Conxita Oliver: “Masters of the international engraving”

The engraver in his work is a bit like an alchemist who, thanks to the gouge, to the burin, to the bruiser, to the awls, to the acids, to the varnishes and to the ink, will create imprints and wefts, marks and tracks. The artist engraver acts as a magician, as a wizard, or as a silversmith who really transforms a secret hidden in the depth of the material. He draws, cuts and corrodes, polishes, inks together to obtain a new reality reflecting his dreams on the paper. In this respect, please contemplate the backhand of the image, made in a long process, by a multitude of passages, by a chain of sequences, by an interlacing of stages which reveal themselves and materialize only when printed: it is really a magic alchemy. An artistic adventure, a field of research, experience and creativity, as well as a work of architecture have to be built in several phases which interpret the various contributions and successive intentions of the artist.

The permanence of the engraving. Works of the Gelonch Viladegut collection offers a vast representative survey of engraving’s history, with a large scope of languages which give to this exhibition an outstanding richness and variety. This collection makes us travel through a written story of engraving, from its debuts until today, thanks to representative works of every historic period and to authors having played an eminent role in the development of this discipline. This collection includes 300 engraving, from the 16th century to our days, and offers examples of the main schools, techniques and vocabularies, besides posters and artist’s books. Pieces presented in this exhibition were selected from this collection; they invite to go throughout the chronological order, of the last six centuries of art history. The exhibition of the Museu Jaume Morera de Lleida invites visitors to contemplate some great masters of the history of engraving, 110 pieces of significant artistic value, thanks to which we can learn about the technical evolution and the aesthetics of this discipline.

Originally, engraving was intended to spread information under graphic shape; it was a means to tell or to reproduce a story, and thus a tool of communication. For that purpose, it had to remain an auxiliary instrument and not to be an autonomous practice having its own voice. In fact, till the end of the 19th century, as long as the techniques of photomechanical reproduction had not been perfected and propagated, engraving did not free itself from its utilitarian servitude, to spread the image, to be a story teller. It could not thus begin its adventure as an artistic language. With the 18th century we began to conceive engraving as autonomous but it is in the 19th century that artists began to produce limited editions and to sign them. Since then, it became a means of artistic expression, a shape endowed with his owner personality, capable of using the infinite meaning and technical resources which enriched traditional and orthodox methods.

We try, by following the structure of the exhibition, to give an outline of the evolution of  engraving through centuries and to present the most important artists of this selection without  being able (in the limits of these pages) to comment all of those who appear there. Our vital lead, are thus the artists chosen as this exhibition, and we shall leave so aside many other creators who played, in various periods, an important role, but are not part of this survey. As for the contemporary chapter, it seemed to us relevant to comment and to place the streams and the movements of which the artists here gathered were part of at a certain moment of their career, rather than to focus on commenting the work of the most important ones. We have to keep in mind that it is a private collection and that this exhibition does not thus aspire to exhaustiveness, but aims at sketching the evolution of engraving from the works composing this collection. So it must be underlined that artists who would deserve to be present are not all there. It is a lively, open and dynamic collection which evolves with the collector himself and which forges its own character day after day.

The tradition of the engraving

The 15th century was the century of the discoveries. The new headways, which got as well the scientific and technical domain as that of the ideas, have been the point of departure of modern time. Among the events which contributed highly to the spreading of knowledge, the generalization of the processes allowing obtaining printed images was not the slightest. The engraving became a means of visual communication and an authentic vehicle of the models of the Renaissance. It is for that reason that engravings constitute one of the most powerful tools for modern thought. During the 15th century, the engraving stops being a technique of lower quality and without big impact to reach the status and dignity of much appreciated autonomous discipline.

