Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Man Who Painted Cala Figuera

They were celebrating the fiestas for the Virgen del Carmen in Cala Figuera at the weekend. This was the Santanyi Cala Figuera (there are others - Calvia, Pollensa), the name of which owes everything to the fig tree. The sea in the cala, the cove, is deep. The formation, a type of Y-shape between cliffs, is narrow. There was a tiny fishing settlement in the nineteenth century. Development, as such, only started to occur in the mid-twentieth century at around the time when Francisco Bernareggi died.

The fiestas were an occasion for remembering Bernareggi and so for highlighting the contribution of the south-eastern coast of Mallorca to the island's painting tradition. The Tramuntana mountains and Palma are most commonly associated with the painters of the last century. Santanyi played its part as well, though this is often overlooked.

This was the coastal area where Pep Costa Ferrer was instrumental in creating Cala d'Or in the 1930s. Don Pep had a similar vision to Adan Diehl, the founder of Pollensa's Hotel Formentor: a haven of artistic and cultural endeavour. He had at one point considered the same promontory as Diehl. Cala d'Or (what was to be named Cala d'Or, that is) was significantly less expensive. Rather than a single hotel, Don Pep conceived a development, one that famously reflected his Ibizan origins.

But before Costa Ferrer stumbled across the coves that were to inspire his vision, Bernareggi had been hard at work. An Argentine, he first came to Mallorca in 1903 at the age of 25. Other Argentine painters were to arrive in Mallorca, most notably Hermen Anglada Camarasa, attributed with having founded the "Pollensa School". But they came some ten years later than Bernareggi. He was therefore more of a pioneer and as the son of a Catalan he had moved with his family to Barcelona in 1895. He enrolled at the school of fine arts - a peer and friend was Pablo Picasso.

His parents were to later spend long periods in Mallorca. They had a villa - Es Corb Marí - by El Terreno in Palma, one of the most important centres for foreign artists and writers. Bernareggi, following the path of the Catalan painters, such as Santiago Rusiñol, initially chose the Tramuntana for his work, capturing scenes of Sa Calobra and Soller.

It was 1919 when he moved to Santanyi, where he was to live - on and off - until his death in 1959. An exhibition the following year confirmed his arrival on a broader Mallorcan scene. There were to be two particularly famous works. The first, in 1927, was Bonanza. This captured the essence of the cala at a time when there was so little development. The narrow entrance, somewhat forbidding to those unfamiliar with it, can be seen in the background. In the foreground is an imposing pine tree, a natural feature but possibly also a nod in the direction of Pollensa and Costa i Llobera's poem about the pine of Formentor. There is a copy of the painting in the town hall in Santanyi.

The second work, in 1934, is more famous. It is also more vibrant than Bonanza and has a special place in the cala's history because of its name - simply Cala Figuera. The colours and clarity of the work were the product of how Bernareggi went about the painting. From original sketches, he would then paint around noon so that shadows were lessened and he could reveal the full character of his subject. It is a work that was undertaken on the terrace of a summer house that belonged to a pharmacist friend.

Bernareggi returned to Argentina at the outbreak of the Civil War, but he was to return to Mallorca and to resume his work in Cala Figuera. Santanyi town hall, in remembering his contributions, says that it was he who opened the door to other artists who were to create their own compositions of the Santanyi coast. As important as Don Pep and the artistic crowd he attracted to Cala d'Or, Bernareggi displayed a corner of Mallorca that was much less known than the more typical subjects of the Tramuntana.

He was to say of his work in Cala Figuera that it was a cove with soft lines. It was "Hellenic", he noted, granting it a place in distant Mediterranean culture. There were "harmonies in the water" of stones and enamels.

Many were and have been the tributes to his work. One of the more astonishing was in the Spanish newspaper ABC. In 1925, as part of a series on Argentine painters, a profile praised him got the "marvellous transmission of his thoughts through his brushes". His work was "unblemished". It was full of light. It communicated the emotion of nature. And it communicated the little part of paradise he had found at Cala Figuera.

* Photo: Cala Figuera by Francisco Bernareggi.

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