Els Quatre Gats, a Barcelona cafe that opened in 1897 and closed in 1903, looks so much like the old wood-and-tile bars still in Catalonia that you can practically smell the seafood. But The Four Cats was founded as a sort of Spanish franchise of the Black Cat artists' cafe in Paris, Le Chat Noir, and it is startling to see, in the work of its Catalonian patrons being shown at the Hirshhorn, examples of all the major Parisian styles.
There is a Manet - which turns out to be Ramon Casas. A Renoir - by Joaquim Sunyer. A Degas - painted by Ricardo Canals Llambi. A Toulouse-Lautrec - also by Casas. From other directions, there is work that might have been done by Aubrey Beardsley or Kathe Kollwitz.
And a variety of paintings by a young artist named Ruiz who seems to be able to paint in any style.
This is not to say that art was imitative in this province. Ruiz later dropped his father's name to use only his mother's, Picasso, and showed Paris what a Catalonian can do as a fashion leader. Others who passed through, such as Miro and Utrillo, also had no trouble making it in the big time.
The point made by the show is that the aesthetic spirit of the times was stronger than the national. And the people who patronized this one cafe manage to express the range of new visions crowded into that creative era.