Although engraving had an illustrative function originally, the works chosen in this exhibition were realized for the greater part by artists who conceived the engraving as a language and measured its reach. Before the invention of photography in the 19th century, the only system of faithful reproduction was engraving, which was invented in China. The impression with wooden boards, the xylography, was conceived in this country in the 9th century, and became a practice established well in Europe of the beginning of the 15th century. The wood engravings, which multiplied with the appearance of the printing of books, were a revolution in West. The invention of Gutenberg allowed reproducing texts and embellishing with images, what supposed a democratization of the arts, the sciences and the letters and facilitated the cultural radiation. Engravings completed texts for a better understanding of the scientific and technical works and were indispensable for the learning of the scholars. These engravings were printed mostly on wood, but when the matrices of metal evolved and allowed to add shadows, the results were better than with xylography. The chalcographique process meant technical progress not only for the engraver, but also for the printer, which so perfected their profession. It is only in the 14th century in Europe, and in the 15th in Spain, that appear, to knowledge, the first sections on metallic plate.

A symbolic and esoteric world fills the spirit of this period. Mythology carries of a moralizing intention and the black arts, such the alchemy, will play an important role in the intellectual society at that time. We shall see appearing from allegorical and mythological representations of all kinds endowed with a big symbolic strength that will unify the representations of the 15th in 18th centuries.

Speaking about the birth of artistic engraving, means to speak about Albrecht Durer (Nuremberg, 1471-1528), about an artist who represents one of the big milestones of the Renaissance. Painter, engraver and theorist of the art, he showed a particular interest for the issues of perspective, the proportion and the anatomy. The extraordinary technical master’s degree of some of its burins and its wood engravings marks a turning point in the history of the engraving, in which he invests his professionalism and his big power of creation. The artist did not conceive the engraving as a reproduction, but as a separate work of art. His incredible creativity made of him the most complete and the most influential artist of his time. That is why the period of expansion of the new humanist ideas, between the 15th and 16th centuries, is henceforth called « Durer period». The wood engraving Madonna is a faithful example of her deep spiritual world allied to her humanist sense, a naturalism printed by mystery which tried to reflect the secrets of the internal life of the characters.

It is during the 17th century that engraving reaches the status of work of art. It is still used as documentary testimony and as means of broadcasting, but it will sets its own laws, with the emergence of new processes and new techniques such as the aquatint, which will enrich the results. The copper replaces the wood and the most important works of this century will be engraved in the burin and in the etching. It is important to remind it that, for this century, the engravers get organized in corporate body and free themselves from publishers to enjoy a bigger freedom of action. What allows artists’ appearance engravers endowed with a personal style, as the Spaniard Ribera or the Dutch people Rembrandt and Van Dyck, whose work escapes the cold and formal academicism of those attached above all to the perfection of the profession. But the major figure of the Dutch school, and one of the most eminent engravers of all times, is Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Leyde, on 1606 – Amsterdam, on 1669), who, with Dürer, Goya and Picasso constitutes the summit of the history of the engraving. His contribution to the paint coincides with what the historians called « the age of Dutch gold », but he is more original as engraver that as painter. Considered as the big developer of etchings, he knew the prestige in his lifetime and his influence continued until our days. His engraver’s extraordinary fame contributed to the wide diffusion of its prints through Netherlands and in all Europe. He put back also with current tastes another technique then gone out of use: the point-sandbank, known during the 15th century. Among his most representative works represent portraits, where he seizes the deepest personality of his subjects, the self-portraits, where he draws his own biography, and biblical scenes. He knew how to create poignant images of humanity. His intensity and his twilight were admired for centuries. A good example is Jacob and Benjamin, an engraving which testifies of a depth and a magic and masterful back-bottom. For him, every engraving was a new research, a step furthermore in his fight to achieve the highest possible expressiveness, the biggest strength and the intensity of the image. Consequently, each of its prints is different; therefore he exercises such a big seduction. For his part, Adriaen van Ostade (Haarlem, Netherlands 1610-1685) dedicated himself to the scenes of genre, in a strong style full of subtle effects of shadow and of light, under the influence of Franz Hals and Rembrandt. It is known for its scenes of inn, which evoke the world of Brueghel, for these Dutch interiors, these countrymen and these simple little gifts, as both here represented scenes: a woman sat on the step of her door and a scene of inn. He realized about fifty engravings on the rural life where he gets the most poetic side of the peasant class. Always in the Dutch school, let us quote Anthonie Waterloo (Lille, on 1609 – Utrecht, on 1690), which acquired bigger reputation as an engraver than painter. He approached quite particularly the subject of the nature and became attached to “detaillistes” aspects of the countryside and foliages, as in the strong water Drink.

