• 2023.09.28
  • El Greco and Cubism
You’re probably thinking “What does El Greco have to do with Cubism?” right? So, what is the connection between the Greek man who mainly painted religious works in Spain’s ancient capital Toledo, a forerunner to the masters of the so-called Golden Age of Spanish painting like Velázquez and Zurbarán, and the new art movement that emerged in Paris at the start of the 20th century?

Photo 1

Photo 2

“Picasso, el Greco y el cubismo analítico” (“Picasso, El Greco and Analytical Cubism”) is the title of an exhibition being held at the Prado Museum in memory of Picasso, 50 years after his passing (June 13, 2023-September 17, 2023). The exhibition displays the saints of El Greco and the abstract works of Picasso side by side to highlight the relationships between them. Photos 1 and 2 show some of the exhibited works.

Born in 1881 in the Mediterranean port town of Malaga, Picasso demonstrated a talent for painting at a young age, he was permitted to enroll at the “Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando” (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando) in Madrid at the young age of 16 and is said to have spent most of the time while in Madrid at the Prado Museum.

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 3 shows one of the exhibits at this exhibition. It is a list of the people permitted to copy artworks at the Prado Museum. Picasso is registrant number 677, having received permission to copy artworks there on October 13, 1897, immediately after enrolling at the academy. He probably didn’t imagine then that he himself would be nominated Director of the museum 40 years later. Photo 4 shows the letter of appointment issued by the government of the republic on September 26, 1936.

From time to time, he brought his schoolmate Bernareggi (number 683 on the list mentioned above) along to the Prado Museum to copy artworks and sought appraisal by sending their copies to Picasso’s father, who taught art in Barcelona. They made the grade with their copies of Velázquez, Goya, and the Venetian school, but Picasso’s father responded to their copies of El Greco by saying “You’ve got him all wrong.” It seems El Greco’s style of painting, which boldly deforms the subject, had not been accepted and he was still considered to be some sort of dangerous painter, even 300 years after his passing.

Then from the 19th to the 20th centuries, the avant-garde artists in Spain and France re-appraised his work, seeing the possibilities for a new art unchained from the academy, and started becoming his enthusiastic supporters. This fad was called the “El Greco Myth”, which was probably one of the reasons why Torajiro Kojima managed to purchase El Greco’s “Annunciation,” at the behest of Magosaburo Ohara, founder of the Ohara Museum of Art.

Photo 5

Incidentally, the Cubism initiated by Picasso among others developed from Analytical Cubism into Synthetic Cubism, and it is the earlier Analytical Cubism that features in the present exhibition. However, there is a previous work said to represent the very dawn of Cubism. It is “Les senyoretes del carrer d'Avinyó” (“The Young Ladies of Avignon”), in Photo 5, a 1907 painting by Picasso of prostitutes in the red-light district of Barcelona. Before Picasso, Cezanne used this method of reconstructing subjects as though they were cubes, so it is also called “cubismo cezaniano” (“Cezanne Cubism”) or even “proto-cubismo” (“Proto-Cubism”) as it was the prototype of Cubism.

It is accepted opinion that the inception of Picasso’s Cubism lies in his encounters with Cezanne’s works and African art, however, the present exhibition made me think that Picasso’s experiences in the Prado Museum at the young age of 16, being confronted by the works of El Greco, which reconstruct the subject by assimilating and deforming it, might have been the seed of Cubism germinated in Picasso. Perhaps it could really be called “cubismo grequiano” (“El Greco Cubism”).

El Greco moved from Crete, the island of his birth, for Venice, Rome, and finally Toledo, Spain’s ancient capital, where he developed a unique style of painting before his death there. Picasso left his homeland Spain for Paris before ending his days in the south of France, which closely resembled his hometown of Malaga, so this exhibition is an encounter with 2 masters whose paths in life traced a similar kind of route.

I’m sorry to impose this personal story on you, but what prompted the three main topics of the Prado Museum, El Greco, and copying artworks was the sight of a Japanese woman I often saw studiously copying the artworks in the El Greco room at an art museum I used to frequent for work. Over a long 35-year period starting in 1975, she never gave up closely examining El Greco by copying his works, which probably makes her the Japanese artist best acquainted with El Greco’s works. Her name is Michiko Noda, a master artist from Nagasaki Prefecture.

By curious coincidence, as though in conjunction with the Prado Museum, a Cubism exhibition is being held in Japan as well: “The Cubist Revolution - An Exhibition from the Collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris”
Venue: The National Museum of Western Art
Dates: October 3, 2023 (Tue.) to January 28, 2024 (Sun.)


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

View a list of Susumu Yamada's

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