Josep Palau i Fabre, in memoriam
30 years ago I met Josep Palau. They were the times of El Congreso de Cultura Catalana (the Congress of Catalan Culture). A series of writers, artists and other cultural personalities volunteered to travel the country to present the objectives of the Congress.
Josep Palau was one of those personalities. Who better than him to make the presentation in Horta de Sant Joan (known to Picasso as Horta d’Ebre)? Palau already knew Horta. He talked about it in his book “Picasso in Catalunya” and had made a film about the places in Catalunya which had a connection with Picasso. I contacted him, and he was delighted to accept the invitation to visit Horta to present the Congress. The event was a success, but the real success for us was his proposal to create a centre that would house the facsimiles of all the works produced in Horta by Pablo Picasso. Palau guided us, located the works, and commissioned the facsimiles. Without his personal help and his work, the Centre Picasso of Horta would not exist. Since then I have visited him many times. I have to say that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to sit down anywhere. His books, his correspondence, his notes …they invaded the whole house!
I was lucky enough to follow the design and layout of “Picasso Vivo” , the work that starts the most complete study on Picasso (I hope that the fourth volume will be published soon. We are waiting for it impatiently). There have been many shared times talking about the Malaga painter. We knew some anecdotes about the stays of the young Picasso in Horta, especially the second one in 1909, which our parents and grandparents had told us about. But speaking with Palau we learned that the relationship between Picasso and Catalunya, and specifically with “Horta d’Ebre”, went well beyond a few anecdotes. Above all, we learned to love Picasso, to love him as Palau understands that he should be loved. In the literary criticism of the book Dear Picasso, Palau writes these simple and powerful words: “To love someone is to accept him or her as he or she is, not how we would like the person to be.”
In the books Picasso en Catalunya and Picasso i els seus amics catalans (Picasso and his Catalan friends), Palau showed us a Picasso rooted in the land of Catalunya – Barcelona, Gósol, Horta d’Ebre – a man who was deeply attached to a number of friends from his youth. Some of them were life-long friendships, like our Manuel Pallarès. It was Palau who effectively returned the inspiration for the painting Les senyoretes de calle Avinyó de Barcelona (the young ladies of calle Avinyó in Barcelona)) to Catalunya when it was recognised NOT to have been the result of French inspiration, and many books – translated into many languages – which include the notation “Translated from Catalan” on the insistence of Palau and in which Palau shows evidence of Picasso’s Catalanism.
It is not necessary to praise the exhaustive and documented study that Palau makes of Picasso and his work, the result of many hours of research and many interviews with the painter. His books and international recognition say everything. He studied his work with a depth and perfectionism that led him to visit the places where Picasso had been inspired, and at the same time of the year in order to capture the colours and tonalities just as the painter had captured them. Towards the end of the book Dear Picasso which I mentioned before, with the ingenuity and honesty that characterizes the whole text, Palau explains how Madame Leiris – in the presence of several people – asks Picasso: “Of all those who deal with your work, who do you believe does it with most ability? Who is the one you trust most?” “Palau”, Picasso replied.
But Palau went further. He took his understanding of Picasso beyond that of the other scholars of the artist’s work. He was a poet and was able to grasp the cryptic language that is very present in the works of Picasso. He understood the significance of Picasso’s work better than anyone, because he studied it not only as a scholar but also as a creator. This allowed him not only to get closer to Picasso’s works than other scholars but also to identify himself with them.
A few years ago, a friend of ours, Dr. Enrique Mallén, Professor at the University of Texas and director of ON LINE PICASSO PROJECT, the most important website about the painter, asked me to get an interview for him with his admired Palau i Fabre. On arrival in Barcelona, Mallén explained to me: “Yesterday before leaving, my wife asked me: ‘What are you going to do in Spain?’…. probably thinking that I was going to see an exhibition or give a lecture. I replied ‘I’m going to see Picasso’ . Then I made myself a bit clearer. ‘Today, the person who can most identify himself with Picasso and his work is Palau.’” I totally agree with him.
It has been a luxury for us that a Catalan poet has studied Picasso with the intensity of Palau , because only a poet could understand that, in the cubist works of Horta, in which our beloved Santa Bárbara mountain and the body of Picasso’s partner, Fernande Olivier, are integrated, to the point that it is impossible to distinguish the folds in her clothes or of her hair from the rocky folds of the mountain. In this integration Picasso wants to show the fusion of his two loves of that moment: Horta and Fernande.
Only a poet familiar with Picasso’s idiosyncrasies could understand that the translucent houses of the works produced in Horta in 1909, such as La Balsa (The water reserve) or Casas sobre una colina (Houses on a hill) , are a mythification and a homage to a village where the painter was happy, the village where, according to Palau, Picasso found the “Lost Paradise.” Palau says in the book Picasso Cubism:
“For a long time in his life – perhaps forever – Horta represented the Lost Paradise, that lost paradise that almost everybody, in one way or another, carries inside.”
Now, Josep, you are in Paradise, where the people who love and are loved go. For sure you will have found your friends and amongst them, Picasso.
Josep Palau i Fabre, thank you for loving Picasso, thank you for being a poet, and thank you for loving Catalunya.
Rest in peace. We will always remember you.
Thank you for everything.
Centre Picasso d’Horta