mon 27/05/2024

The Golden Age of Modern Spanish Art, Colnaghi review - the sun shines in the City of Light | reviews, news & interviews

The Golden Age of Modern Spanish Art, Colnaghi review - the sun shines in the City of Light

The Golden Age of Modern Spanish Art, Colnaghi review - the sun shines in the City of Light

A celebration of little known Spanish painters as the London art world emerges again

Laureano Barrau, 'El Columpio' ('The Swing'), c. 1901

When Picasso left Barcelona for Paris in 1900, he took what by then was a well-trodden path for artists eager to be at the very centre of the art world.

Trained in the academies of Barcelona, their ambitions nurtured in the bohemian environment of Els Quatre Gats - the city’s answer to the Parisian artists’ haunt Le Chat Noir – several generations of Spanish artists born in the 19th century went to the City of Light in search of the newest ideas and styles, and a market for their work.

Picasso remained in Paris for much of his life, but many of his fellow countrymen returned to Spain, their reputations largely confined within its borders as a consequence. The exception is Joaquín Sorolla, whose resurgent reputation in this country must have been a catalyst for this exhibition of 12 little known painters, each with a distinctive style that is often recognisably Spanish, if heavily inflected with Parisian influence.

Pere Pruna  Barcelona 1904–1997     Baigneuses  1929The golden light that is such a feature of Sorolla’s impressionistic paintings suffuses The Swing, c.1901, by Laureano Barrau (main picture), while a view of the Catalan town of Miravet, by Joaquim Mir some 30 years later sets blocks of brilliant colour vibrating against each other in an equally evocative depiction of southern light.

Dappled light, filtered through trees is the subject of Ramon Casas’ Sant Hilari, 1882, the earliest painting of the show, its subdued palette and bucolic subject redolent of Corot and the Barbizon school, who were such formative influences on the impressionists. Alfred Sisquella’s Still Life of pears and peaches, painted in around 1930 is a late homage to Cézanne, while Modest Urgell’s Village, Figure and Cypress Tree (undated) resonates with a neurotic melodrama akin to that of French symbolist painters like Odilon Redon.

The allure of Paris itself is much in evidence here, and Francesc Miralles’ vignette of bourgeois family life, played out in the Bois de Boulogne in accents of red and green, is cannily in tune with a style of painting popular in commercial galleries towards the end of the 19th century. Two works by Joaquim Sunyer, separated by some 20 years, show his sustained engagement with avant-garde trends, the pastel Cabaret Scene in Paris, 1904 recalling in both medium and subject matter, similar if earlier scenes by Degas. By 1927, a sparser, more linear style had emerged, and the robust form of his Female Portrait is in keeping with Picasso’s interest in heavy, classicising figuration at around the same time.

A similarly classicising aesthetic is seen in Pere Pruna’s Baigneuses, 1929 (pictured above right), its vivid colours and graphic style relating perhaps to his work for the choreographer Diaghilev, for whom he, like Picasso and others, designed sets and costumes.


A view of the Catalan town of Miravet sets blocks of brilliant colour vibrating against each other


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