Friday, May 23, 2014

Ramon Casas

El Garrote (Garotte vil)
oil on canvas
127 × 166.2 cm
Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain

This is the painting on the public execution of a prisoner by the device of garrote, held in Barcelona in 1893 and which attracted a large crowd of onlookers. Casas himself was present at the scene of this execution, but when he turned it into a painting, rather than dwell on the morbid aspects inherent in the theme, he emphasized the journalistic reportage side of the event. He reproduced with great accuracy a scene of great hardness, but avoiding social criticism and limited to capture the situation as a photographic snapshot. Between the condemned man and the waiting crowd, Casas leaves an empty space, which adds to the drama and tension hanging over the scene’s main group. This painting won a major prize in Munich in 1901. Garrote was the principal device used for capital punishment in Spain for hundreds of years.

Ramon Casas i Carbo (1866-1932), who was admired by Picasso, was a Catalan Spanish artist. Living through a turbulent time in the history of his native Barcelona, he was known as a portraitist, sketching and painting the intellectual, economic, and political elite of Barcelona, Paris, Madrid, and beyond; he was also known for his paintings of crowd scenes ranging from the audience at a bullfight to the assembly for an execution to rioters in the Barcelona streets. Also a graphic designer, his posters and postcards helped to define the Catalan art movement known as modernisme. He was influential in the modern art scenes in Barcelona and Paris, with contemporaries including John Singer Sargent, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the young Pablo Picasso.