Born in Barcelona in 1881, victim of the political and economic crisis of 1898, Jaume Sabartés i Gual was an aspiring artist, who, after accompanying his friend Picasso to Paris in 1901, emigrated in 1904 to Guatemala where he lived for almost twenty five years and became one of the intellectuals who extended ties between Latin American modernism with European modernism. We don’t know much about his private life: he got married with a Guatamala lady, Rosa Robles Corzo who he separated from after meeting up again with an old girlfriend during a trip to Barcelona, right in the middle of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. With Mercedes Iglesias, they moved to Montevideo in 1928, the city where they would reside until1932, the year in which the couple moved to Paris. There, in 1935, Picasso proposed he work for him. Discreet, and in the shadows, he would continue working for the painter until the end of his life: he would be his friend, confidante, manager, secretary, butler, and the first filter that his personal and social relations would have to pass through.
Our talk proposes questioning the role and figure of a person who represents, therefore, much more than a footnote of the biography of Picasso. The personality of Sabartés didn’t go unnoticed and his figure occupied an important space both in the biographies of Picasso, as well as in the memoires of various intellectuals of the period (Gertrude Stein, Brassaï, Jean Renoir, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, Paul Éluard, Geneviève Laporte, Carlos Valentí, Rafael Rodríguez Padilla, José Mora Guarnido, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Josep Palau i Fabre or John Richardson) in whose texts he would appear as one of the leitmotiv of the Picasso portraits. Everyone emphasised the fact that it was the look of Sabartés in the works about Picasso, Picasso in his work with the reproduction of nineteen paintings selected by the painter (1936) and very especially, Picasso: portraits et souvenirs (1946) and Picasso: Documents iconographiques (1954), which laid the foundations for the construction of the image of the painter as an artist.
For this reason, we think it is interesting to reconstruct the figure of Sabartés, eternal secondary player, incorrigible dilettante, incontinent graphologist, who never renounced his own condition of being artist and writer. In this sense we consider that Picasso is his most important work. As a ‘satellite’ intellectual who gravitated around a star, the biography of his friend allowed him to place his own self-portrait there: although he constructed the books with Picasso’s complicity and connivance, elaborating there the image of the modern artist, a fundamentally literary image and indebted to the modernist tradition and recreating the atmosphere of the finisecular Barcelona, Sabartés makes a great effort to emerge right there in the Picasso landscape, discreetly, off-centre, and sometimes uncomfortable, and nonetheless in an inescapable way. In this sense, it will be interesting to compare the biographical gesture with the case of other ‘satellite’ intellectuals, friends of his such as José Mora Guarnido, who also used the biography of Federico García Lorca to construct his own self-portrait.