Book Review: Catalan Painting

Catalan Painting:  From The Nineteenth To The Surprising Twentieth Century, by Joan Ainaud De Lasarte

Sadly, my local library system only has this one volume of a three volume set by the author on Catalan painting, because this is a volume I would like to read (and see) more like.  Admittedly, I am not a particularly skilled artist and nor am I familiar with the artistic trends of Catalonia, but while this book is aimed at someone who knows art history [1], there are also a lot of helpful explanations because I think even the author is aware that most of the potential readers of this book are not going to be very familiar with the content unless they have traveled to Barcelona or the areas around it and toured their museum of modern art.  Admittedly, though, this book is one that makes you want to take a trip to see the beautiful art of the region, even if the earlier volumes probably have even better paintings given my preference for art before the twentieth century rather than more contemporary art.  Suffice it to say, though, that if even some 20th century art from the region looks amazing, its older art must pass muster.

The author introduces the subject and then begins with a historical background about Catalonian that expresses the political pressures on it during the War of Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic War and Carlist War and the period during and after the Spanish Civil War.  As a peripheral region, Catalonia’s art was strongly influenced by its marginal political status.  After this comes a discussion of some themes and techniques that can be found in the region’s art, like flowers and still life paintings (including one with herrings!) as well as landscape and figure painting.  After this the author discusses some of the historical stages of 19th century painting and the artistic language of some of the painters of the region.  There is a discussion about modernism and its precedents and parallel developments that shows the influence of France, Russia, and the United States on the art of the area.  A discussion of Noucentism shows classical tendencies influenced by the rest of the Mediterranean on Catalan art.  The last selection of art includes art that is viewed as avant garde, after which the author includes a lengthy bibliography and list of illustrations included in the book as a whole.

This book is definitely one that would do well on the coffee table of someone who was artistically inclined and had a fondness for Catalonia.  The book features thoughtful explanations that include a great deal of personal detail about the painters themselves and their own lives and personal situations, which puts the art included in its proper context.  And it would be wrong to talk about this book without mentioning that the quality of the art reproductions here is on a very high level.  There is some beautiful art, and it makes one look for posters and puzzles and other high-quality reproductions of some of the better material.  And it should be noted that there is a lot of great material here.  Catalan art in general is fairly obscure as far as regions go, but it includes both Picasso and Dali among many other worthy painters and it is an art tradition that deserves to be recognized and appreciated for all of its complexity and beauty and for the marginal nature of the region itself within the Spanish world.  If a viable art tradition can survive despite centuries of political problems between the area and its political rulers, then art can be appreciated almost anywhere.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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