Portrait of Pau Cucurny with a Dog

WAG 2000.34


Until recently the man in this sketched portrait was anonymous, but research in the Francesc Serra photographic collection of the Barcelona city archives has recently helped identify him.Pau Cucurny (or Paul Cucurny, Pau being the Catalan for Paul) was an art enthusiast and son of Màrius Cucurny i Guiu, the owner of a factory manufacturing fireproof material in Hospitalet de Llobregat, a town (now a suburb) south-west of Barcelona. Though Pau Cucurny was not an artist he enjoyed frequenting the same bohemian circles of struggling painters and poets in Barcelona as the young Picasso, particularly those linked to the artist-run bar/restaurant, Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) in Carrer Montsió near the Ramblas in Barcelona. It was probably there that Picasso first met him. He continued his acquaintance in Paris, where Picasso’s close friend and studio companion, Carles Casagemas, mentioned a chance encounter with Cucurny in a letter of October 1900. Picasso may well also have drawn this quick portrait sketch of Cucurny in Els Quatre Gats, as the dog looks similar to the one owned by one of the bar owners, Pere Romeu, which features in the foreground of a poster design that Picasso drew for Els Quatre Gats in 1902. The tavern closed down in June 1903 and Cucurny died shortly afterwards still a bachelor. Picasso’s earliest cataloguer, Christian Zervos, dated the drawing to 1903, when Picasso spent most of the year in Barcelona, having returned almost penniless from an unsuccessful extended period in Paris in the winter of 1902. He had only succeeded in selling one work, a pastel of a 'Mother and Child', and that sale was made to fund his return trip to Spain. The day before leaving, in order to keep warm, he supposedly burnt the drawings and watercolours he had done that year. The Walker’s portrait is one of a small group of eight pen sketches freely drawn in a combination of ink and watercolour. Cucurny’s figure is clearly outlined with a strong silhouette, shaded with delicate brushstrokes of blue watercolour and a vigorous zigzagging in brown ink in the shadows. The year 1903 was one of the most fertile of Picasso’s youth. From this year date many of the works representative of his ‘Blue Period’ (end of 1901-Spring 1904), when he produced some of his most iconic paintings in that style, such as 'The Old Guitarist' (Chicago Art Institute) and 'The Blind Man' (Toledo, Ohio). He also produced some of his most renowned portraits of his friends in the bohemian circles of Barcelona, including the 'Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto' (private collection), with whom he shared a studio in 1903, which shows him louchely leaning on a bar table, nursing a large wine-glass, and wreathed in smoke. In comparison Picasso’s portrait of Cucurny shows him as a highly respectable member of the well-to-do middle class, fashionably clothed in a Chesterfield overcoat with velvet revers and a hat; even the dog stands patient but alert behind him. By contrast when, in the same year, Picasso sketched a schematic self-portrait, using the same blue wash and scribbled ink style, its mood was transformed by the artist’s dog straining aggressively at its leash and Picasso wears a beret to suggest his allegiance to the working class. Both drawings demonstrate Picasso’s superb abilities as a caricaturist. Cucurny’s portrait shows an element of Picasso amusingly sending up this middle-class artists’ hanger-on. By 1903 Picasso was already dismissive of the quality and character of Barcelona’s artistic and literary circles and was considering breaking into the artistic avant-garde by moving back to Paris again. He left Barcelona, and the acquaintance of Pau Cucurny, for the last time in April 1904.