'Portrait of Santiago Rusiñol'/ 'Santiago Rusiñol Playing a Piano', by Ramon Pichot

Work:Portrait of Santiago Rusiñol, by Ramon Pichot

Date: 1898

Technique: Charcoal pencil drawing

Dimensions: 51 x 32 cm

Collection: Santiago Rusiñol Collection. Museu Cau Ferrat. Inventory

no.: 32.137


Work:Santiago Rusiñol Playing a Piano, by Ramon Pichot

Date: 1898

Technique: Charcoal pencil drawing

Dimensions: 20.7 x 43.2 cm

Collection: Santiago Rusiñol Collection. Museu Cau Ferrat. Inventory

no. : 30.789


It had never occurred to me to walk through Cau Ferrat in search of a picture of its proprietor. Not until today. As usual, there weren’t many visitors to slow down my visit; as usual, there was a sense of discovering something new: some of the exhibits have more of an impact than others because a different kind of light intensifies their presence, because the observer is interested in them for a different reason, because of a special state of mind... or whatever. Anyway, this time I was heading for Cau Ferrat with no set agenda. Of all the pictures of Santiago Rusiñol hanging on the walls of the artist’s house and museum – there are at least six by Ramon Casas, three by Ramon Pichot, a photograph by Napoleó, a framed newspaper cutting, a silhouette of Rusiñol’s head cut out of black paper on a white background, a period portrait from the Académie de la Palette signed by an enigmatic M. T. Muller–, it was the last one I was interested in seeing again.

Dated 1892, it bears the dedication “À l’ami Rusiñol” and is certainly one of the least well-known portraits of the Catalan artist. It is the work of one of his classmates from the painting academy, where Gervex was director and Carrière and Puvis de Chavannes were teachers, which Santiago Rusiñol frequented during the first few years of his stay in Paris. This full-length portrait shows the 30-year-old Rusiñol looking out arrogantly at the passing viewer, who happens upon the drawing in the piano room at Cau Ferrat on the ground floor of the building, if his eyes are not immediately drawn to the urn containing the artist’s palette placed just behind the portrait. Rusiñol has short hair, his beard is trimmed and he has a penetrating gaze, with the remoteness imposed by the smile which Carner defined as “coming just from the eyes”; it is almost imperceptible yet nevertheless an effective antidote for transcendent evil. At the time, Rusiñol was living for part of the year in Montmartre, writing his Cartas desde el Molino (Letters from the Windmill) which he published regularly in La Vanguardia, playing an active role in the Catalan art nouveau, or modernista, movement orchestrated by the magazine L’Avenç, frequenting Sitges and making each of his stays in Barcelona, with their obligatory exhibition at the Sala Parés, into a reason to épater le bourgeois. The charcoal drawing by M. T. Muller captures the aplomb and self-confidence of someone who knows they have followed the right path, who regrets nothing and is ready to conquer the world, just like his portrait in oils which his inseparable friend Ramon Casas painted two or three years earlier at the beginning of his artistic adventure.

I have moved from the piano room to the room opposite, where the bed Santiago Rusiñol slept in when he was at Cau Ferrat is kept. The room overlooks the street. A muted, soft light filters through the white net curtains. It reminds me of the symphony of whites in the painting La convalescent (The Convalescent Woman), a Sitges interior. The bed, separated from the anteroom by a set of ochre-coloured curtains, is on the left. I look around for the bedside tables. Some people say that you can only look at the photographs on the bedside table: you can never ask anything about them. To no avail. I can see it by the window: a charcoal portrait of the master of Cau Ferrat. Rusiñol is still young, has dark, wavy hair, which is noticeably longer than in the previous portrait, and his beard blends into the bow suggested under his coat which is buttoned up right to the top; his left hand is in his pocket and his slender right hand, with its pianists’ fingers, rests on his chest, the thumb tucked into his coat. As has already been said, it resembles the famous portrait by El Greco which Santiago Rusiñol had recently copied at the Prado Museum and now hangs on the walls on the top floor at Cau Ferrat. A complicit nod from the portrait painter to the person portrayed? Probably.

The author of the portrait, Ramon Pichot, was ten years younger than Rusiñol, and was a regular visitor to Cau Ferrat at the height of its splendour. He played an active role in organising the third Modernista Festival in summer 1894 and was one of the people who brought El Greco’s paintings to Cau Ferrat, sharing in the adventure of the modern artist with the pioneer of modernisme. He was among the party that accompanied Rusiñol on his trip to Andalusia and worked closely with the artist on one of his most important projects about theories on Total Art, which Rusiñol promulgated far and wide at the time, in the guise of the high priest of art. Fulls de la vida (Life’s Pages), which is illustrated with engravings by Ramon Pichot, is one of Santiago Rusiñol’s most important books. It is a compendium of his short stories, autobiographical notes, poetic prose and prose poems in the decadent symbolist style that made him one of the key modernisers of culture in Spain.

Published in 1898, Fulls de la vida is a programmatically modern work which, when read from a historical perspective, must be regarded as regenerative, in spite of its predominant aesthetic decadence. The book is inextricably linked to similar artistic and literary works, such as España negra (Dark Spain), with its texts by the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren and illustrations by Darío de Regoyos, which was also published in 1898, and the paintings Ramon Pichot exhibited in Madrid under the title La España vieja (The Old Spain), or the critic Raimon Casellas’ interpretation of El Greco’s painting as “paradoxical realism”, one of the ways of transcending the outmoded realism that were being tried out in Catalonia, or the young Picasso’s first forays into art in Barcelona. And, of course, it is inextricably linked to Santiago Rusiñol’s pictorial output in 1897: in addition to the gardens, which were becoming increasingly abandoned, darker and more enclosed, Rusiñol painted a series of works portraying monks from Montserrat, with such thought-provoking titles as Paroxisme (Paroxysm), Èxtasi (Ecstasy), Un novici (A novice) and El místic (The Mystic), as well as the magnificent portrait of Modesto Sánchez Ortiz. They are all part of the holdings of Cau Ferrat.

It is the eyes of the subjects that stand out in these paintings and connects them with Pichot’s portrait of Rusiñol: the frightened eyes of the “awake among the sleeping”, of the lost souls “of the mad and decadent” who read and write enchanted books “where no kinds of books are read at all”, of those blessed with the gift of lucidity that enables them to penetrate the layers of prejudices and certainties that envelop most people and exposes them to the impact of the truth: the task modern artists and intellectuals set themselves at the turn of the 19th century.

As I emerge from Cau Ferrat, still under the effects of the eyes in the portrait, Rusiñol’s words, which he wrote in later life in one of his Màximes i mals pensaments (Maxims and Bad Thoughts) come to mind: “Those who seek the truth deserve the punishment of finding it”.

Basic bibliography:

AADD. El Greco. La seva revaloració pel Modernisme català. Barcelona: MNAC, 1996.

Casacuberta, Margarida. Santiago Rusiñol: vida, literatura i mite. Barcelona: Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 1997.

Fontbona, Francesc (dir.). El Modernisme. Pintura i dibuix. Barcelona: L’Isard, 2002.

Laplana, Josep de C.; Palau-Ribes, Mercedes. La pintura de Santiago Rusiñol. Obra completa. Barcelona: Editorial Mediterrània, 2004 (3 vol.).

Panyella, Vinyet. Santiago Rusiñol, el caminant de la terra, Barcelona, Edicions 62, 2003.

Author of the file: Margarida Casacuberta