In France, the engraving acquires a big importance for the 17th century, under the luxurious reign of Louis XIV. The engraver Jacques Callot (Nancy, on 1592-1635) creates his series Big Miseries of the war, 18 engravings published in 1633 and reflecting his restless vision of Thirty Years War and its effects on the civil population. The Stake is an etching of this suite executed with a precise calligraphy which allows him to deliver precise details. In Italy, Josep de Ribera (Xàtiva, 1591-Naples, on 1652), a “tenebrous” painter, elaborates a series of brass works of an extraordinary invoice, as shows his Grotesque Head. His engraver’s work remains rare.

If the 17th century hoisted the engraving to the rank of major arts, the 18th is the period of its expansion. We can follow the evolution of the aesthetic taste of period: of the reproduction and the re-creation of historic and mythological subjects, at the beginning of the century, towards the hegemony of the rococo, frivolous and ornamental taste. The engraving becomes the way of diffusion of art of the big painters with a growing market of collectors, civil servants, noble persons and middle-class people. The growth of the market of the art stimulated numerous workshops of engraving, often family, which efferent to reproduce, most faithfully possible, the pictorial images the most asked by the public of period. The burin, used in portraits at the beginning of the century, is replaced by the etching, practiced, among others artists of good name, by Jean-Antoine Watteau (Valentines, on 1684 – Nogent-sur-Marne, on 1721), whether in original engravings or in those of “reproduction” of some of his paintings. This artist, one of the great masters of the last French baroque and the first Rococo, represents courteous scenes and paintings of customs. With him, a new genre makes its appearance: the «courteous holidays”, the reflection of the life courtesan who looks for artificially a contact with nature, of an idyllic and bucolic charm. Both etchings of the exhibition, printed by a prickly sensualist, are of a big virtuosity.

In Italy of the 18th century, there are two important centers for engraving: Venice and Rome. In Venice, two figures go out of the lot: Antonio Canal, said Canaletto, and Giambattista Tiepolo (Venice, 1696 – Madrid, 1770), painter and engraver. Considered as the last big painter of the baroque and one of the major figures of the Rococo, Tiepolo was one of the masters of the transition to 19th century. Both selected engravings, one of religious type who represents one Via Crucis ( 1749 ) and other one of the genre courtier, Cleopatra receiving from presents (v. 1750), confirm his master’s degree. Enigmatic Venetian Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Mogliano Veneto, on 1720 – Rome, on 1778), who became one of the protagonists of the debate between neoclassicism and romanticism, worked in two directions: As imaginative architect in Prisons and as columnist of his time defending the romanity in its Sights of Rome, engravings of a big fertility and a big beauty. Before the photography, the main means of diffusion of images were engravings; and that is why there was a plentiful answer at the request of production of sights, in particular Rome and Venice. So, vedute knew their highlight in the 18th century, when Piranesi and his contemporaries executed the most magnificent specimens and engraved the most important work dedicated to the architecture of the Antiquity. The methods of representation and, especially, the perspective reached with him an unmistakable magnificence. Three etchings which appear in this exhibition are three magnificent examples of the Sights of Rome, which had a big success with the visitors of the Italian capital and among the amateurs of classic archaeology.

The tradition of the engraving in England begins with William Hogarth (London, on 1697 1764) and continues with Rowlandson and William Blake, the most eminent British engraver, contemporary of Goya. London, the most populous European city of the 18th century, possesses a rich bourgeoisie, and thus a big market for the engravers. The technique « in the black way » becomes a specialty of the English engraving, thanks to which artists obtain the most aggravated contrasts but also subtle and delicate executions. In the satiric vein, Hogarth is engaged in criticisms of the society of his time, as show him Four Hours of day, four etchings representing the current events and brushing a portrait biting various characters of period.

