'Maternidad', de Manolo Hugué

Object: Mother and Children, by Manolo Martínez Hugué

(Barcelona, 1872-Caldes de Montbui, 1945)

Place and date: Cadaqués, c.1897-1900

Technique: Plaster of Paris

Dimensions: 28.5 x 17.5 x 18 cm

Signature: “M. Hugué” (right-hand side of the base)

Collection: Former collection of Santiago Rusiñol. Museu Cau Ferrat.

Inventory no.: 30.651

Description and historic background:


Manolo Hugué made this sculpture between 1897 and 1900, while he was staying with the Pichots in Cadaqués. It was later purchased by Manolo’s friend and patron, Alexandre Riera, who, in turn, gave it to Santiago Rusiñol in exchange for one of his paintings. This is how the work came to be included in his private collection, where we also find the drawing, Bailaora flamenca (Flamenco Dancer), which Hugué produced a few years later (around 1906-1908), although we don’t know when it was added to the collection.

This sculpture is the only early work by Manolo to have survived. His output was scant during the early part of his artistic career, which preceded his sojourn in Paris. The only known works, of which none survive today, include a puppet theatre which he built with Adrià Gual and Ramon Casas; a relief for the fireplace at the Pichot family house in Cadaqués; the sculpture Dos pescadors (Two Fishermen), which he made while he was staying in this Empordà town, and a sculpture in butter of a boy which was displayed in the window of a dairy and wasn’t kept, for obvious reasons.

La Maternitat (Mother and Children) is naturalistic in style, similar to the ones being produced by Hugué’s contemporaries, including Gargallo and Casanovas, who, like Manolo, were interested in social issues. There is no doubt that he chose this subject because he was drawn to its popular theme and the humanity it radiates, and he returned to it in every phase of his career, particularly when he was living in Caldes (1927-1945). The composition of Manolo’s mothers and children is very varied. In the Cau Ferrat sculpture the mother is seated. She is suckling her newborn baby and cradling it in her right arm, and has her left arm round a standing child, while, in other versions, the mother is standing with a baby around her neck; seated with a little girl giving her a kiss; crouching down with a baby in her arms; and kneeling and playing with a child. Hugué even produced a father and child, which is uncommon in itself and, in this case, even more so, as the father is a bullfighter.

Manolo was a sculptor at heart, but he never disassociated his art from other techniques such as drawing, painting, jewellery design and poetry. Hugué adopted an unusual way of working, which was as much due to a lack of financial resources  which led him to use cheap materials  as it was to his health problems, brought on by severe arthritis which affected his hands in particular, and rendered him inactive for long periods of time. This is why he rarely worked with stone throughout his career, as it required a physical strength he often couldn’t muster. He usually modelled clay without any interior reinforcements, and this resulted in a series of figures that made up a highly distinctive body of work. He used extremely malleable, affordable materials, such as clay and plaster of Paris, to make his work, and only produced large-scale works in exceptional circumstances, when he received specific commissions.

When Manolo created his sculptures, he gave great importance to volume, to the inner strength of the figure, to sobriety and harmony, and relegated decorative embellishments to the background. Manolo’s work is in a figurative vein and is almost impervious to the theories around him, while maintaining a highly personal balance between classicism and the artistic avant-gardes of the time. This means that, although he was an exceptional witness to the birth of Cubism and had lived through its early stages, he wasn’t drawn to it because it was far removed from his concept of art. His approach to sculpture clearly draws on classicism, and shows the influences of Gothic statuary, the Greek canons and the essence of ancient cultures. However, he brought highly distinctive traits to his works, which drew on the experiences, movements and friendships throughout his life. The wealth and variety of themes Hugué dealt with stemmed from the world around him – his immediate, close, everyday surroundings – and his depictions were very human, without ever resorting to clichés, and highlighted the value and beauty of themes such as mothers and children, dance, the countryside and the world of bullfighting.

It is almost impossible to separate Manolo’s work from his life and personality. His affability, simplicity, cheerful disposition, friendships and relationships with his colleagues, and his joie de vivre, were legendary among the people from the art world and anyone who came into contact with him. However, it was Josep Pla who made the greatest contribution to popularising Manolo Hugué the man and his way of thinking, with the publication of the book Vida de Manolo contada per ell mateix (Manolo’s Life in his own Words) in 1928. Hugué’s love of life led to firm and enduring friendships, with people such as Rusiñol, Ramon Pichot, Déodat de Severac and Pablo Picasso, whom he first met in 1900 at the Quatre Gats and which continued after the sculptor’s death, as shown by the collection of personal mementoes in memory of his late friend that the Malaga-born painter gave to Totote and Rosa (Manolo’s wife and daughter).

Manolo was born in Barcelona on 29th April 1872, and spent most of his childhood in the streets of the old town. He first came into contact with the fin de siècle art world of Barcelona while he was attending evening classes at the Llotja art school, and decided to be a sculptor. In 1900, spurred on by his fellow artists, he left for Paris, where he had a real struggle to survive. In 1906, he met Jeanne de Rochette, Totote, who would be his companion for the rest of his life, and shortly afterwards, he signed a contract with the prestigious art dealer, Henri Kahnweiler, which gave him a regular income. Manolo said that he didn’t have good memories of his stay in Paris; he produced a small number of works, but learnt a great deal.

In 1907, he moved to Céret, the town which had become a magnet for a large and varied group of artists and intellectuals. It was here, in this little town in Roussillon, that Manolo developed his style with its trademark rounded, simple and serene shapes, and where his output increased significantly. The outbreak of the First World War meant that Manolo had to sever his ties with his dealer. He and Totote moved to Barcelona for a few years, returning to France, in 1919, where he re-established his links with Kahnweiler.

Manolo’s hands atrophied as the result of a serious attack of arthritis in around 1927, and his doctors recommended he went to a health spa to take the waters. He moved to the thermal spas in Caldes de Montbui, the village where he settled permanently, in the farmhouse that bears his name. This was his most prolific period as his work expanded to other fields, including gouache, water colour, drawing and oil painting, and he resumed jewellery design until he died in 1945.

Basic bibliography:

Blanch, Montserrat. Manolo Hugué. Barcelona: Polígrafa, 1972

Pla, Josep. Vida de Manolo contada per ell mateix. Barcelona: Destino, 1988. (El dofí)

VVAA. Manolo Hugué. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, 1990

Author of the file: Anna Monleón