Down at the Els 4 Gats café - The Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbó

4 January 1866, the Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbó was born in Barcelona.
“Line is, indeed, as I have before termed it, a language, a most sensitive and vigorous speech of many dialects; which can adapt itself to all purposes, and is, indeed, indispensable to all the provinces of design in line. Line may be regarded simply as a means of record, a method of registering the facts of nature, of graphically portraying the characteristics of plants and animals, or the features of humanity: the smooth features of youth, the rugged lines of age. It is capable of this, and more also, since it can appeal to our emotions and evoke our passionate and poetic sympathies.” (Walter Crane, “Line & Form”)

 Ramon Casas i Carbó's impression of him and the cultural promoter Pere Romeu in an automobile, first displayed in the Els 4 Gats café (1900)

The end of the 19th century saw a cultural Renaissance in Catalonia, recovering the half forgotten Catalan language and culture, while the region grew into a centre of Spanish industrialism and became the largest textile producer in the Mediterranean – and Barcelona had quite a wake-up from its deep slumber while a rather large portion of the Catalan populace became industrial proletariat and the place closed up with other European cities on the threshold of the 20th century and modernity. On the credit side of the account, Catalonia saw a literally explosion of the arts as well. Fed up with the Romanesque and Gothic revival architecture of the period, Modernisme Català, Catalan Modernism, became a movement in the visual arts, music and literature and, with Antoni Gaudi, a paragon in modern architecture. And while Barcelona grew into the city with the most art nouveau buildings in the whole wide world, artists met at the Els 4 Gats (or Els Quatre Gats, the “four tomcats”) café, discussed, drank and took care that Modernisme became probably the most progressive variant of art nouveau. One of the founders and regulars of the artistic hotspot was the painter Ramon Casas i Carbó.

Ramon Casas i Carbó: "Female Nude" (1894)

Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his father had amassed wealth in Cuba, his mother stemmed from a leading Catalan family, young Ramon was at liberty to study the arts, going to Paris, paint and exhibit, often in Barcelona, where he was heavily criticised for the apparent triviality of his motives and his limited colour palette by the establishment and favoured by the younger generation. And Casas soon found his own style, combining the 17th century’s Realism with the soft lines and colours of Impressionism into a synthesis of bright highlights in a grey atmosphere. Casa’s local and international reputation grew during the 1890s, the painter worked on charcoal drawings and advertisements, quite like Mucha, as well as sujets attached to the contemporary political development in Catalonia, until he was ranked among the top European artists by the turn of the century.

Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a Tandem, 1897

The 20th century saw Ramon Casas i Carbó already among the established artists and his wonderful whirl between Manet’s impressionism and Toulouse-Lautrec’s vividness culminating in a distinctive approach on art nouveau. But soon enough that was no longer avant-garde. Even stepping back to academic painting popular during his youth and towards the end of his life in 1932, he was not quite forgotten but held no sway over modern art in a long time. The artists whose rise he and Modernisme made possible in the half forgotten past of the 1890s had long since moved elsewhere.

And more on: