Horta de Sant Joan, a small town of 1,300 inhabitants in the south of the province of Tarragona, wouldn’t have the same historical value if two simple elements had not met there: a tree and a painter. The tree is called Lo Parot, no less than a two thousand year old tree with the record for longevity in the peninsula. The painter, a certain Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). The same painter who one day said, “Everything I know I learnt in Horta”.
The olive tree was there when a young, 16-year old Picasso sick with scarlet fever came to this town in the Tierra Alta district, on the banks of the Ebro River. His great friend Manuel Pallarés, a natural to the area, invited him to spend a holiday in his house, promising him that his mother’s hen soups would give him back the vitality that the illness had taken away from him.
We do not know what effect the soups had on the master, but the visit certainly nourished his immediate love of the countryside. The genesis of his artistic concept of nature. A passion raised from the green and brown lands and the stake of the royal stable that framed the mountain of Santa Barberá before his eyes. The smell of a breeze. The same breeze that had swayed the leaves of the thick olive tree for the last 2,000 years.
So deep was the attraction that Picasso went off to the hills with Pallarés. They wanted to be part of the living canvas of what they saw from the village. Sheltered in a shepherd’s cabin, they painted and spent the days until a storm froze them and they had to turn their frames into firewood to make a fire and warm up.
When the painter returned to the town ten years later, his brushes were already cubist. He wanted to experiment with his new style in the town where the green had once enamoured him, and there was the olive tree. Still. Superb. Impassable. Not cubic.
Those who understand painting say that the nature in the master’s paintings would never have reached its prime without the place where the old Parot lives.
In the artist’s house, the lounge was always presided by one of his favourite paintings. It was a painting by his friend Pallarés: the scene of a place where there is a tree with thousands of years of history; of the mountain framing the living art he fell in love with; of where Picasso learnt; of Horta de Sant Joan.
Images: Josep Giribet. Direcció General del Patrimoni Cultural