Ester Barón

Picasso by Joan Merli. A first biography as challenge, validity, past and present

Saturday 29 April 2017- Session 09 @ Hotel Colón

Joan Merli i Pahissa (1901-1995) editor, collector, dealer and art critic was one of the most influential and relevant figures of the Catalan culture from the inter-war years but, despite the consideration of his work during his time both in Catalonia and in South America where he settled after the Civil War, today his name is rather unknown amongst us.   

Joan Merli was author of the first biography about Picasso in Spanish Picasso: el artista y la obra de nuestro tiempo (Picasso: the artist and work of our time) published by El Ateneo of Buenos Aires in 1942 and, subsequently, in a second revised edition in 1948 by the publisher Poseidón, owned by him.

In Catalonia during the 1920s and 1930s, texts about Picasso were already included in magazines that he published, such as “La Mà Trencada” (The broken hand) (1925) or the prestigious magazine “Art” of which he was director. Meanwhile, in 1942 he founded in Buenos Aires the publisher Poseidón specialised in art books, along with other publishing projects such as the launching of various collections, highlighting the cultural interests in the consecration of contemporary art and his commitment as a guide of collecting in plastic arts through his task as a publisher.

Joan Merli was the first to tackle a study about the work of Picasso within the context of Catalan art by assuming the influences that artists as Ramon Casas, Isidre Nonell or Romanesque painting would have on the work of the young painter at a moment in which the French painters saw in him the imprint of French art.   

Therefore, through our study, we aim to show how the historical narratives about the work of Pablo Picasso were constructed.  Furthermore, our proposal has the main aim of recuperating the important task of Joan Merli as an editor, researcher and disseminator of the early Picasso work in Barcelona and years later during his exile in Argentina.

First of all, we want to reflect on how Joan Merli took on the challenge of a first critical-biographical monograph about Picasso and the way in which this would become a reference for other authors, as is the case of Alfred H. Barr, Jr., in his work Picasso. Fifty Years of his Art published by The Museum of Modern Art of New York in 1946.

Secondly, we would like to show what the contribution of Joan Merli has been through his Picassian bibliography and what is the current validity of his work while at the same time explaining why his book, in spite of being the first in bringing together the work and life of Picasso, was unknown in Catalonia and Spain.   

Overall, our proposal aims to retrieve from oblivion his work as the first biographer of Picasso in Spanish and as an excellent graphic compiler of his artistic production, through which, the work of Picasso was made known in South America and within the international panorama, by fostering its collection.

Ester Barón

Art Historian, Universitat de Barcelona

Art historian.  Degree and Master’s Degree in Advanced Studies in Art History from the University of Barcelona.  Doctorate with the thesis about the art dealer, publisher and art critic Joan Merli (1901-1995). She has carried out documentary research for museums, artists, gallery owners, and private collectors and for the research group Gracmon (UB). She has worked on catalogues of museums and artistic reviews.  Her fields of research are Catalan art between the wars, and the international connections with the United States through travelling exhibitions, and the artistic relations between Catalonia and France with a special interest in Catalunya Nord  and South America.  Her recent publications and participation in congresses include these topics.

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Museu Picasso Barcelona
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