Joaquim Mir, _Miravet_, ca. 1929–30, oil on canvas, 86 x 112 cm. Courtesy of Colnaghi

Featured artists: Alfred Sisquella | Antonio Fabres y Costa | Francesc Miralles i Galaup | Joaquim Sunyer | Joaquim Mir | Josep Maria Tamburini i Dalmau | Laureano Barrau | Lluis Graner i Arrufi | Marià Fortuny | Miquel Villà i Bassols | Modest Urgell | Ramon Casas i Carbó

From 3 July 2020, London, will present a survey of painting by Spanish artists form the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The show is comprised of fifteen works by twelve painters. They are united in that they all hailed form the Catalonia and that many of them, like Picasso, spent time in Paris.

Called The Golden Age of Spanish Modern Art, the show comes at a time of renewed interest in this period, and follows exhibitions appraising ‘Catalan Modernisme’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The exhibition seeks not just to bring this period to wider public attention, but re-evaluate and acknowledge their contribution to the canon of Modern Art.

Joaquim Sunyer, Cabaret scene in Paris, 1904, Pastel, 62 x 47 cm. Courtesy of Colnaghi

To realise this presentation, Colnaghi, London (est. 1760), has collaborated with two of Barcelona’s most influential and venerable galleries, Sala Parés (est. 1877) and Artur Ramon Art (est. 1911), combining more than five hundred years of collective knowledge and experience.

The artists explored in this show trained in the academies of Barcelona. They shared the café Els Quatre Gats with Picasso, maintained bohemian existences in Paris, and exhibited their work mostly in the Sala Parés. From Laureano Barrau, Ramon Casas, Joaquim Sunyer amongst others, it is these artists who have fascinated and compelled Jorge Coll and Artur Ramon Art throughout their own careers.

The main purpose of this exhibition is to reconstruct the local art scene at the turn of the 20th century — still relatively unknown to the rest of the world — enabling the artists in focus to be connected and elevated to the levels of their international counterparts. To this end, the three galleries have pooled their efforts to locate and apply intense scholarship to the works which will be on display in this exhibition, restoring the prestige of one of the best schools of painting in Europe at the turn of the 20th century.

Art history is a reflection of changing perceptions and tastes. Many of the artists considered great old masters today, would have been unknown to us at the turn of the 20 th century. The work of Velázquez had only just been rediscovered through Manet, La Tour was little known, and Caravaggio was all but ignored. The reappraisal of El Greco was largely due to Catalan Modernist artists, especially Santiago Rusiñol, who owned two of his paintings. Indeed, it was through Rusiñol that Picasso discovered the Cretan master, who had a decisive influence on his blue period. Galleries and art dealers have also played a key role in the reassessment of artists. Therefore, art — unlike science — does not merely progress; instead it can be seen to mutate and evolve according to contemporary taste.

European painting at the turn of the 20th century was akin to a laboratory; artists experimented in search of a stylistic language of their own. Painters were eager for a change in the stultifying standards the outdated academies upheld. The first desire was to leave their studios and paint en plein air. Rome was no longer the epicentre of the art world; it has been replaced by Paris, City of Lights and bohemian existence. The impact of the French capital on European painters at large was huge. It spawned the creation of new subject matter, treated with a variety of innovative techniques, and gave the modern artist a new position, from which they no longer had to meet the demand of bourgeois clientele. Paris allowed artists to seek out new markets, with their independent, uncompromising, free art.

Francesc Miralles, Into the Park. Paris, Bois de Boulogne, ca. 1895–6, oil on panel, 46 x 83 cm. Courtesy of Colnaghi

Spanish painting, especially Catalan painting, was no stranger to the paradigm shift. The artists featured in the show were all born in the 19th century, and most painted during the first half of the 20th century. They were trained in the academies of Barcelona, where they honed their drawing and painting skills while acquainting themselves with the latest “isms”: realism, naturalism, symbolism and modernism. Many won prizesand medals, but were obsessed with moving to Paris, feeling that Barcelona was too small for them.

In the French capital they continued to study, becoming seduced by the museums and the Impressionists. Some of them did become successful during their own lifetimes, painting for the best dealers and exhibiting in major galleries.

However, whilst the critical appreciation of their Italian and Scandinavian counterparts increased thanks to a number of exhibitions and their revaluation on the art market, the reputation of Spanish artists did not progress beyond the regional sphere. Their paintings were bought by the great collectors of the time — Plandiura, Sala, Valentí, later Godia — and many would go on to hang in museums, the Museu d’Art de Catalunya (the present MNAC) and the Museo del Prado. Others crossed the Atlantic to enter large American collections, such as that of Archer M. Huntington, or the South American mansions of Catalans who had gone there to make their fortunes and found in such paintings a window on nostalgia. The galleries of the time, especially the Sala Parés in Barcelona, conducted an active trade that played a major role in the dissemination of this art. Today many of the great Spanish paintings of that era hang in some of the best museums in the world, including the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Meadows Museum in Dallas, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and the Hispanic Society of America in New York, to name but a few.

The vindication of modern Spanish painting is a fairly recent development, which can be traced in public and private exhibitions, doctoral theses on the movement’s painters, and a new interest in the national and international art market. Indeed, the exhibition Barcelona and Modernity (2006), produced by the Cleveland Museum of Art and also shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a reflection of this interest in Catalan Modernisme. In 2007, the exhibition Barcelona 1900 at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was a further example of this re-examination, which was followed by the exhibition L’Espagne entre deux siècles, de Zuloaga à Picasso (1890–1920) at the Musée National de l’Orangerie in Paris (2011). More recently, works by Sorolla, Rusiñol and Mir were included alongside the great masters of international modern art in Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (2016), at the Royal Academy in London.

Ramon Casas, Sant Hilari, 1882, oil on canvas, 100 x 60 cm. Courtesy of Colnaghi

This exhibition, a joyous celebration of Spanish Modern Art, vindicates these painters in order to put them back where they belong: on an equal footing with the other great European painters of their time, and in the spotlight of the global top-end art market.

Says Colnaghi Gallery’s CEO, Jorge Coll: ‘In staging this exhibition, we are seeking to reconstruct the local Spanish art scene at the turn of the 20th century. 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.’

Exhibition Dates: 3 July — 25 September 2020
Due to the Covid 19 restrictions, the exhibition is by appointment only.
Colnaghi, London
26 Bury Street
London SW1Y 6AL

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