Modest Urgell

Barcelona 1839 - Barcelona 1919

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Urgell was born in Barcelona to a wealthy family. Although the world of theater fascinated him from a very young age, his parents disapproved of this passion, so he decided to direct his artistic inclination towards painting. He enrolled at the Lonja School of Fine Arts, where he was a student of the realist painter Ramon Martí Alsina and met other important artists, such as Joaquim Vayreda, Marià Fortuny and the Masrieras, among others. After finishing his studies, he undertook a trip to Paris, where he met Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot and Charles-François Daubigny, and got acquainted with new artistic currents, such as realism, symbolism or the Barbizon school. Except for this trip to Paris, Urgell spent his entire life in and around Barcelona, discovering Catalonia and depicting the abandoned-looking towns and landscapes that most fascinated and intrigued him. In particular, fleeing from yellow fever, he settled for some time in Olot, where his friend Joaquim Vayreda had created a pictorial school centered on the landscape that greatly influenced his work. His entire and vast production, in fact, has landscape as its center. A landscape completely devoid of bucolic idealization and without a specific social will, which is melancholic and mysterious, at once theatrical and dramatic. The difficulty of classifying his works, which the artist almost never did, is due to the somewhat repetitive choice of themes: rural visions of deserted alleyways, lonely seascapes on cloudy days, abandoned village cemeteries... The latter ones are so prolific that the artist himself ironically came to title them "The usual thing". Obsessive and perfectionist, his interest was to treat and rework the bare and everyday, essential truths. His painting is obviously based on realism, although it is possible to guess a literary content that would somehow bring him closer to symbolism. His interest in capturing the true and the fugitive, without ennobling or idealizing it, and his willingness to express feelings giving a very personal and imaginary touch to the matter, make Urgell the most outstanding exponent of romanticism in Catalonia. Urgell was highly appreciated by the public and critics of his time, especially from the 1870s. He received many commissions and exhibited his works in art galleries, both in Spain —for example, in the Sala Parés in Barcelona, since its founding in 1877—and abroad—Philadelphia, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Chicago. He attended all the national exhibitions from 1864 until a year before his death, and also participated in numerous competitions, including the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1895, where he received the First Medal. In 1894, after the death of the artist Lluís Rigalt, Urgell was appointed professor of perspective and landscape at the Lonja School of Fine Arts. His teachings had a great influence on the work of artists such as his son, Ricard Urgell, also a painter, Joan Miró, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, Pablo Picasso and Joan Ponç.