Laureà Barrau

Barcelona 1863 - Santa Eulàlia 1957

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Born into a large family of the Barcelona bourgeoisie, he began his artistic training at the Lonja School, where he was a disciple of Antoni Caba and Claudio Lorenzale. In 1882 he traveled to Madrid to discover the painting of the great Spanish masters in the Museo del Prado. The following year he moved to Paris, where Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the most renowned academic artists, gave him access to the National School of Fine Arts. In the French capital he met Ramon Casas, with whom he shared his first trip to Spain, fascinated in particular by the Andalusian cities of Seville and Granada. Although Rome was no longer part of the artists' training itinerary, Barrau dreamed of training according to the classical canons of tradition. In 1884, when he was only twenty-one years old, he obtained the Fortuny scholarship awarded by the Barcelona City Council, which allowed him to reside for a few years in the Eternal City to study the old masters. Later he spent three months traveling through Morocco, following in the footsteps of Mariano Fortuny, the true artistic legend of his generation. In 1889 he returned to Paris, where he met Ignacio Zuloaga and other Spanish artists living there. Among them, Barrau was influenced above all by the Catalan Francesc Miralles, portrait painter of the Parisian bourgeoisie. The painter alternated his stay in Paris with various trips, although a recurring destination was Olot, capital of the Garrotxa region, where many painters of that time —from Vayreda to Rusiñol— spent seasons to get closer to nature. Progressively, Barrau moved away from the historicist theme of his early works to develop landscapes with figures of rural naturalism, inspired by Jean-François Millet and related to the social realism of Dionís Baixeras. Year 1899 was key in Barrau's pictorial career, when he moved his residence from Paris to Caldes d'Estrac (Barcelona). From the lively French capital to the small town of Maresme, the change was remarkable. His works reflect the contrast between the grayish cloudy skies of the north and the luminous vivacity of the Mediterranean coast. The seascapes with his figures have a strong connections with the works of Joaquín Sorolla, with whom he shares an intense light. An exemplary work from this period is The Bath, painted in Caldes d'Estrac in 1909 and acquired by the French Government —in the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts— for the Luxembourg Museum (currently in Dakar, in the former Palace of the General Government of French West Africa). Barrau maintained a dynamic exhibition activity throughout his life: since 1887 he exhibited regularly in Barcelona, in the Sala Parés and in the Galerías Layetanas, as well as in Madrid and Paris. However, his goal was to achieve great international recognition: so, following Sorolla's footsteps, he began to travel around America. In 1909 he visited Argentina, where he contacted the artistic promoter José Artal, and from then on he exhibited in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and New York. In addition, he continuously participated in the Paris salons: before the 1914 War, he attended the Salon thirty times, with a total of seventy-nine works, which defines him as one of the most international Catalan painters of the time. In 1911, with an established artistic career and a well-defined personal language, the painter moved to Ibiza for good, captivated by the light, colors and customs of the island, in search of the necessary serenity to continue his work. Framing the figure of Barrau in some artistic current of his time is an arduous mission. Despite his inevitable links with the modernist artists of the time, his painting is hardly associated with this artistic current, from which he distanced himself. A lover of sober naturalism and faithful to academicism, Barrau limited himself to making moderate innovations in more conventional art circles.