In Spain, during the 18th century, appear a series of figures, the most striking of which will be the brilliant Francisco Goya Lucientes (Fuendetodos, on 1746 – Bordeaux, on 1828), major artist in the history of Spanish and universal art. Its individualism and its freedom of creation broke all the artistic codes of his time. Endowed with an extreme curiosity, the Goya engraver does not stop experimenting techniques and processes; he enriches permanently the methods and the resources. Having dedicated itself to engravings of “reproduction», according to the desire of Charles III to diffuse the masterpieces of the Spanish art through prints, he executes the series of Whims, a continuum of grotesque and corrupt creatures which make the serenity fly into pieces and the harmony of the neo-classicism as the paradigm of the beautiful and the noble. So denouncing the Spanish society, he addresses then the irrational madness of the war in The Disasters, realized from the suffering and from the moral shock which caused him the French invasion. He will be the first obvious pacifist, an indictment of the cruelty of the man, the big documentary value and testimonial. As for The Bullfight, he gets in these scenes the movement and the liveliness of the bullfight, whereas the Proverbs the Ill-assorted continue to be inspired by the Spanish society and offer phantasmagorical and monstrous images. As regards the engraving of the Small Prisoner. The repression is as well a barbarian as the crime (v. On 1810-1814), which is a part of the series of Prisoners and which appears in this exhibition, it is a fundamental work of Goya on the subject of the torture of prisoners. Certain scholars think that this series sends back to the cruelty of the French people to the Spanish war prisoners, but the others consider that it joins in the denunciation of the torture generally in which Goya was engaged, what contributed, naturally, to the debate on the abolition of the torture to Cortes de Cadiz. As the engravings of Callot and Blake, who had an influence, the some on the rule of the war, the others on the condemnation of slavery, these works of Goya, which are a hymn to freedom, contributed to the defense of the rights of the civil society.

Other artist of importance, Francesc Tramulles (Perpignan, on 1722 – Barcelona, on 1773), which was with his brother Manuel Tramulles , one of the main promoters of the first public school of art in Barcelona in 1747, the ancestor of current Escola de la Llotja, and the craftsman of the emergence of the academic’s phenomenon in the Catalan city. The works belonging to the series The royal Mask are collected in an album of 26 pages reflecting the historic narrative and the illustrations. They commemorate a historic event: the carnival feast, in the spirit of the time, organized by corporate bodies and big institutions from Barcelona on the occasion of the enthronement of King Charles III and his visit in Barcelona in October, 1759. The works were engraved by the Frenchman J. Defehrt, whereas intoxicate them and drop caps were executed by the Valencien Pascual Pere Moles, both being inspired by original drawings of Francesc Tramulles. This engraving represents the festive character of coaches and vessels, on a mythological register.

In the 18th century the use of allegories in the representation occurs in a big profusion and a big complexity, the being purpose of « enseigner dans le plaisir », an order implementation by a society divided into castes, dominated by the absolute monarchy for the temporal affairs and by the Church for the spiritual affairs. After the 18th century, this vision is going to weaken under the knocks of the rationalism, which will require transparency and rationality in the allegorical images and the use of symbols as illustrated metaphors.

The situation of the engraving in the 19th century knows a spectacular change. The new industrial processes, in particular the lithography, allow much bigger editions and modifies appreciably the characteristics of engraving. The taste of the collection spreads whereas monuments up to there difficult to visit open to the public and to the researchers. But with the advent of the photography, the artists engravers release themselves from the function which still kept the engraving, that to reproduce and to illustrate, and do not use it more than as a vehicle for the creation. However, academies (regional education authorities) consisted of engravers of reproduction, who immortalize a cold and agreed style, without personality, continue to exist. Marià Fortuny (Reus, on 1838 – Rome, on 1874) is doubtless the painter the most important Spanish engraver of the 19th century. His engraved work is very limited, but the drawing and the technique are there completely masterful. Etchings The Botany and Meditation are magnificent, of a technique and a meaning strength which place their author among the big names which we mentioned. Fortuny takes back the educations of Rembrandt, Tiepolo and Goya. It is also necessary to quote Xavier Parcerisa (Barcelona, on 1803-1875), painter and romantic lithographer who was one of the promoters of the lithography in Spain. One of its major tasks was to summarize in a work all the Spanish monuments. Memories and beauties of Spain was divided into eleven volumes, dedicated each to a region of the country. The volume dedicated in Catalonia appeared in 1839, the final work including 588 lithography’s almost quite drawn according to nature, as Lerida.

