Isidre Nonell

Barcelona 1872 - 1911

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Son of a small manufacturer, Nonell ended up liberating himself from the obligations of the family business in order to pursue painting. As a twelve-year-old, he entered the drawing academy of Josep-Mirabent and later the painting school of Gabriel Martínez-Altés. In 1889 he began attending private classes with Lluís-Graner, artist very in vogue in those years for his gimmicky work with social motives, which without a doubt profoundly influenced the young artist. In 1893, Nonell undertook a new life phase by entering the Escola de la Llotja, together with Ramon Canals, Juli Vallmitjana, Ramon Pichot and his old friends and acquaintances, Joaquim Mir y Xavier Nogués. Unsatisfied with the academic teaching of the classes, these artists organized field trips to the outskirts of Barcelona in search of uncontaminated sceneries, so as to paint purely the natural. They formed a group named Colla del Safrà (the Saffron Clique), named this way for the distinctive yellowish color of their paintings. In this first period, the landscape and capturing the light were Nonell´s main spheres of interest. As a matter of fact, when in 1892 the artist began exhibiting in Sala Parés, the critics qualified his art as impressionistic. Alongside the landscapes, Nonell demonstrated a strong interest in the human figure as well, which was later predominant in the opus of his paintings. He was particularly interested in ordinary people from the street—the most humble and unfortunate ones—on the margins of society. His caricatures, published in the daily newspaper La Vanguardia, with whom he collaborated, didn´t want to ridicule, but on the contrary, to denounce the conditions of the poor living in the city. The artist's interest in the human figure reached its highest peak during and after his sojourn in Caldes de Boí, where he stayed in the summer of 1896 with Ricard Canals and Juli-Vallmitjana. In Caldes de Boí he remained deeply astonished by the deformations of numerous inhabitants of the isolated community from the Pyrenees mountains, where the endogamy was still very much spread, and has commenced his well-known series of drawings portraying the population suffering from cretinism. Between 1897 and 1900, Nonell resided in Paris on two occasions to study a more modern style of painting, especially since he admired the works of Puvis de Chavannes, Whistler and the Impressionists. He presented various drawings in the Champ de Mars salon, participated in the XV Exposition of Impressionist and Symbolist Painters, and exhibited in several galleries of the French capital. The abandonment of the landscape continued progressively, and his works focused almost exclusively on the figures, together with various bodegons. In the beginnings of the new century, when the artist definitely returned to Barceona, his interest was directed towards the portraits of Gypsy women, the series that made him famous the most, characterized by short, vermicular brush strokes. Between 1901 and 1906, murky greenish and reddish colors dominated his works, while ever since 1907, the artist has dedicated himself to a new vision of the woman using softer tones. During these years, the artist continued sending artwork to the salons of Champ de Mars in Paris and exhibiting in galleries of Barcelona, such as Sala Parés, Ateneo Barcelonés and the Galerías-Dalmau. Nonell died of tifus in 1911, prematurely, at the age of 38. The protagonist of Catalan postmodernism, the painter brought an important aesthetical renovation to the art of the country and an accurate testimony of a stage of crisis in the Catalan life.