Birthplace and "Casas de Campos"
If we want to trace Picasso’s steps through the city of Malaga we should begin at the house where he was born which has been reconverted into the Pablo Ruiz Picasso Foundation. It was on the first floor of this building (at nº 15 Plaza de la Merced, then numbered 36) that Pablo was born, on the night of 25th October 1881. The flat had been rented by José Ruiz Blasco in 1879 (he marriaged with Maria Picasso Lopez in 1880) and its original construction dates from 1861 and was the work of the master builder Diego Clavero.
This building would shortly after form part of the so-called “Casas de Campos”: two wide blocks of a single design that occupied the whole northwest façade of the Plaza de la Merced. The nickname derives from the developer and original owner Antonio Campos Garin, Marquis of Iznate, one of the most important real estate capitals of Malaga in the 19th Century. Designed as a harmonious composition, it consists of a ground floor and three storeys of arched spaces with balconies – with figurative adornments and polychromatic glass windows in the first floor tympanums – and to finish off the design, at the top an attic with balconies enclosed by parapets. The buildings stand on a plot that was available after the selling off of the convent of Santa Maria de la Paz, and the project designed by the master builder, Rafael Moreno, dates from 1868; on the whole it would adapt to match the style of the remains of the original building (the current central offices of the Foundation) but where it does not harmonise can be seen in the interior of the building: there is an increasing unevenness noticeable as one goes from storey to storey, which separates the main living quarters from the rest of the dwelling. The building work having been started in 1870, the prestigious architect Jeronimo Cuervo took over the supervision of the project and his contribution can be clearly appreciated in the finishing of the façade, similar to the general appearance of the many of his building works in Malaga.
In 1884, Picasso’s family moved to the third floor flat on the left hand side, Nº 17 – then number 32 – of the “Casas de Campos”. It was here he lived with his parents, his two sisters, his grandmother and two maternal aunts, until 1891, the year in which he left for La Corunna. His first known works as a child date from his time in this flat.
Plaza de la Merced
The Plaza de la Merced was the square in which Pablo the child played his first games. In Roman times it had been the site of an amphitheatre, but in the Middle Ages it was merely a broad space open at the wall that surrounded Malaga in this section of the city, the scene of fierce skirmishes during the Castilian blockade. The entrance known by the Moslems as the Theatre Gate and by the Christians as the Granada gate (as it gave onto the road to Granada) was the place where the Moslems surrendered on the 19th August 1487. After the conquest a public market was set up and over a period of time buildings were erected forming the square. These included the convents of La Paz and La Merced, the hospital of Santa Ana and the new housing blocks that replaced the walls. In the 18th Century, the square was adorned with trees and a garden, making it a pleasant place for walking but it was to fall into such neglect that around 1830 it had become a wasteland. In 1822 General Riego was staying in one of the houses which adopted his name for a large part of the 19th century; the raising of the monument in honour of Torrijos and his comrades in 1842 (the work of the town architect Rafael Mitjana) reinforced its status as a place symbolising the struggle for freedom by holding an annual celebration to commemorate his death by firing squad. In 1836 the convent of La Merced was sold off, being replaced by a parish church and military barracks. The presence of soldiers was most likely responsible for changing the atmosphere of the area. In 1858 the square at last underwent renovation through a project designed by the town architect José Trigueros, and emerged looking practically as it does to this day. Picasso was to participate in the lively social activity of the square with its leisured classes out for a stroll and popular folk such as salesmen, soldiers, servants, street musicians, etc.
The church of La Merced which stood just opposite the main entrance to Picasso’s birthplace was broken into and burnt in 1931, as had unfortunately occurred to other places of worship. It was never rebuilt and its place was occupied by a block of flats.
At the beginning of Calle Granada, on the corner with Plaza de la Merced, we can see the chemist’s Bustamante, where Picasso’s father would be found indulging in lively conversation, when the place was run by the Mamely family. A few metres away we find the parish church of Santiago, founded in 1490 by the Catholic Kings, with its baroque interior and characteristic Mudejar style tower. It was here that the paternal grandparents of Picasso had got married, and here he and his sisters had been christened. Also in Calle Granada was the jeweller’s shop that belonged to an uncle and mentor of Picasso, Baldomero Ghiara (where the present day Nº 5 stands, which was previously 9-15), and where we can still look up in awe at the beautiful painted allegories on the ceiling.
Calle San Agustin
To the left of Calle Granada is the turning into calle San Agustin. At the beginning of this street appears to be the nursery school attended by Picasso. And as you approach the end of the street, next to the church of San Agustin, we find the old convent and school of the same name, founded at the end of the 16th century. This building housed the offices of Malaga Town Hall from 1869 onwards. On the second floor of the building, beside several offices, we find the municipal archives and museum. José Ruiz, Picasso’s father, was the curator of this museum from 1879, although his tenure was irregular given the shortage of funds in the municipal coffers. Despite being almost always closed, the museum exhibited works of the city’s main artists. In compensation for the delay in payment of his salary, Jose Ruiz was allowed to set up his painting workshop there, which Picasso perfectly recalls having visited as a child on numerous occasions, and where he made his copies of art works and his famous dovecotes.