The modern art and the engraving

The 20th century knows a real visual revolution, because of the bombardment of images of the publications, the television, the cinema, the video, the publicity which break the agreed plans. This civilization of the image asks for constant changes based on the research, the inquiry and the experiment. Most of the artists engrave or use the new systems of impression, such the screen-printing, the publishing multiplies, the formats increase, galleries specialized in the engraving open their doors, the role of the technician-craftsman takes a particular relief and a wide public is interested in the acquisition of mass works. The century opens on the success of the editions of books illustrated by the best artists and the advertising poster becomes popular. Editors such as Vollard, Kahnweiler or Cussirer publish the work of artists who upset the languages and the technique.

During the first half of the 20th century, the engraving knows a big hatching. Fauvism, cubism, expressionism, surrealism, abstraction or pop art, the numerous artistic movements find in the engraving a key medium for the creation and the broadcasting of their meaning languages. During watershed years between the 19th and 20th centuries, Paris supplants Rome as spring of artistic model. The World Fair of 1900 opens quite big the window of the modernity and the French capital becomes the centre of attention of the artists of the whole world. Creators such as Matisse, Rouault or Derain are gained by the fever of engraving which shakes the artistic environment. It is necessary to evoke in this respect the creation in 1927 of the Studio 17, a center based by Stanley William Hayter, laboratory of new techniques, engraving as printing. This studio will see disentangling the most famous artists, as well as that of Lacourière, the situated to Montmartre, homes both of a big freedom of creation. The production wildcat and Cubist of André Derain (Chatou, l880 – Garches, l954), situated enter l904 and l912, was decisive for the art of this century, playing a regulating role between Cézanne, the primitiveness and the cutting edge painters. His later creation, of classicist and Italian’s tendency – As both etchings here present – Was not an exception in this artists’ avalanche attracted(enticed) by ” return in the order », of which Picasso himself. Among the artists’ exceptional colony(summer camp) installed(settled) in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century represent Fernand Léger (Argentan, on 1881 – Gif-sur-Yvette, on 1955), who admitted the industrial world to the art. His concern to reflect the world of the work and the industry in the art make a pioneer. Considered as the reformer of the cubism, in its overtaking of guidelines established by Picasso and Pointer, Léger was always seen as the artist having tried to seize the modern beauty through an industrial and mechanical design: images tinged with optimism, full of color and vitality, as shows him the lithography The Camper. Registered too in this Parisian pleiad, Maurice Utrillo (Paris, on 1883 – 1955), the paint of which does not abandon the frame of the traditional realistic representation, even if it adopted a bigger freedom in the use of the shape and the color. Both scenes Mill of the Pancake and Montmartre are a beautiful example of the urban subjects of Paris and its suburb which he often cultivated. In 1910, Marc Chagall (Vitebsk, on 1887 – Saint-Paul-de-Vence, on 1985) arrives from Russia in the French capital; during his long career, he will excel as painter and as engraver. The naivety and the whim of its images are reflected in the etching presented in this exhibition One of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, Jean Arp (Strasbourg, on 1886 – Basel, on 1966), also painter and poet, participate at the same time in two apparently contradictory movements (Of Stijl and Dada (Horsie,Hobby)), but which claimed both to make a clean sweep of all the institutionalized and historic representational languages and to return the artistic operation to the most elementary of the pure aesthetic act. The forms curved smoother and cut by the lithography Von Näbein gezeug participate in its search for primary and original forms as generative nucleus of all the possible forms of life. Of the biomorphic and the initial constellations, he will cross in the unicellular bodies, the forms having a big power of simplification, directly stemming from the nature.

