Els Quatre Gats

A century ago Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats) was the bohemian hangout for Spanish artists in the golden age of modernisme. The bar (featured in the Hero Image) is located in Barcelona, in the Casa Martí which was the first building designed by architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1896: a Modernista fantasy combining elements of Catalan and northern Gothic. Eusebi Arnau sculpted the St George and the Dragon on the corner, a motif that Puig would make his own.

Els Quatre Gats was founded in 1897. The idea for the cabaret/bar came from Pere Romeu whom we met riding on the back of a tandem bicycle with the painter Ramon Casas. Romeu had worked as a waiter at the Montmartre cabaret cafe Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) and became intrigued by the Shadow Theatre which had become a popular form of entertainment in France. This is an example of shadow theatre as designed by Henri Riviere for Le Chat Noir which is thought to be the first modern cabaret/nightclub where patrons sat at tables and drank alcoholic beverages while being entertained by a variety show on stage including Shadow Puppetry.
Shadow play, also known as shadow puppetry, is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment (from many countries) which uses flat articulated cut-out figures (shadow puppets) which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen or scrim. (Wikipedia)

As a little aside- By sheer coincidence, today, when on the Heritage Hill tour in Dandenong, Victoria, I saw some work of Kyoko Imazu who works in paper, including puppetry. I will give you a look at her work in a couple of days.

In the mid 1890s Pere Romeu, along with the artist Miquel Utrillo i Morlius (father of the Parisian painter Maurice Utrillo) and sculptor Frederic Homdedeu organised Shadow Plays in Chicago and New York. Their company failed and they returned to Barcelona and began work on opening Els Quatre Gats based on Le Chat Noir.

The money came from Ramon Casas i Carbó and the banker, senator and director of the chamber of commerce, Manuel Girona, plus a loan from antique dealer Maties Ardeniz. The painter Santiago Rusinyol was also part of the venture. The advertising posters were designed by Ramon Casas.
The figure depicted in this poster is of Pere Romeu who certainly managed the cabaret and in some accounts is recorded as the owner. Romeu was described as a tall, gangling failed painter, whose greasy hair, pop eyes, and yellow Bugs Bunny teeth, caricatured and preserved in scores of drawings, paintings and posters became one of the familar morifs of Catalan modernisme.

Els Quatre Gats was a great success. The café quickly became a meeting point for artists.The most well known patron was of course Pablo Picasso who painted Ramon Casas.
Picasso also painted Miquel Utrillo in pen and sepia ink with wash on paper. Both images were done 1899-1900. Picasso also painted Pere Romeu and tomorrow you will see some of these images.

Els Quatre Gats was closed in 1903. According to some sources, the cafe had become out of fashion and artists moved to other occasions. According to others, Pere Romeo was more interested in the tertulias (gatherings) than in the money and there was bad entrepreneurship.

Today there’s a new Quatre Gats. Instead of cobwebs, there's a painstaking reproduction of the original décor by Puig, with copies of the original paintings, many of which are now in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). (https://www.facarospauls.com/apps/barcelona-art-and-culture/314/els-quatre-gats)

On the sign at the entrance to the Els Quatre Gats was a picture of some mischievous cats attributed to the young Picasso. The name Four Cats had two sources. One was a Catalan saying, "No one's here but us four cats"—meaning a gang. The other source was undoubtedly the Chat Noir, the famous Parisian café where Miquel Utrillo and Pere Romeu had begun their artistic careers manipulating shadow puppets.
These sketches capturing life inside the Els Quatre Gats were done by Ricard Opisso (1880–1966) Spanish cartoonist, caricaturist, illustrator and painter.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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