Vila Casas, the last great Catalan patron

Modest, affable and generous, Antoni Vila Casas shook his head from side to side, as if he wanted to downplay his importance, when asked about his status as the last great patron of Catalan art, a title that the pharmaceutical businessman and collector had earned.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
16 September 2023 Saturday 04:26
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Vila Casas, the last great Catalan patron

Modest, affable and generous, Antoni Vila Casas shook his head from side to side, as if he wanted to downplay his importance, when asked about his status as the last great patron of Catalan art, a title that the pharmaceutical businessman and collector had earned. by hand, by dint of determination and enthusiasm. In recent years, still energetic but with his health increasingly decimated, his great concern when visiting the doctor was to know if he would live long enough to see the completion of one last project, a non-museum space of which he barely wanted to give details. It could not be. His strength abandoned him on Thursday in Barcelona, ​​where he died at the age of 92.

Vila Casas has left with the same discretion with which he lived. He hated noise and did not want his death to be made public until a few days later, but he did give precise instructions on how he wanted his farewell to be, with his friends singing “El que pensin de mi no m'interessa gens”, the verses of Salvat-Papasseit set to music by Serrat with whom he identified so much and which gave the title to a memoir published in 2016 in which he reflected on art and health. His world. He also asked that in his last farewell (next Wednesday, in the parish of Sant Gregori Taumaturg, at 7 p.m.) the Virolai would be played.

Vila Casas was a man tremendously committed to culture and knowledge, which for him were the hallmarks of the Catalonia that he loved so much. In a gesture as admirable as it was rare, in 1986 he gave a good part of his assets to the foundation that bears his name, initially dedicated to scientific dissemination issues in the field of health and which in the 2000s expanded to the promotion of Catalan contemporary art, larger and more diverse thanks to him and the creation of four museum spaces: the Volart exhibition halls and the Can Framis Museum in Barcelona, ​​where he has his painting collection; Palau Solterra, in Torroella de Montgrí, dedicated to photography, and Can Mario, in Palafrugell, focused on sculpture.

Son of a family of textile businessmen, whose father died when he was 11 years old, he studied Pharmacy and in 1960 founded Laboratorios Prodes, from which, thanks largely to the success of Tepazepan – which combined anxiolytics and antidepressants – he would end up building the Prodesfarma empire. , which in 1995 merged with Laboratorios Almirall. He could have gone even further, “but lymphoma stopped me,” he said. He was diagnosed when he was 73 years old and was told that he would not survive more than two years. He then sold his interest in the laboratories, and thanks to an experimental treatment he was able to live a long and fruitful second life as a philanthropist.

In recent years, it has made, among others, a contribution of two million euros to the Vall d'Hebron hospital to adapt the spaces dedicated to leukemia patients, and with the Fundació Miró it signed an agreement by which it undertook to contribute one million euros until 2030, at a rate of 100,000 euros per year, for the restoration and enhancement of the center's collection. He has also collaborated with festivals such as Estación Alta or Ibercamera, and with universities such as Pompeu Fabra and the UB.

Catalanist, sovereigntist and bullfighter, the latter a hobby that he lived intensely (he claimed it as part of Catalan culture) and led him to travel through Spain and the south of France following his idols, especially José Tomás, the businessman began to collect driven by his love of painting but without a conscious desire to become a collector. “We had offices in Sant Just, huge premises, almost 4,000 square meters. I didn't know what to do with those walls, so I started buying paintings and when we left those rooms I found, almost unintentionally, that I had more than 200 paintings,” he told La Vanguardia.

When Can Framis opened in 2009, a 22@ building whose rehabilitation cost 18 million euros, it had 600 paintings by authors such as Tàpies, Hernández Pijuan, Perejaume, Joan Pere Viladecans, Agustí Puig, Pedro Moreno, Santi Moix, Gonzalo Goytisolo, Julio Vaquero or Jaume Plensa, among many others. Since then the funds have not stopped growing, and today it has more than 3,500 pieces. His idea is that the foundation stops buying in 2030, when it would have turned 100 years old.

As for the sculpture collection, the fault, he explained, lay with his first wife and her habit of filling the house with plants that, when watered, always ended up bulging the parquet. “I decided to change them for sculptures,” she recalled. Then she thought that given its size it deserved to be shown to the public and in 2000 she put an apartment in Pals, Ca la Tona, four years later moving it to Can Mario, in Palafrugell. After a period of uncertainty, the Palau Solterra was dedicated entirely to photography; while Can Framis and Volart, in Barcelona, ​​have the purpose of promoting the artists in the collection.

Vila Casas bought simply letting himself be guided by what he liked, without caring if he was wrong or not, and without paying attention to fashions and much less to markets, always positioning himself next to the artists. “There are people who just want to make money. But me, not having children... I have had the freedom to do what I wanted without harming anyone,” he justified himself without imposture modesty. Along with the promotion of artists, for many of whom his support has been vital, he had a sincere desire to serve the country that extended to the preservation of architectural heritage. All the exhibition spaces of his foundation are factory buildings or buildings of historical interest to the recovery of which he has contributed. And he said that he had gotten as far as he had without a pre-established plan, “doing the path walking, step by step, without pre-established goals.” He never counted on public help, nor did he ask for it.

In September 2022, upon receiving the Medal d'Or from the Generalitat, he explained himself through the advice he had received from his father: “That he was hard-working, that he was honest and that he always carried the country in his heart.” where I was born.”