Josep Sarró, doctor and artist Antiques 18/09/2023

It is a pleasure for Balclis to present the work of a great unpublished artist of the 20th century. Eminent dermatologist and experimenter of new treatments, in a totally unusual way, he also developed a lively hobby for creation. His completely amateur activity, but perfectly dominated, was not directed towards the most common that would attract an amateur (painting or mud modeling), but towards activities that demanded greater technical preparation and that would be included in what we know as Decorative Arts or Object Arts.

Dr. Sarró on one of the covers of the Hospital de Sant Pau, in the 1930s.

A young man who, in addition to scientific interests, had obvious plastic hobbies, in Barcelona in the first third of the 20th century had the possibility of finding a good tanning field. The young Sarró had as friends and clients artists such as Joan Bosch-Roger, Francesc Domingo, Rosendo Gonz alez Carbonell or Francesc Gimeno, so the debate and creative concerns were around him. Artists such as Josep Aragay in ceramics or Ramón Sunyer in jewelry, were teachers at Escola Superior de Bells Oficis and from there would come plateros such as Jaume Mercadé, glass enamels such as Josep Ma Gol or ceramicists such as the Serra brothers. The best Catalan ceramicist of the 20th century, Josep Llorenç Artigas, linked these two aspects: on the one hand he was a patient and friend of Sarró and on the other he was a student of the aforementioned School from 1915, with what would undoubtedly be the strongest nexus of the doctor with art objects.

We must also remember that Sarró married in 1923 Elisea Palau de Riquer, niece of the great artist Alexandre de Riquer, who was excellent painter, draftsman and engraver and who designed furniture, stained glass windows and decorative objects. This particular deserves to be highlighted because Elisea inherited a large number of works from his uncle and his contemporaries, as well as objects of ancient art, so the young Sarró was in direct contact with works of art and traditional objects, as well as works by top-level Catalan artists.

Frances Domingo. Josep Sarró. Pencil on paper. Around 1933.

We don't know if Dr. Sarró went to some art school, but for his medical occupations we suppose he wouldn't have much time in his youth to dedicate himself to other courses. What is undeniable is that his artistic vocation was strong and that since the 1920s he already signed objects designed or directly made by him. Everything indicates that he must have been basically self-taught and that he must be inspired directly from the contemplation and analysis of the art he saw and that he aroused his interest. Although we know some pictorial notes and drawings of figures and landscape, it is surprising to see how from the very beginning his interests were moving towards the world of objects.


Feeling very attracted to the Catalan tiles called “of Arts and Crafts”, ceramics must first interest him from those. Some of his drawings are copies of 18th-century tiles made directly on chalk paper or replicating the originals that practically always measure 13x13 cm. The “Oficis” counters represented a very wide repertoire of figures, animals, boats or constructions drawn with enormous agility and Josep Sarró was interested in understanding the subject and as a repertoire to imitate. From these models he made acuarelados drawings and also made some true tiles. Sarró was undoubtedly enthusiastic about the freshness and the popular grace of that type of production and had to like to imitate them, being one of the most creative facets of ancient Catalan art. His interest in these works is shown in a preserved letter from the Maritime Museum, which sends the photos of six boards of ships he had requested. On a more elaborate side, we know a panel of 24 pieces that illustrates a Last Dinner with wide border, with composition inspired by the Romanesque frontals (this piece was donated by a son of the doctor in the parish of Sant Raimundo de Pe-afort in Barcelona, where it can be seen).

balclis casa de subastas de arte
Josep Sarró. Twelve tiles "of Arts and Crafts" and farmer. Watercolour on pael and on cardboard. Second quarter of the 20th century.

In the world of tiles, the Noucentista spirit of recovery of the most popular, fresh and creative art of the Catalan Baroque is breathed. He made many calques and copies of them and then replicated them on counters or plates.  However, his ceramic works were much more original when applied to vases or plates with motifs of his own designs. We know a vase and several in which the author explores with excellent results the aesthetics of Art Déco, showing very personal adaptations. A small jarrita with multicoloured decoration shows a great originality in the composition and distribution of plant derivation motifs.

Josep Sarró. Gerro-orsa with plant motifs. Pisa. Signed and dated 1930.

In several plate projects he also practiced a modern avant-garde aesthetic, which shows him as a connoisseur of the most advanced artistic movements of his time. Sarró adorned a dish with a wavy border around it and in the centre he distributed a series of elements of musical theme decomposed in various parts, which distilled a clear uinfluence of cubist models reminiscent of Picasso or Braque.


Undoubtedly the technique most used by Sarró in his artistic side is that of enameled glass. From this we have preserved several works dated between 1929 and 1950, particularly glasses and glasses, as well as numerous preparatory drawings. Following the extensive deployment of Catalan glass decorators at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925, where Xavier Nogués, Josep Ma Gol and the Cardunets sisters triumphed, the doctor applied himself to the ornamentation of vitreous objects, always of transparent matter. As those artists did, he used either repeated motifs that covered the surface of glasses and glasses, usually with plant stylizations or placed a main motif that would acquire its own prominence. Among the first, a large glass with splashed brushstrokes stands out, which we can relate to some of the author’s acuarelados drawings. In the Balclis auction we also offer three glasses with flowers and elements of Art Déco flavor that carry a philactery with the names of the doctor and his wife Elisea and the date of 1950, so it would seem to be a glassware for its own use.

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Josep Sarró. Got. Enameled glass. Signed and dated 1950. Enamelled decoration project. Watercolour on paper. Around 1935-1950.

Among the pieces with a central motif, it is worth mentioning the glasses with coats of arms with nobility or the droplets and projects with children’s-themed characters, but perhaps the most interesting object is a large one with a Russian-style danzarina. Due to the type of glass (thickness but with a thin wall), the drawing is painted in black and the colour of the roses and with a gradation towards the white, it remembers very much the works made with models by Xavier Nogues in the studio of Ricard Crespo.

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Josep Sarró.Got with Russian dancer. Enameled glass. Signed and dated 1929.


In the world of metals he also made Josep Sarró interesting incursions. These range from the world of jewelry to silver objects. The gold ring that he made to his future wife dated 1920 stands out, of considerable width and with a continuous floral band. Very personal is a circular clasp, of which the preparatory drawing, made in silver, with a mobile pendant hanging from the center is preserved.

Josep Sarró. Fermall. Rendered and chiseled silver. By 1925.
Josep Sarró. Cocktail project. Pencil ploo and pencil color on paper. Around 1925.

A tray with doves is also a very interesting example of Art Déco style. The composition has the two birds in the center facing a landscape and the entire profile is bordered by a wide border, which offer a set clearly Déco. The piece is signed and dated in the 1930s and is a sample of the contact with the current situation of his time that the doctor had, perfectly dominating the lines and volumes of the most widely disseminated taste.

Josep Sarró. Tray with pigeons. Rendered and chiseled silver. Signed and dated 1933.


In addition to these varied incursions into the arts of land and fire, Sarró also ventured into other lands, such as wood. A small box made exactly in the style of the Girona artist Adolf Fargnoli is of particular interest. Both the carved work excavated with repeated and abstract design, and the matching tools made in copper, and the poetic qualification of the object at the base (“Caixeta dels/bons recorts/Nadal 1931/J Sarró” undoubtedly refer to the work of that artist and tell us about the sincere and emotional approaches of the doctor’s art to which he most liked his contemporaries.

Josep Sarró. Wooden box cut and dyeed with copper tools. Rendered and chiseled silver. Signed and dated 1931.

Jordi Carreras Barreda