Greatness of Catalan sculpture in small format: from the Baroque to Corberó Auctions 18/10/2022

Perhaps less well known than other peninsular sculptural schools, such as the Castilian or Andalusian, the tradition of carved imagery in Catalonia has great authors between the 17th and 18th centuries. The examples of altarpieces "in situ", in museums or dismembered and of isolated images are very numerous and give us proof of the variety and peculiarities of this great school. Ramón Amadeu and Lluís Bonifaç are some of those who best represent the final trajectory of that tradition, moving forward in the 18th century.

In the next Balclis auction in October, various sculptures of medium or reduced format are offered that perfectly exemplify the evolution of Catalan sculpture from the Baroque to the second half of the 20th century. We can offer an interesting tour that begins with the dancing and tender Child Jesus attributed to the aforementioned Bonifaç. The image, of private or conventual devotion, shows a childlike freshness and rounded volumes, which distance it from the forms of Sevillian or Castilian children, with a more severe or expressively dramatic tone.

Lot 428
Attributed a Lluís Bonifaç
Trumphant Jesus Christ
Sculpture in carved, polychrome and gilded wood
Around 1750-1775

The step towards a more academic tradition came in the 19th century, when the academy defending international neoclassical taste was located in the Llotja in Barcelona. In the Mercury that we are now presenting, the gilded carving (with a curious bronze aspect) shows a personal local version of the famous Renaissance model of the same theme by Gianbologna. Likewise, it is a good example of the entry of mythological themes into local sculpture, executed not in marble, but in a more economical, ductile and everyday material such as wood.

Lot 463
Spanish school -probably Catalan- from the first decades of the 19th century
Carved and polychrome wood

The first big names in 19th-century sculpture in Barcelona were the Vallmitjanas: Agapito and Venancio. Both filled the streets and parks of the city with their monumental sculptures, but they also made small pieces with which they fully participated in the prevailing taste. Works with allegorical, mythological, everyday, picturesque or exotic themes abounded in his production, which used to be in small format in terracotta and often in series that were reissued. The Lioness (presumably called "Saida") must have been an animal from a local zoo, which shares the naturalistic and at the same time exotic aspect, as it is a typical species of distant lands. With an autograph signature handwritten by Venancio and with an inscription referring to an exhibition, it must therefore have been a unique piece.

Lot 529
Venancio Vallmitjana
Lioness “Saida”
Late nineteenth century

The most picturesque type of anecdote can also be seen in the charming ease of the Manola in terracotta by Josep Campeny (son of Damian Campeny, another of the great sculptors of the Catalan nineteenth century). The taste for virtuous detail in the finishes can be perfectly appreciated in the making of the folds of the shawl (with its characteristic fringes) and in the ruffles of the dress.

Lot 528
Josep Campeny Manola
Late nineteenth century

Modernism set aside the most historicist visual aspects and when it coincided with international Art Nouveau it spread dreamy images, adorned with an abundance of flowers. The face of Young Nymph by Lambert Escaler refers us perfectly to that poetic and dreamy universe of Modernism, reflected in its sinuous lines, in the sensual face, in the floral protagonism and in the delicate polychromy.

Lot 353
Lambert Escaler
A young woman
polychrome terracotta
early 20th century

The Art Nouveau fluidity and fantasy that prevailed around 1900, from the second decade of the 20th century, was gradually replaced by a greater formal classicism and by a much more obvious rotundity in the figures. Noucentisme in Catalonia was an important global ideology and had a fundamental impact on the arts. The spirit of recovery of classical sobriety and a renewed vision of the Mediterranean character implied a new reading, which had a particular importance in the field of sculpture. Both in works of great urban presence, such as those we see in the Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona or in the landscaping of the Montjuïc mountain, as well as in small-sized versions, we can see that gigantic aesthetic impulse.

We only have to compare the nymph by Escaler with the head of a Young Woman by Enric Casanovas (both with typology of artistic masks), to understand the difference in postulates and results between Catalan Modernism and Noucentisme.

Lot 512
Enric Casanovas
A young woman
Second quarter of the 20th century

Frederic Marès was also the author of an exquisite renewed classicism, as shown in the female nude with a very subtle relief that highlights the sober figure reclining against a background of Mediterranean plants. He was well known for his work, but also for his activity as a collector, thanks to which he founded the Marès Museum in Barcelona, one of the best sculptures in Spain.

Lot 525
Frederic Marès
naked young woman
Terracotta bas-relief
Around 1930-1936

If Casanovas or Marès (such as Josep Clarà, of whom we also offer a version of his group “Rhythm”) are canonical representatives of Catalan Noucentisme, other authors were also in their orbit, but they offered contributions of a marked personality of their own. One of them was Pere Jou, who from Barcelona and Sitges created a work of forceful shapes and compact plastic, which recreated figures with a peculiar small canon and with robust and generous bodies of flesh (long before Botero!). Jou's pieces are usually directly executed in the various materials he used and the stone or wood carvings or the works modeled in clay perfectly show his interest in applying his particular creative ideas to the materials, with a certain primitive air and that in Sometimes it can remind us of Romanesque art.

Lot 509 Pere Jou “Un femení d’esquena” terracotta relief 1925
Lot 526 Pere Jou “Èxtasi” Stone 1928

One of the great and highly personal sculptors of the time was Manolo Hugué, who was also characterized by a sober aesthetic and small pieces. In his interesting reliefs, such as that of the oxen in their stable, he shows his particular ability to synthesize and play with the different volumes, as well as his peculiar talent for suggesting and outlining space with thin geometric lines. Likewise, the interesting figure in bronze reflects his peculiar ability to make full-length portraits, but on a reduced scale. The rhythmic harmony in the disposition of the parts of the body and especially the rough texture of the surfaces, always give a special and unmistakable character to his works.

Lot 516 Manolo Hugué Oxen in the stable Terracotta relief Circa 1935-1936
Lot 517 Manolo Hugué Portrait of Jacky J. Drucker Bronze Circa 1939-1940

Other sculptures by Apel·les Fenosa or Eudald Serra continue to show the variety of the Catalan sculptural panorama of the 20th century, but perhaps it is worth paying special attention to an author who is not very present on the market, which is Marcel·lí Giné. A rural sculptor, he greatly mastered the nuances of terracotta and tackled both a late Noucentisme and a sharp and more radical Expressionism. The sturdy Espigadora that we present corresponds to the first type: with an energetic plastic presence and that plays in a very original way with different finishes on the surface of the clay. The author has his own museum in his hometown of Marçà.

Lot 522
Marcel.lí Giné i Folch "Marçà`-Giné"
Circa 1953

To close this varied sculptural repertoire we can highlight the suggestive bird in gilt bronze by Xavier Corberó, of great formal purity and extremely burnished in its finish, which makes it contrast with the rough and dark base. Made in the last year of the 20th century, the ethereal composition is a good example of the most avant-garde aesthetics, subtly suggesting nature and daringly bordering on abstract language.

Lot 595
Xavier Corberó
Bird "Bird of Hope"