Anglada Camarasa settled in Paris in 1894 where he remained for 20 years. At the centre of a radical circle of artists, his groundbreaking use of colour and form influenced peers such as Picasso and Kandinsky; he exhibited widely -- including in London, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Moscow, Zurich -- winning the admiration of leading art critics and collectors such as Maxim Gorky and Sergei Diaghilev.
Highly expressionistic, and notable for their frieze-like, stylized compositions and shallow picture planes, Anglada's work during his Paris period was divided between canvases of his native Spain, which were almost Fauvist in colour and showed an extrarordinary understanding of the decorative, and others, such as the present work, which were inspired by the demi-monde of Paris night life.
Variously describing cafés, casinos or brothels, Anglada's Parisian scenes are invariably centred on the figure of a woman. Although nominally similar in subject matter to works by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Anglada's compositions eschewed the grittiness and implied social commentary of the latter, to focus instead on atmosphere. Anglada's women are usually described as phantoms, always confident and seductive, but sometimes benign, as in the present work, alternatively haunting or, indeed, vampiric (fig. 1).
Here Anglada depicts a woman seated in the booth of a restaurant. She, and the similarly attired spectral woman behind her, are only vaguely defined, but both completely dominate the men who blend into the background. Her head, although clearly outlined, is not a vehicle for naturalistic expression, but rather a stylized orb at the centre of a mass of ethereal whites. Her status is ill-defined, but her complete dominance of the composition relative to the men behind her clearly suggests the power she holds over them.