid outskirts.
Gifts Picasso made for his long-time barber and friend are at the Picasso Museum Eugenio Arias Collection
The museum itself – Picasso Museum Eugenio Arias Collection – is a tribute to the friendship between the two men, Picasso the famous artist and Eugenio the humble barber. The two men met in 1945 in France at a homage to Spaniards who had fought in the French underground movement against the Nazi invasion.
They quickly bonded over their love of bullfighting, political beliefs in peace and freedom and shared Spanish background. “Arias said he was impressed by Picasso’s eyes, said Picasso had X-ray eyes that could look right into you,” says tour guide Amalia Martinez.
Although Eugenio lived in France when he met Picasso, the barber was from Buitrago de Lozoya. At first Picasso would go to the barber shop but the artist didn’t like other customers in line for haircuts deferring to him so he soon arranged for Arias to visit him in his own home to cut his hair.
Picasso’s devoted barber/friend museum
Eugenio then became Picasso’s friend and confidant with the artist giving the barber art works as gifts, including an impressive wooden box in which Eugenio kept his barber’s equipment.
A photo of Picasso and his longtime barber and confidant Eugenio Arias. Photo courtesy of Picasso Museum Eugenio Arias Collection
Picasso had decorated the box with several bullfighting scenes using pyro-engraving – a somewhat unusual technique in which Picasso engraved on the surface of the wood with incandescent metal. Picasso also dedicated the box “To my friend Arias.”
A shaving bowl with Don Quixote images that Picasso made for his barber Eugenio Arias.
“A man from Japan had given Arias a blank check to buy it but Arias would not sell,” Amalia says. “When Picasso was really wanting a bullfighter cape, Arias’ father was a tailor and Arias had his father make the Spanish cape in a special way.”
A gift Picasso made for his barber friend Eugenio Arias.
Picasso painted up until a few hours before he died. Picasso was buried in that special cape and Eugenio sat with his friend’s body throughout the night.
Eugenio opened the museum in 1985 and dedicated it to art and friendship. Eugenio died April 28, 2008, in France at the age of 98.
For more information: Contact the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago at (312) 642-1992 or www.spain.info/en/discover-spain/picasso-sites-spain
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch unless otherwise captioned
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