Pablo Picasso’s work (Malaga wine, on 1881 – Mougins, on 1973), who follows a rigorous evolution, places him among the best engravers of the 20th century due to the control(master’s degree) of the various techniques and the boldness in the treatment of the subjects. It is the example of the artist engraver who pushes away the concept of engraving beyond the limits of a concrete technique. The lithography Head of bearded man (1965) we shows the iconoclastic character, the transgress attitude and the spirit of anticipation of a creator who expresses himself without taboos and freely. His revolt drives him to deformations, resizing, demolitions and transmutations of the human figure, as well as in a constant permeability between caricature, primitiveness, humor, comic, satire and metamorphosis. But one of the most famous series of Picasso is the Suite Vollard, consisted of 100 engravings of the artist realized between 1930 and 1937. It is about an exceptional set, both for its master’s degree of the technique and for the beauty of its images. The Suite Vollard arose from the commercial exchange between the trader of art and the publisher of good name Ambroise Vollard and Picasso. Pleased part of engravings, executed with a big technical virtuosity, are etchings, characterized by a clear and precise feature, but we find also the other techniques, as the point- sandbank, the more severe and more massive finish, sometimes combined with the etching and the aquatint there. This interesting mixture, which the specialists qualified as more beautiful banner of the contemporary chalcography, takes back some of the favorite subjects of Picasso: the art, the eroticism and the bullfighting, the symbolic subjects of the nude and the mythology which the artist connects in a prodigious variation. Most of the representations of this suite show clearly the classicist constituent of the Picasso sign.

The surrealist group enters the history of the engraving with a very interesting work, as that of the Max Ernst (Brühl, on 1891 – Paris, on 1976) – whose exhibition presents a lithography – which illustrated his own papers or those of poets as Paul Éluard and Breton. 1930s cast on the stage of the Catalan engraving, under the influence of Paris, artists pioneers who will remain very active in this domain: Joan Miró (Barcelona, on 1893 – Palma de Mallorca, on 1983) and Salvador Dalí (Figueres, on 1904-1989). Dalí will always maintain a fertile relation with the literature and will illustrate throughout its career of numerous books, drawing from his own directory of symbols to translate visually literary narratives according to his own reading, very singular. One of the masterpieces of Dalí illustrator is his work, among his first ones, on The Songs of Maldoror, edited in 1934 by Albert Skira: Etchings which illustrate the famous text of the count of Lautréamont, following its method paranoiac-criticism, conceived some years previously. The work which represents him in this selection, Tribute to Konrad Adenauer (1967), gives the measure of its creations made thanks to the associations of the most singular images and to the dreamlike iconographies. Miró, as for him, is one of the Catalan artists having most dedicated itself to the graphic work. « I am neither an engraver, nor a painter, but somebody who tries to express himself by all the means. » There are artists for whom the engraving is something additional or accidental. But it is not the case of Miro, the graphic work of which is essential: an activity that he will achieve throughout his route. His first works date 1928 and he will execute his last lithography’s and etchings in his studio of Son Abrines, to Palma of Majorca, some months before his death. His work of engraver is recognized in 1954 when is awarded to him Grand prix of engraving in the Biennial event of Venice of the engraving. It is in 1947 that a crucial fact for its orientation towards the engraving occurs: during a journey in the United States, where he visits the famous Studio 17 who had moved from Paris to New York in 1940), he learns about certain techniques as he is going to develop in later works, as the soft varnish, the resin, the aquatint and the sugar. His indefatigable research will push him to experiences and with the traditional techniques (engraving, point- sandbank and aquatint) and with the most innovative techniques, as the carborundum, which allows him to obtain reliefs. From the iconographic point of view, the graphic work of Miró starts from the same bases as his painting, and also has the big formats of it. However the technique he uses most is the lithography, having been introduced to it in the Parisian studio of Mourlot, he also develops a vast production as well of metal engravings as wood engravings. He participates intensely in the editions of book-collecting of big poets and writers and he is an artist that cannot be ignored for the big publishers of the whole world. His magnificent Tribute to Joan Prats (1972) brings to light the main characteristics of the work of this period: austerity, limitation, restraint and concern of simplification. The black fields, the dark spaces abound there which, bounded and marked out by very clear pure and synthetic profiles, border on the simplification. On these dark zones shine with small zones of color, like the observers eyes, which are compensated with the white of the paper. It is also advisable to mention the stencil realized for the magazine D’aci d’allà  of the winter, 1934.

