Work:Portrait of Carles Mani, by Santiago Rusiñol
Technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 59 x 68 cm
Collection: Former collection of Santiago Rusiñol. Museu Cau Ferrat,
inventory no.: 32.012
Description and historical background:
Santiago Rusiñol had met the sculptor Carles Mani in the summer of 1894, in Tarragona, when Mani and the painter Pere Ferran were studying under Hermenegild Vallvé. Mani was about to receive a grant from Tarragona City Council and had thought of using it to further his studies in Paris with Ferran. Both artists left for the French capital on 15th September that year, and moved into an attic room on the Rue du Seine. It seems that they enrolled at an academy but the grant wasn’t big enough to pay the fees so they were lucky to meet up with Rusiñol again. Mani and Ferran spent Christmas with him and Miquel Utrillo, Albert Llanas and Ricard Planells.
Later on, in February 1895, Rusiñol encountered the two friends again. They were living a hand-to-mouth existence and Rusiñol offered them his flat on the Quai Bourbon, on the Île de St. Louis. His extraordinary oil painting of Mani dates from this time, as do his notes about the sculptor and Ferran, three of which were published in the New Year edition of La Vanguardia in 1895.
Two charcoal drawings by Rusiñol also date from this period – one is of Mani and Ferran sitting in front of a table (the former looking anxious and the latter asleep), and the other is a portrait of the sculptor, standing alone (Gabinet de Dibuixos i Gravats of the MNAC, from Casellas collection) – and a photo of Rusiñol, Utrillo, Mani and Ferran.
On 28th February 1895, Rusiñol published an article in La Vanguardia entitled “La pasta hidráulica” (Hydraulic Paste), in reference to the meal of boiled potatoes, which was the only food the Tarragona-born artists could afford. The text was illustrated with the two charcoal drawings mentioned above, and another of Ferran, alone. In the article, Rusiñol condemned the poverty-stricken existence of the two artists and laid the blame at the door of Tarragona Council.
Tarragona hit back, and rightly so. The municipal grant had never been intended as a travel allowance, let alone for two people. For a time, articles and letters went back and forth between Rusiñol and his associates, and several people in Tarragona, such as Josep Yxart and Joan Ruiz i Porta, who were familiar with the case.
By April 1895, Mani and Ferran were back in Tarragona and it was around this time that they were guests of Rusiñol again, but this time in Sitges, at Cau Ferrat.
Mani was very grateful to Rusiñol for what he had done for him, and years later he expressed his gratitude in his dedication on a reproduction on paper of his project for the monument to the heroes of Tarragona Ans morts que rendits. Tarragona 1811 (Death before Surrender. Tarragona 1811), which was presented at the 1897 National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid. The dedication read: “Al protectó que may podré olvidá / y el que més cort té--! Dins i fóra del_ / _Art_¡ S. Rusiñol” (sic) [To the protector whom I will never forget / and the one with the biggest heart--! Inside and outside of_/_Art_! S. Rusiñol] , and it was signed: “C Mani / 97". [Biblioteca Popular Santiago Rusiñol de Sitges, in storage for Cau Ferrat, no. 2141 (454 / 28)].
Carles Mani was one of the most original sculptors in Catalonia at the time, but he was also one of the most overlooked. He had a restless, enquiring spirit, and went back to the bohemian life in Madrid, where personalities from the Generation of 98 (Pío and Ricardo Baroja, Camilo Bargiela...) would make a pilgrimage to see him at work in his studio and wrote about the surprising artistic and human spectacle they saw there.
A number of extremely powerful portraits by Mani survive from this time, along with a few religious images and, most importantly, two sketches for his most ambitious work, Els degenerats (The Degenerates, c. 1901-1907), two acromegalic figures, slumped forwards, who prefigure the artistic expressionism of the 20th century.
For a time, Mani frequented the group “Els Negres”. He was an enthusiastic member but his desire to form an association of pure artists was frustrated, and in the latter years of his life he worked for Gaudí on La Pedrera and the Sagrada Família.
“He was a sculptor, and although he was very young, he had already battled with clay; he had already felt the first joys of fatherhood when he saw the work of heated understanding come into the world, the poison and pleasure of being a creator, the fire of art that takes over your entire life with egotisms and renders the artist useless for all those things that are not part of his dream. A Roman too, with a sinewy torso, muscles hewn out of stone, with expressive and funny eyes behind his eyelids, he spoke about his projects with the faith of a Christian and the stubbornness of a proconsul from Tarragona”. This is how Santiago Rusiñol described Carles Mani (1867-1911) in the previously mentioned article “La pasta hidráulica”.
The picture we are looking at here is arguably Rusiñol’s best portrait. There are no copycat echoes of any of the French schools of the time, but an original approach, stemming from the portraitist’s clearly sincere impulse. Notwithstanding this, it is a forceful, highly intense portrait, of great simplicity, devoid of any narrative strand. It is hard to make out that the sculptor, who is shown from the waist upwards, his hands interlinked, and sitting in a chair and turning slightly to the side, is in front of a bed, although we can see the yellow quilt and the reddish wallpaper in the top half of the picture.
The whole image is stark and captures the essence of the sculptor, with his severe expression, furtive gaze and angular features.
Catálogo de pintura y dibujo del “Cau Ferrat” (Fundación Rusiñol) Sitges. Barcelona: Publicaciones de la Junta de Museos, 1942, p. 38.
Coll, Isabel. Rusiñol. Museu de Vilafranca, 1990, pp. 59 (reprod.) – 61.
Coll, Isabel. Exposició Cinquantenari de la Mort de Santiago Rusiñol. Sitges: Gràfiques Puig, 1981, pp. 37 (reprod.) and 42.
Coll, Isabel. La col·lecció Raimon Casellas. Barcelona: MNAC-Museo del Prado, 1992, pp. 208-210. [Files on Rusiñol’s drawings about Mani]
Fontbona, Francesc. Carles Mani, escultor maleït. Barcelona-Tarragona: Viena-Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona, 2004, pp. 4 (reprod.), 24-28.
Laplana, Josep de C. Santiago Rusiñol, el pintor, l’home. Barcelona: Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 1995, p. 194.
Laplana, Josep de C.; Palau-Ribes O’Callaghan, Mercedes. La pintura de Santiago Rusiñol. Obra completa. Vol. III. Barcelona: Mediterrània, 2004, p. 44. [cat. no. 5.19]
Martínez, Gregorio. Santiago Rusiñol. Monografías de Arte. Madrid: Estrella. [fig. 24]
Mendoza, Cristina; Doñate, Mercè. Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931). Madrid-Barcelona: MNAC-Fundación Cultural Mapfre Vida, 1997, pp. 202-203. [File in the exhibition catalogue.]
Santiago Rusiñol. Exposició antològica commemorativa del cinquantenari de la seva mort. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, 1981, p. 87 (reprod.).
Sitges 1981 (50th Anniversary of Rusiñol’s Death)
Aranjuez-Girona-Barcelona-Tarragona 1981-82 (retrospective)
Tarragona 1995 (Rusiñol in Tarragona)
Barcelona-Madrid 1997-1998 (retrospective)
León-Seville 2002 (Catalan Masters of the 20th Century)
Cremona 2003 (Catalan Artists of the Primo Novecento)
Author of the file: Francesc Fontbona