Barcelona – Paris, 1860 – 1936: A journey to modernity

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The year 2022 saw the Colnaghi Gallery of London (by now with a history spanning several centuries) taking centre stage in the current exhibition season.

After the not so easy two-year period we have experienced, the Gallery has gambled on exhibiting works of inestimable value (just think of the ‘forgotten still lives’ at the beginning of the year), highlighting outstanding artists to be (re)discovered.

Starting on 6th October, it is be the turn of Barcelona – Paris, 1860 – 1936: A Journey to Modernity, an exhibition that links up with two previous ones organised by the gallery, dedicated to Spanish Modernism, again making use of the collaboration of two historical galleries in Barcelona: Sala Parés and Arthur Ramon Art, whose representatives refers to it as: “the most important exhibition ever held in a gallery outside Spain about artists from Barcelona who, between 1860 and 1936, lived in, and were nourished by, La Ville Lumiere.”

The exhibition consists of 50 works by 29 artists who travelled from Spain to Paris for inspiration. The years under consideration saw the French capital at the centre of the creative impulses of the time, with artists flowing there from all over the world (unforgettable, in this sense, was the salon of the American literary figure Gertrude Stein, perennially packed with the intellectuals of the time).

According to Jorge Coll, CEO of Colnaghi: “In staging this third exhibition in collaboration with Sala Parés and Artur Ramon, we are seeking to reconstruct the local Spanish art scene at the turn of the 20th century in Paris. Many of these artists are relatively unknown to the rest of the world, and we hope that this exhibition will help bring them to wider public recognition and restore the prestige of arguably one of the best schools of painting in Europe.” (The facts proved him right even before the opening, as two works immediately became part of the collection of the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid).

The artists of the period under consideration embrace multiple influences, traversing realism, impressionism and cubism, with a use of colour influenced by the brushstrokes of Van Gogh and Cézanne. This is the birth of New Art in the city that best allowed it to “overcome the canvas”, as Picasso foresaw.

However, the Andalusian painter’s star shouldn’t be meant to overshadow the Spanish ferment of the period, and this exhibition seeks to avenge many of those artists not yet fully and officially recognised.

An excellent starting point, for those who wish to better understand the movement that animated Montmartre and Montparnasse, is the volume published for the occasion by Colnaghi, which provides a complete historical excursus, accompanied by worksheets, illustrating the lives of the individual artists and the details of the works on show.

Enchanting, to start with, is La Parisienne by Ramon Casas (1866-1932), c. 1914-15, depicting his muse and lover Jiúlia Peraire, with a formidable use of accessories to adorn her figure, denoting a keen and feverish eye for the dictates of fashion of the time. The dress worn by Jiúlia “frames” her and almost “steals” the scene with its myriad shades of shimmering green.

The painting seems to play a silent dialogue with Girl in a Manila Shawl by Joan Cadorna (1877 – 1958) in which the shawl “pierces” the canvas, hypnotising the observers, fascinating them with the protagonist’s gesture, who is intent on putting on a shoe.

The quality of the masterpieces is truly astonishing and, between the rooms, intense female figures flow, such as Girl with a Dog by Josep De Togores, whose immaculate ivory light ideally contrasts and enhances the chiaroscuro of Portrait of Germaine Gargallo by Ramon Pichot.

All the way to the disturbing scene painted by Mariano Andreu (1888-1976) in: Le Travesti et le Miroir. Mainly self-taught, Andreu studied sporadically in Spain and Great Britain, before establishing himself in the Parisian Salons. An affirmation perfectly summed up by this canvas.

The painting allows the viewer’s eye to wander from the nude, placed in the centre of the image, to its reflection in the mirror and then to the – intentionally – chaotic scene filled with all those objects that, behind the scenes of a theatre, allowed a performer to impersonate roles of the opposite sex. The helper – co-star of the work – on the other hand, moves with already skilfully cubist gestures, giving the pleasant vertigo of the fourth dimension.

The works in the exhibition are, individually, perfect and allow infinite keys to interpretation, seeming – ideally – to terminate with Bust Portrait of a Gypsy Woman by Isidre Nonell (1872-1911), a painter close to the “poetics” of Puvis de Chavannes, who was particularly interested in placing the human figure at the centre of his canvases, playing on the mixture of warm tones.

The many surprises reserved by Colnaghi can be savoured until 18th November, in London. The artists in the exhibition:

Marià Andreu (1888-1976), Francisco Bores (1898-1972), Ricard Canals
(1876-1931), Hermen Anglada-Camarasa (1871 – 1959), Antoni Clavé (1913-2005), Ramon
Casas (1866-1932), Pere Pruna (1904-1977), Ricard Opisso (1880-1966), Josep de
Togores (1893-1970), Josep Clarà (1878-1958), Enric Clarasó (1857-1951), Joaquim
Sunyer (1874-1956), Emilio Sala y Francés (1850 – 1910), Carlos Vázquez Úbeda (1869 –
1944), Olga Sacharoff (1889 – 1967), Isidre Nonell (1872 – 1911), Pau Roig Cisa (1879 –
1955), Julio González i Pellicer (1876 – 1942), Manuel Humbert (1890 – 1975), Pere Ysern
Alié (1875 – 1946), Josep Maria Marquès Puig (1891 – 1950), Joan Cardona i Lladós (1877
– 1957), Manuel Feliu de Lemus (1865 – 1922), Pablo Gargallo (1881 – 1934), Santiago
Rusiñol (1861 – 1931), Manolo Hugué (1872 – 1945), Ramon Pichot (1871 – 1925),
Francesc Miralles i Galaup (1848 – 1901).

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