Other surrealist installed in Paris, Roberto Matta (Santiago of Chile, 1911-Civitavecchia, 2002), the contributions of which in the second surrealist generation were essential. But what revolutionized the bases of the surrealism, is the will to get the mental energy, to give a shape to the invisible world of the spirit, to Matta to call «psychological morphologies “. An automatism which allowed him to empty the contents of the dreamlike world of any visible reference and to focus on internal and introspective landscapes directly sprung from the unconscious. So, he engendered symbolic forms, plunged into magic spaces, moving in the space propelled by a transmutative energy. By this initiative, Matta was very close to what Breton had defined as ” absolute automatism ” or ” abstract surrealism “, and it is not thus surprising whether it was the source of inspiration of what had to be the Third manifesto of the surrealism and a major component in the transformation of this movement at a time when it seemed at a standstill.

Between Fortuny and Picasso, important Catalan artists dedicated themselves to the engraving in the French capital, and although their value is recognized by their time, they stay in authority of second reading today. We speak for example about Joaquim Sunyer (Sitges, l874-1956) and of Pau Roig (1879-1955), about two engravers of an extraordinary quality, represented well here. Irreplaceable reference to explain the sense of Eugeni d’ Ors’s aesthetic ideas – known under the name of “méditerranéiste” current–, the sensibility of Sunyer agreed perfectly with the new way of including the reality, with this concern of the order, the balance, the wisdom, the simplicity and the brightness which, after the modernistic whirlwind, had woken up in Catalonia as in the other European countries. The fact of settling down in Paris in 1896 removed him from the modernistic climate which reigned at the time of its formation, urged him to participate in the reaction of the new painting against the impressionism and moved closer to him to certain Nabis, notably Bonnard and Vuillard. In spite of the freedom of the feature, the efficiency of its lines allows to seize the atmosphere of subtle descriptive scenes in the streets of Paris around 1900. As for Roig, whose feature is more designed and measured, he describes rural and bucolic decorations.

It is also necessary to quote the etching of Francisco Iturrino (1864-1924), Josep de Togores’s lithography (Cerdanyola del Vallès, on 1893 – Barcelona, on 1970) and, especially, Henry Moore’s engraving (Great Britain, on 1898-1986). Considered as the biggest British sculptor of the 20th century, he investigates in his engravings his favorite subjects: the slept feminine nude, the maternities and the animals. These subjects he had approached on his sculptural work, but which he realized in the second part of his long career through the practice of the drawing and the engraving.

The contemporary engraving

The original graphic work becomes one of the media the mostly used by contemporary artists, it makes a very net contribution to the world of the collectors, at the same moment for its accessibility and for its more accessible prices. The graphic work and the multiple allowed, as nobody else appearance of fine-arts, the distribution of the art. That is why the original graphic work was converted in an objective of the small and average collectors, worried of acquiring works of art of the first international signatures at prices remaining accessible.

The Gelonch Viladegut Collection includes works of contemporary artists of national and international prestige, executed during the second half of the 20th century, who reflect the dominant tendencies of these years: informalism, pop art, op art and new representation. Since the first third of the 20th century, the plastic surgeons provoked a real abstract revolution in this discipline by using new instruments and materials, so invalidating the academic rules and the artillery of the profession. The artist, freed from any technical and historic yoke, approaches the engraving without any preconceived idea, according to completely innovative approaches.

The demand of the search, the experiment and the innovation in a free collection, will be the main characteristic of the contemporary artist. On this way, everything is valid and any tool can thus serve as burin; the mixed techniques and the intervention of the fate coexist with happiness; the cohabitation of materials in any kinds on the same board or the enormous proportions which they can take are examples, among many others, inconstancy which reached the audacious propositions.

From the impressionism, by way of the cubism and Mondrian, the futurism, the constructivism and the analyses of the Bauhaus, we arrive at the kinetic researches for the op art, worried of giving to the works an impression of movement and of endowing the pictorial space of dynamism, as we see it in the lithography of this exhibition. Victor Vasarely is considered as the biggest representative of «the optical art “, who brought to a successful conclusion his first experiences bound to this visual language in the 1930s.

