Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Reluctant Artistic Genius Of Pollensa

An exhibition at the CaixaForum in Palma opened last month. The curator is Silvia Pizarro. She has a strong association with this exhibition. It comprises 35 paintings and eight drawings by her grandfather. He was Hermenegildo (Hermen) Anglada Camarasa.

In Puerto Pollensa the promenade between the yacht club roundabout and the start of the Passeig Voramar (the famed pinewalk) is named after Camarasa. He died at the age of 87 in Puerto Pollensa in 1959, having returned to Mallorca in 1947 after several years in exile. A Republican, in 1936 he left Mallorca and eventually settled for a time in Pougues-les-Eaux in central France.

As with all the important artists of his era, he wasn't a native of Mallorca. He was born in Barcelona. It is known that he came to the island in 1908, though Silvia Pizarro believes that he may have first come before then. It was to be a further six years before he made Puerto Pollensa his permanent home. It was 1914, the year that war broke out but which was also the year when a peaceful movement started. Camarasa and the Argentine painter Tito Cittadini founded the Pollensa "School" in that year.

This wasn't of course a physical school and in fact despite the usual reference to 1914, the term Pollensa School was to be adopted later. A journalist called Pedro Ferrer came up with it in a book published in 1916 with the curious title of Flirt. What he was referring to was the style of post-impressionism that was developed in Pollensa.

Camarasa (to a lesser extent Cittadini, who was a disciple of his) thus came to be the artist whose name has most endured over the decades, though his presence in Pollensa owed much to forerunners such as Santiago Rusiñol and Francisco Bernareggi, who himself was associated with a different school, that of Deya. Rusiñol had first come to Mallorca in 1893, and in broad terms of the artistic movement on the island at the turn of the twentieth century it is probably fair to say that he was its leader or at least inspiration.

The artistic legacy of Camarasa and his contemporaries is profound. They pictorially documented an island that was largely unknown. Their points of reference were typically the Tramuntana Mountains, often merging sea and landscapes into fantastic kaleidoscopes of colour that captured the essence of light, which was what so appealed to their artistic sensibilities. An example of Camarasa is his "Acantilado en Formentor", Cliff in Formentor, in which oranges blotted with green descend to the water, transforming the cliff face into a harmony of blues. It's a striking work not least for the rock formation in the foreground of a stony purple that looks as if it has an eye and a hand with one finger pointing downwards.

By the time he came to Mallorca in 1914, he had already gained an international reputation. He had been in Paris at the start of the twentieth century, and the frivolity of life in that city was reflected in his Parisian phase. It seems, though, as if he wished to turn his back on that era. After the First World War he was apparently at his most content living a quiet existence in Puerto Pollensa and exhibiting predominantly in Mallorca and in Barcelona.

Despite this, his global fame was such that he was invited to the United States where his work had been exhibited to grand acclaim. He was, it would appear, reluctant to leave his somewhat reclusive existence in Mallorca, but he was to be awarded a gold medal at the Philadelphia exposition of 1926. In that same year, an article in The Studio excited the London art scene, and the same author and art critic - Stephen Hutchinson Harris - published a monograph on The Art of H. Anglada Camarasa. Exhibitions in London and Liverpool were to follow, but the artist once more went into retreat. At his home in Pinaret in Puerto Pollensa, he was happier with his flowers than with his art.

Camarasa will always be most associated with Pollensa, but his standing in the art world went way beyond the quiet part of northern Mallorca which was his adopted home. His name is not perhaps as fêted as some other artists with strong ties to the island, but for an exhibition of his work at the CaixaForum in Barcelona in 2006 to 2007, the art historian Francesc Fontbona wrote that he was the "most universal Catalan painter" before Joan Miró. "No other Catalan artist of his time had, by any means, a presence as alive as his on the international art scene."

As a footnote, Tito Cittadini, his disciple, also lived in Puerto Pollensa. He died in 1960 almost a year to the day after Camarasa.

The exhibition at the CaixaForum, Plaça Weyler in Palma runs until 2 September next year.

* Image: Acantilado en Formentor.

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