Friday, August 04, 2017

Ramon Casas i Carbo

Ramon Casas i Carbo, "Self Portrait," 1908
Not long ago I ran across a reference to Ramon Casas (1866-1932) online, which drew me into further wanderings in the labyrinth of the 'Net. Mr. Casas was a Catalan painter whose mature style is now considered the leading edge of the Modernist movement. He was famous in his own lifetime but has become more obscure in the past century or so. Last year was the 150th anniversary of his birth, which is being commemorated by an enormous retrospective which alas is only traveling in Spain. Mr. Casas was an exceptional painter whose work is not so well known as it should be.

Mr. Casas was born in Barcelona in 1866 to a wealthy family and by his teens was already an accomplished painter. His family wealth must have allowed him considerable freedom, so that he traveled to Paris while still in his teens to study art. He was able to travel to other locales during the warm months, particularly Madrid, always returning to Paris in fall. During his times in the city and yet in his teens, Mr. Casas studied at the Carolus Duran Academy. At age 18 he exhibited a self portrait dressed as a flamenco dancer in a Paris exhibition, and he continued to study, paint and exhibit there. By the early 1890s, he and his friend Santiago Rusinol (a Catalan artist as well) lived at the well-known Montmarte drinking establishment, Moulin de la Galette. He was involved in the bar Els Quatre Gats in partnership with several of his friends. The bar in Barcelona, patterned after Le Chat Noir in Paris, was the watering hole for modernistas and hosted art exhibitions as well. They also published a magazine for which Casas made substantial contributions. Later in the decade he settled mostly in Barcelona, returning to Paris for exhibitions. During that period, he became very successful and famous, exhibiting in numerous places in Europe, including Berlin, and in the United States. And although he was wealthy himself Mr. Casas attracted an American patron, Charles Deering (a strong amateur painter himself) who acquired a number of his works. Around this time he met a
Ramon Casas, "La Sargantain" (Julia Peraire) ca1907
much younger woman named Julia Peraire, who became his model and mistress; he would eventually marry her in 1922. During the early 20th century Mr. Casas was considered a leader in the new modern (and Modern) art. Yet somehow, in the last two decades of his life his fame lessened and his reputation began to fade. His work trended toward the academic, and although he is well-known in his home city he seems almost unknown in the rest of Europe or the United States.

Now, at the 150th anniversary of his birth, an extensive exhibition of his work is travelling in Spain, having been in Barcelona and Madrid and now in Palma. The catalog of the exhibition is available online, but there is no English translation. But the illustrations are lavish and in color. Mr. Casas knew and influenced (and was influenced in turn) by many of his contemporaries--John Singer Sargent, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Sorolla, Zorn, and even Picasso (who was considerably younger). The exhibition catalog is in Spanish, so if you speak the language, you're set.

Mr. Casas painted many different subjects, including portraits, landscape, history, and figures. Like Lautrec, he designed posters and magazine covers too.

Here are few more of his works, from the catalog.

"Baile en el Moulin de la Galette," 1891Add caption
An interior of the Moulin de la Galette, the famous drinking spot in Montmarte where Ramon Casas lived with his friend Rusinol. During these years Montmarte was still a village outside Paris, considered rural and picturesque. The village was particularly known for its windmills.

"Casas & Romeu on a Tandem," 1897
This is an oil illustration for the cover of the Quatre Gats magazine, showing Casas himself (with the pipe) and Romeu, one of his partners in the bar, on a tandem bicycle. Like other modernistas, he painted flat areas of color and simplified his image.

"Sombras" for Quatre Gats, chromolithograph, 1897
This is a graphic work by Mr. Casas for Quatre Gats. This chromolithograph is clearly in the mode as Lautrec and modernism, following the craze for Japanese prints that had gripped the art world in the previous decade.

"La Carga, or Barcelona 1902" oil on canvas, ca 1900
This enormous history painting (near life size) shows the Spanish Guardia Civil dispersing a crowd in Barcelona during a general strike that happened in 1902. Mr. Casas was awarded first prize for this work at the General Exposition in Madrid. It is now in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

"Despues del baile o Joven decadente," oil on canvas 1899

Mr. Casas was also an adept figurative artist. During the late 1890s he produced a series of full-length portrait drawings in a modernist style that were widely admired. But his oil paintings were equally prized. Here he paints his model as a decadent youth (Joven decadente in Spanish) who is exhausted by dancing. This painting is in the Museum of Montserrat, in Catalonia.

It's too bad that Ramon Casas has mostly faded from memory. Perhaps one day an exhibition of his work will make its way to the United States. The least we can hope for is an English language publication.
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