In Catalonia, a group of artists of the post-war generation, actors of the break, revolutionizes the context of the creation. Joan Ponç, Dau al Set’s member, beside Joan Brossa, Modest Cuixart, Arnau Puig, Antoni Tapies and J.J. Tharrats – A group which connects with the surrealism to investigate the unconscious–, leads as for him an internal search based on images stemming from dreams and from frenzies. But one of the post-war artistic movements having had most followers in our country, for what he supposed of freedom of creation and dynamiting of the yoke of the representation, is the informalism, a cutting edge current was born in France in the 1940s, but became in Catalonia a major meaning reference for the new generations. Let us dream that the crisis engendered by the Second World War puts on the carpet of new values bound to the existentialism. The ruined and destroyed society was plunged into an atmosphere of oppression and fear, and it is in this atmosphere that the informalism, from a nihilistic conception of the world, reflects a deep confusion. In front of so many destructions, the artists react in sticking «on something tangible and it is the material in itself and its essence – textures, densities, pastas, thicknesses, that are going to allow defending the life. Soon, thanks to Antoni Tàpies, who introduces this movement in Catalonia, a set of Catalan creators, between 1957 and 1967 approximately, are going to seize these principles and to strike them of a personal imprint which is going to enrich the initial bases of this current. If he sets so hardly in Catalonia, it is because of the need of creative freedom for a period of isolation and cultural repression; This language joins profoundly in the feeling and the Catalan art, notably in the work of Clavé, Tàpies, Bechtold, Cuixart, Tharrats, Guinovart, Ràfols-Casamada, Hernandez Pijuan or Vilacasas. Within the Spanish State, one of the first cutting edge movements appears some years later than Dau al Set: the group from Madrid El Paso, been born to shake the contemporary Spanish art. Will know, Millares, Canogar and Feito, among others, is going to become the representatives of a language abstracted in informalist tendency which will mark 1950s and 1960. It is advisable to underline that these artists participate in features rooted in the Hispanic culture which move closer to them to the tenebrous vein, the baroque tradition, black Spain and dramatic thought of certain poets and artists as El Greco, Ribera, Velázquez or Goya.

Another abstract current joins in the dematerialization, the essentialisation and the geometrical construction – in architectural vocation–, with a parallel discovery of the space and the suggestion of movement, which meet numerous partisans, such, Chillida, Alfaro, Sergi Aguilar, Llena, Chancho, Amat and Plensa.

Although differently that in the United States and far from the optimism and from the prosperity so connected to the consumer society and to the media – as to Roy Lichtenstein–, the pop art in Europe, in the course of reconstruction after the war, does not participate of the same approach. Adami, Arman, Caesar, Hamilton, Hockney, Rotella or Vedova are included in the pop universe, although we find them under other artistic naming, for example the «new realists “. In Catalonia, the pop art often seems mélé in the political commitment and in the very net will of denunciation. In the middle of 1960s, the informalism enters in crisis and new artists judge the abstract art little suited to the social and political contesting in which they are taken. Let us remind that at the very beginning of this decade, in Catalonia, a group of artists, which will be known under the name of New Representation, reacts to the language of the abstraction and the informalism and shapes an essentially representational expression, which asserts itself with a lot of critical sense and irony. The welfare costs of their work and their belligerent spirit urge them to participate in movements as Estampa Popular, who suggests making an art easy to understand, little expensive – they are mass works–, and in social and political content. The New Representation was a critical art, which drew from the social reality and could lift the crowds. With an iconography stemming from the current events, its socio-cultural analyses established a column of the reality. Arranz Bravo, Bartolozzi, Artigau participated in these commitments. In the 1980s, in the international context, we attend a recovery of the painting made in Spain with new interpretations. These new generations open the other ways and have for figurehead Luis Gordillo, who reflects a psychic reality, more than physical appearance, which transcends the abstraction, the pop and the new representation.

Several reasons urged the modern and contemporary artists to make of the engraving one of their essential means of expression, but we can raise three from it: the social distribution, the plastic experiment and the poetics of the execution. The first one holds the first objective of any work of art, namely the communication with the spectator. Given the multiplicity of its presence, the engraving becomes an element with public usage and to democratisation. The second concentrates on the research that the creator achieves in several phases which interpret the weft of the interventions during the process. And finally, the third is the process of creation, takes a ceremonial character, by which the work is not reduced to the bite of the plate but is completed by a series of craft preparations on which depends the success or the failure of all the process.

Conxita Oliver

Member of the Catalan and International Association Art critics.