Calle San Agustín: The Picasso Museum of Malaga
Before leaving calle San Agustín it should be mentioned that it was in this street that the Picasso Museum of Malaga had its inauguration on the 27th October 2003, with an initial collection of 155 of the artist’s works, covering all the styles and techniques. This collection was donated by Christine Ruiz-Picasso, the widow of Paul Ruiz-Picasso (the painter’s first child), and her son, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, and the project was put together by the Autonomous regional Government of Andalusia. The Museum has, in addition to the rooms assigned for the permanent collection, another set of rooms for temporary exhibitions, a library, a bookshop and an auditorium. Since being set up, the museum has been run by the Malaga Picasso Museum Foundation (which owns the buildings that house the exhibition) and the Paul, Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso Foundation (which owns the collection), and on the 4th March 2008 the Advisory Board of the Autonomous Regional Government authorised the Cultural Commission to adopt the agreements reached previously by virtue of which both foundations are joined into a single entity which, starting from 2009, will have full authority over the collection and its headquarters.
This newly created entity is based principally in the Palacio de Buenavista, built in the 16th century by Diego Cazalla on top of the remains of a Nazarí Palace. Declared a National Heritage Monument in 1939, it was leased to the State in 1946 for the purposes of housing the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts which, however, was not inaugurated until 1961. In December of the same year it was the venue for an exhibition of Picasso’s ceramic work, its first individual showing in Malaga, and in 1964 was the opening of the “Picasso Rooms”, which became the home for several pieces of the artist’s work and the bibliographic donation of the Sabartès Legacy. In 1997, the Palacio de Buenavista was acquired by the Malaga Picasso Museum (the Museum of Fine Arts moved to the Palacio de la Aduana, which has been approved as its definitive headquarters, although at present the building work needed to complete the project is still under way). The diversification of the services offered meant that, from the beginning, the adjacent buildings needed to be adapted and other new buildings constructed, which were incorporated into the new museum complex. This extension and renovation work was entrusted to the architects Richard Gluckman, Isabel Camara and Rafael Martin Delgado.
Plaza de la Consitucion (Constitution Square) and Calle Comedias
Returning to the Picasso route, in the Plaza de la Constitucion we find the Malaga Athenaeum, which during Picasso’s childhood period was the San Telmo School of Fine Arts. José Ruiz was a student at this School and later worked there as an assistant teacher of Line drawing. Although Picasso was never enrolled there, being under the required age, it is likely that on occasions he would have accompanied his father. Today the Athenaeum conserves a permanent record of this association and is the centre of numerous cultural activities.
In the nearby Calle Comedias was San Rafael School, at nº 20 (nowadays nº 18) where Picasso studied as a child. The artist’s recollection of this building with its central courtyard surrounded by columns, was of an establishment “assembled in a modern style, filled with light and well ventilated”, although what he best remembered was his boredom and the fear that his father would not come to collect him: “I was sure that if he left me the walking stick and the dove then he would return for me. What he preferred more than the stick was the dove or the paintbrushes because he knew he could not do without any of them”.
Plaza de San Francisco (St. Francis Square) and Calle Gaona
Not very far away, in the Plaza de San Francisco, stands the Royal Music Conservatory Maria Cristina. In the 19th Century this building housed the Lyceum of Science, Literature and Art and was the main venue of numerous activities, attracting to its salon representatives of Malaga intellectual life. It is certain that Picasso would have accompanied his father on one or other occasion and we can give credence to the story that the painter Martinez de la Vega “christened him” as a painter in 1897, after he had obtained the prize in the General Exhibition of Fine Arts for his work “Science and Charity”.
At long last, the historical city centre is now home, in the calle Gaona, near the new Plaza de la Merced, to the Secondary School Vicente Espinel. Called simply “Secondary School” in Picasso’s time, on the 25th of June 1891 it was there that he had to sit the exam to gain a place at the High School of La Corunna, a city that he and his family were to move to in October.
The Malagueta Bull Ring
And now, turning our attention slightly away from the central urban locations described above, we should include a reference, finally, to the Malagueta bullring, opened in 1876. Picasso went many times with his father to watch the bull fights in which he saw the most illustrious bullfighters of that period, and this would develop in him an enthusiasm that was to accompany him all his life and have a profound influence on his artistic iconography. He also recalled, according to his secretary Jaime Sabartés, having been at the bull ring watching Moreno Carbonero working on his painting “The Arrival of Roger de Flor in Constantinople” (1888), surrounded by horses and friends dressed up to serve as models for him.
This section is fundamentally based on the texts by Rafael Inglada for the publication Picasso's Málaga , edited by the Tourism Department of Malaga City Council in 1998, the chapters 3 and 4 from his book Picasso: 30 visiones (Málaga: Arguval, 2003) and the corresponding items from his Diccionario Málaga-Picasso, Picasso-Málaga (Málaga: Arguval, 2005).