Operation to rescue missing paintings in Barcelona during the Civil War

Pretty, young, smiling.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 22:22
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Operation to rescue missing paintings in Barcelona during the Civil War

Pretty, young, smiling. “He has short garçon hair, black pants and a white shirt. You look at that portrait and you realize that she was a tremendously modern woman. But you look at another photograph taken a few years later and she looks like a nun. What happened in between? A horrible war. It happened to many women.” The journalist and writer Toya Viudes did not know her, but when she was studying in Madrid she made frequent trips to the Reina Sofía to contemplate Adam and Eve, the painting of her great-aunt Rosario de Velasco (Madrid, 1904-Sitges, 1991) that hung in her rooms between Maruja Mayo and Angeles Santos. “Without that picture of her we would not be talking about her today. It is the flame that has kept her alive. Now it's time to revive it, ”she says.

Rosario de Velasco was a painter who, as her friend Eugeni d'Ors wrote in an article published in La Vanguardia in 1945, "had a Sicilian horse entrance, not a circus zebra", participated and won prizes in the National Exhibition of Fine Arts, he exhibited in Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, at the Venice Biennale..., he produced a lot and sold a lot and his work, in addition to the Reina Sofía, is part of the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia (La matanza of the innocents, misattributed for years to Ricardo Verde Rubio) or the Center Pompidou (and Carnival).

How is it possible that his name is little more than a secret shared by a handful of specialists today? Rosario de Velasco suffered the same fate as so many women artists who were respected and celebrated while alive and then fell into oblivion.

Lost for so many decades, now it is not easy to trace it. Let them tell Toya Viudes if not. She grew up at home with one of her aunt Rosario's paintings, Las laundresses, dreaming that one day she would give it an exhibition, and after achieving what seemed impossible, that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum would be enthusiastic about the project, she found herself with the difficulty of locating his work, a good part of which is scattered in private collections. “We are looking for her lost work, we are on the trail of some paintings that we know were auctioned a few years ago in Barcelona. And of any other that may appear! An SOS launched from Twitter that, to her surprise, is already beginning to give unexpected results. "We haven't been able to see each other yet because he was leaving for Rome, but a lady has contacted me who says she thinks she has several of his paintings in her house," says Viudes, who provides an email address in case someone can put it on any clue (toyaviudes67@gmail.com).

How do you "think" you have? In the case of Rosario de Velasco, the investigations have led him to the auction houses and galleries where he exhibited, which either cannot provide the buyer's data without his consent (many years have passed and he does not answer on the other side of the landline no one) or the files no longer exist. Added to this is the fact, no less, that the painter did not sign with her name but with a monogram (a V embracing an R), "so surely there will be someone who has her work and does not know it is hers" warns Viudes, who will be the curator of the Thyssen exhibition (still undated) together with Miguel Luzarreta.

“He signed like this inspired by Dürer's anagram, whom he admired. I don't think she wanted to hide her status as a woman, ”says Viudes. However, in one of the few surviving interviews, she confessed to a journalist friend that throughout her life she had sought to be a “woman painter: not to paint a woman, but one that could be confused with that of painters because they are true art, without anyone valuing it from lower planes, from my femininity”.

Rosario de Velasco was an old shirt, affiliated with the Falange before the 1936 elections, which almost cost him his life. At least that's the legend. “It is said that a neighbor told on her and was arrested and taken to La Modelo to be shot the next day. What is certain – relates Viudes – is that he spent one night and that he managed to save himself thanks to the prison doctor, Dr. Javier Farrerons, whom he had met at the home of the publisher and collector Gustau Gili, and whom he later almost married. clandestinely during the war. She always remembered that her cellmate was executed”. In 1937, she crossed the border into France on foot, where her only daughter, María del Mar, was born. After the war, they returned to Barcelona, ​​where she settled permanently on Consell de Cent street.

“There is a before and after in his work. The first is much more surprising and explosive, ”she considers. Eugeni d'Ors, in the aforementioned article, described those beginnings in a much more grandiose manner. The writer wondered "why the history of art does not have a woman's name for any of its peaks of glory" and, immediately afterwards, pointed out De Velasco as a great candidate. She “She appeared in the official contests; and there it was a thing, not just to sew and sing, but to arrive, see and win, to win all the triumphs and snatch up the best laurels”. At first attached to a new realism related to the European current of recovery of classicism, such as the new German objectivity or the Italian valori plastici, D'Ors himself, who baptized the artist as "the Pola Negri of Spanish painting ”, invited her to participate in 1944 in the II Salón de los Once, where she exhibited together with Pablo Gargallo or Torres García.

The critic Cesáreo López de Aguilera spoke of his second stage on the occasion of an exhibition at the Biosca gallery in Madrid in 1971: “Your work today is no longer that initial work, but something more restful, more mature, more dense, more typical of the walls of old manor houses or old museums....". A good friend of Dionisio Ridruejo, Pere Pruna and Carmen Conde, she collaborated with the magazine Vértice and illustrated books such as Cuentos para soñar and Pella. She also enjoyed critical appreciation and, in 1968, won the Sant Jordi prize shared with Ignasi Mundó.

A smug journalist from ABC described her this way in 1932: “A chicarrona with toasted bread skin, shaggy black hair, hands with sweet movements and brown eyes in whose irises a drop of honey flickers.”