The curious history of a Spanish palette painting
This is the curious history of a palette painting that I bought from a gypsy in a market outside the Cathedral of Tarragona, Spain. Its curious origins take us through the Gothic area of Barcelona where Picasso studied, down South to Sevilla and as far as Denver, USA.
Here is the tale of: El Bautizo, renacido (The Baptism, reborn)
In 1836 Francesc Bassols y Urpía was born to a father from Figueres, hometown to Salvador Dali and a Barcelonetan mother.
Showing an early interest in art, Bassols opened his first business, Casa Bassols, at number 25 of the Carrer d’Avinyó – on the corner of Carrer de la Comtessa de Sobradiel in 1870. While the store originally sold gilt frames and prints, over time it transformed into an art gallery.
As business went well, he proceeded to open an art gallery called Galeria dels cadres al oleo modernos or Gallery of modern oil paintings in March of 1875 in the adjacent street Calle Escudillers, the same year in which gas lighting was installed on the street.
Senyor Bassols was an enterprising man. Another initiative of his was to install a roller-skating rink Skating-Ring Bassols on the first floor of Carrer d’Avinyó 23- next door to the frame and painting shop. After its inauguration on New Years Eve of 1877 however, the rink remained open for only two months. It was also at this time that he closed the art gallery in Calle Escudillers.
In the Gothic district of Barclona, standing proudly over Plaza Verónica at number 23 Carrer d’Avinyó is the Escola d’Arts i Oficis de Barcelona (Barcelona Arts and Crafts School) or the Escola de la Llotja.
Founded in 1775, this art school has seen many painters (including Picasso), sculptors, architects and graphic designers walking its halls throughout its rich and prestigious 235-year history.
The building, also home to the stock exchange of Barcelona, today sadly stands unused though protected by guards.
And so it was that the original store Casa Bassols at number 25 Carrer d’Avinyó carried on the business of selling frames and art supplies as well as dealing in paintings. In Barcelona at that time it was usual for paintings to be exhibited and sold in the windows of framing shops. Some 25 years later, a young Pablo Picasso with his family would move to this area, then the Chinese District and Red Light District in order to study at the Escola d’Arts i Oficis de Barcelona. His family was also a teacher at the school. From this period, Picasso produced one of his best-known paintings, “Les demoiselles d’Avignon”, depicting prostitutes in one of the brothels of Carrer d’Avinyó.
When he passed away from Tuberculosis in 1885, his only child Ramona Bassols and her husband Leandro Ortega took charge of the store. They did not however, trade in paintings but rather focused on selling frames at low cost. (The prices were said to be very economical- the price of framed trading cards in the store has been recorded as being a mere 6 pesetas.)
The artist, the palettes, and the return to Seville
Here, we imagine a young and talented Luis Menéndez Pidal, recently graduated from the Escuela Superior de Pintura in Madrid and just returned from his scholarships in Rome and Florence visiting the store in Carrer d’Avinyó, Barcelona.
By this time, the store had changed names from ‘Casa Bassols’, to ‘Hijos de Bassols’ and finally to ‘Leandro Ortega’ (clearly we understand this to be a patriarchal society.)
We can see the inspired painter buying his art supplies, including several palettes- and visiting the Escola d’Arts i Oficis de Barcelona next door.
The frames were purchased between 1888- when Menéndez returned from Italy- and 1889 and accompanied him back to Seville where he immediately took to painting upon them. Several of his palette paintings appeared within the space of a few short years- what we could call his ‘palette period’- the first of these is dated as 1889. It would seem that his first palette paintings were made in 1888 and that the period continued until 1893. In 1892, he was married and settled permanently in Madrid.
A Tale of Two Baptisms
The next year, the Original El Bautizo was signed and dated in Seville, 1890. Other palette paintings closely followed including those of scenes of spectacles within the famous bull-fighting ring of Seville.
A signature flourish was added painted above the hole in many of his palette paintings in the bold red and yellow stripes of the Spanish flag.
This signature bow, which we see on the Known El Bautizo of 1893, is not visible on the Original El Bautizo of 1890. It may be that the original was a draft, abandoned and years later returned to with only minor changes to the scene- most notably the color of the mother’s sash changing from pink to green.
The Baptism- original and known
A known palette painting entitled El Bautizo signed by and dated 1893, is stored in the Museu del Albanico in Spain. It depicts the scene of a baptism in which a mother with a green sash embraces her babe amidst a crowd in 19th century affluent Spanish attire
The present work signed and dated three years earlier in Seville was hitherto unknown. The scene is unmistakably that of the baptism with minor differences such as the mother’s sash being pink.
Notably absent is the red and yellow ribbon which adorns most of Menéndez’ palette paintings.
The palette was discovered in a market of Gypsies by the cathedral in the town of Tarragona, Spain. It shows signs of having traveled and been unappreciated for many of its 126 years. The back of the palette still displays the fading stamp of the store in which it was bought, Leandro Ortega.
The full stamp reads (in Spanish):
“Leandro Ortega, previously Children of Bassols, Carrer d’Avinyó 25, BARCELONA”.
The future of the palette painting of El Bautizo
I sent the Original El Bautizo Palette Painting from Barcelona to New York City where it was exhibited in 2016 at The Lodge Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in a show curated by Dina Brodsky and Trek Lexington.
In 2017, it once again joined the amazing Palette Painting Show- that time at the Abend gallery in Denver, USA where it was exhibited alongside contemporary palette paintings such as the one below. There, it passed into the hands of an anonymous art collector… Who knows- it may surface again one day, perhaps on the other side of the world…
Compiled from the Spanish and Catalan sources:
as well as on-the-street research in Barcelona.