Hermen Anglada-Camarasa was one of the most influential and radical artists of his day, gaining fame internationally at the turn of the 20th century for his expressionistic paintings of folkloric subjects. His brilliant palette influenced artists such as Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinksy, who saw the Spaniard's work when he was studying at the Académie Julian in Paris. His landscapes bear comparison with those of contemporaries such as Gustav Klimt -- with whom he shared a Gold Medal at the 1911 International Exhibition in Rome -- and in his understanding of colour, of the decorative and of form, he was in the vanguard of artists such and Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and Edouard Vuillard, with whom he shared the international limelight. As S. Hutchinson Harris wrote in the seminal English study of the artist: "Anglada uses colour as Wagner used instruments, in a manner which appeared extravagant in his day, but which gave a new impetus to music." (S. Hutchinson-Harris, The Art of H. Anglada-Camarasa: A Study in Modern Art, 2 vols, London, 1929, p. 14).
The present work belongs to a seminal group of paintings, which fall naturally under the title of "Valencia". "In Valencia he [Anglada] was just in time to see in the fiestas of the conservative peasantry, though fast disappearing, the last natural survival of the gorgeous pageantry of the medieval past. For them were brought out the carefully preserved rich floral dresses, and the gay caparisons of the horses; for them the women were no less gaily decked, in their cofia and jewels. All these Anglada wove into decorative pictures. His immediate predecessors had been largely engaged in the representational painting of historical scenes which today appear to us lifeless, and leave us cold. So far modern as to forego illustration, painting the beautiful things he saw before him, by the skilful weaving of colour and line he manages to evoke in us the lively sense of joie de vivre by which he was himself animated at the picture's birth." (S. Hutchinson-Harris, op. cit., p. 12).
Anglada first exhibited his Valencia theme paintings at the Salon National de Paris in 1906. They resulted from a trip he made to the Valencia region over the summer of 1904, and were a reaction against realist art. He produced some 15 paintings in this period that varied the present frieze-like composition of figures and horses (see fig. 1), experimenting in each one with combinations of brilliant primary colours. Other paintings in the series included large-scale paintings of single female figures which dissolve, in their riot of colour and patterning, into almost pure ornamental abstraction. Indeed critics have frequently pointed out that in the artificiality, brilliance and luminosity of their colours, Anglada's paintings ressemble mosaics -- a quality evident in the present work in the women's dresses and the horses' caparisons. Louis Wauxcelles, for example, the critic who coined the phrase "Fauve", said that Anglada's painting of the period had an almost Byzantine quality. As Manuel García Guatas writes: "The female figures, and their apparently conventional representation as Valencians, Sevillans, Granadans, or Madrileñas, were nothing but excuses to show off an intense and decorative palette, studded with visual effects similar to a sea of coral and exotic fish...The tassled shawl, combed mantilla and large fan are the three ornamental pieces with which Anglada dresses his women, and the floral dresses or bushy trees -- displayed like peacocks' tails -- provide the only spatial reference. With these tools Anglada creates the total decorative synthesis of his canvases." (Anglada Camarasa, exh. cat., Madrid, 2002, pp. 37-38).