VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium
Spain's illustrious art history - a history forged by such giants of painting as El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, continued into modernism through the art of some of the greatest masters of the twentieth century, among them, Antoni Gaudí, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Julio González, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. Yet the country's disastrous civil war in the mid-1930s and its subsequent dictatorship under General Franco transformed completely Spain's sense of its own identity and along with it much of the country's cultural heritage.
In the immediate Post-War era, Spanish artists grew up with a deep sense of cultural isolation and under a dictatorial regime that was ideologically and culturally opposed to modern art. Of the great 20th Century Spanish artists listed above all, except Dalí, who was later to return, had either died or were now living in self-imposed exile from their homeland severing a continuous tradition and sense of cultural identity in Spanish art that had lasted for centuries. Yet, in spite of, and to some degree perhaps, because of, this hiatus, many younger Spanish artists came to play a major role in the cultural reinvestigation and existential self-questioning that characterised the European avant-garde in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Ravaged by six years of "total war" and tormented by the responsibilities of a new atomic era and the legacy of the Holocaust, this search for identity, though keenly felt by young dislocated Spanish artists, was also one shared by many young European artists in the aftermath of the war. Their search for truth, meaning and identity initially took the form of a radical reinvestigation of material reality. Returning to a primal and highly tactile relationship with the earth, artists throughout Europe began to express this new existential age of uncertainty by engaging with materials, infusing them with their energy and, at the same time, questioning its validity, probing it, to see if the truth to phenomenal reality lay somewhere within the tangible "facticity" of its substance.
Spanish artists were in the forefront of this tendency to create such heavily material-orientated 'unformed' art in the early 1950s, an art known as 'informel'. Foremost among them was a young Basque whose work transcended the 'informel' and soon established him as one of the twentieth century's most important sculptors. Eduardo Chillida's art is one of timeless grace and seemingly effortless simplicity. Using space as what he described as "a very quick material, so quick that you think there's nothing there" in conjunction with "slow" materials like stone, clay, or, as in a work like Elogio del Vacio IV, iron, Chillida, as the title of this impressive sculpture describes, attempted to "embrace the void".
Chillida's works express an interaction that takes place between the Einsteinian notion of space-time and the tangible and temporal material reality of form. Describing himself as an "architect of the void", Chillida attempted to shape each of these elements so that collectively they express a point of union between them all, a meeting point that is ultimately an expression of the human being's existential position in the world - a totem of identity. Proudly Basque and strongly affiliated with the unique properties of his homeland, Chillida's art blends strength and grace into an articulate expression of a specific sense of place and of a rooted belonging to the world.
Much the same can also be said of the art of the Catalan painter Antoni Tàpies whose work, though intentionally esoteric and deliberately anti-individualistic always maintains a powerful sense of material belonging to a specific sense of place - in his case the earthy streets and walls of his native Barcelona. Like most the Spanish artists of his generation Tapies' art grew out of an exploration of Surrealism and the informel. Culturally isolated by the Franco regime's repressive stance towards modern art, it was largely only the former movement of Surrealism and the current 'informel' trend in Paris that Spanish artists were aware of in the aftermath of the war. Recognising their cultural isolation and the need for change the post-war generation of young Spanish artists formed themselves into radical groups demanding change; the most famous of these being El Paso (The Path) in Madrid and Dau al Set (Seven-Faced Die) in Barcelona. As the artist Rafael Canogar wrote of the foundation of El Paso, the group emerged "out of real need". Conscious that "common actions would be heard more than individual actions, the group was founded in February 1957, with the publication of a manifesto, that among other things, defended the moral necessity of action inside the country, and reported the crisis in the visual arts in Spain caused by the lack of museums, collectors and the absence of responsible art criticism, the separation of the different artistic activities as well as the artificial solution of artistic immigration." (Lecture given at the conference El Paso y Las Vanguardias, Instituto Cervantes, London 9 December , 1998.)
In the work of the El Paso group, artists such as Antonio Saura and Manolo Millares created dramatic and highly painterly expressions of a tormented existential search for identity and the Self; their "Crucifixions" in particular being, alongside those of Francis Bacon, among the most powerful pictorial expressions of human suffering in the Post War era. In contrast, the work of the group around Tàpies and the Dau al Set drew less on violent or elaborate painterly struggle and gesture and more heavily on the occult and magic area of Surrealism, making art that propagandised for a spiritual resolution to the problems of the day. Tàpies' art in particular developed, through the influence of his friend the French critic Michel Tapié and by the artist's own profound interest in Zen Buddhism, into a deeply spiritual art that attempted to instil a "mystical consciousness" in the viewer. "I am the first spectator of the suggestions drawn from the materials" he explained, "I unleash their expressive possibilities... As I go along with my work I formulate my thought, and from this struggle between what I want and the reality of the material - from this tension -is born an equilibrium." (Antoni Tàpies, "I am a Catalan" 1971, in Stiles and Selz Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley, 1996.p.55.) Through the use of chance and experiment and this entirely intuitive approach and response to his materials Tàpies' art is a highly idealised process that is intended to create a kind of yantra or mandala that will act as a prompt for further contemplation. It is what Tàpies has described as "a simple support of meditation, an artifice serving to fix the attention, to stabilize or excite the mind; its value can only be judged by its results." (ibid, p.56)
The breakthrough for this post war generation of young Spanish artists came at the 1958 Venice Bienale. In collaboration with the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo the El Paso group, whose foremost members included Canogar, Saura, Millares and Pablo Serrano, had convinced the curator of the Bienale, Luis González Robles to dedicate the Spanish Pavilion to the new school of informal abstraction. The exhibition combined work from El Paso in Madrid and from Tàpies and the Dau al Set in Barcelona along with some other individual artists not integrated into a particular group, including Chillida, Lucio Muñoz and Joseph Guinovart.
As Canogar recalled, the 1957 Venice Bienale transformed the Spanish art world overnight: "Spain had absolute success, Chillida was awarded the 1st Prize and Tàpies was awarded another important prize, and there was attention from the entire world to a group of artists until then almost unknown. A series of artists were discovered, artists with a very particular voice, a very Spanish voice. From this moment on every museum was looking for works by these artists, galleries and critics wanted to exhibit and talked about their works, and every collector wanted to have a work by the young Spaniards." (Canogar op cit.)
The phenomenal success of this generation of Spanish artists carried on throughout the 1960s and ultimately led to an increased tolerance of modern art by the Franco regime. By the time of General Franco's death in 1975, Spain, through the ever-growing international reputations of artists such as Chillida, Tàpies and Saura, was once again recognised as a significant cultural force in the world of contemporary art.
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR