Awards & Collections
1896 - III Exposición de Bellas Artes e Industrias Artísticas, Barcelona. Honourable mention
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Museo de Montserrat
Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña, Barcelona
Museo de Historia de la Ciudad, Girona
Museo del Empordà, Figueres
Museo Cau Ferrat, Sitges
Biblioteca Museo Víctor Balaguer, Vilanova i la Geltrú
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
Reial Acadèmia de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi, Barcelona
Fundación María Cristina Masaveu Peterson
Fundación Francisco Godia, Barcelona
Fundación Banco Santander
Isidre Nonell was born in Barcelona in 1872. The son of a small manufacturer, he managed to free himself from the obligations of the family business to devote himself to painting. At the age of twelve he entered the Academy of Drawing as a disciple of Josep Mirabent and later Gabriel Martínez Altés’ painting school. In 1889 he signed up for private lessons from Lluís Graner, an artist very much in vogue in those years for his effective and socially themed works that surely profoundly influenced the young artist.
In 1893 Nonell embarked on a new stage of his career, entering the Escuela de la Llotja (Llotja art school), where he met with Ramon Canals, Juli Vallmitjana, Ramon Pichot and his old friends Joaquim Mir and Xavier Nogués. Disgruntled by the academism of the courses, the artists organized field outings on the outskirts of Barcelona, in search of unspoiled landscapes to paint from nature, and founded the Colla del Safro (Saffron Group), so called due to the distinctive yellowish colour of their paintings. In this early period, landscape and capturing light were Nonell’s main interests. In fact, when the artist began exhibiting in the Sala Parés in 1892, critics described his works as Impressionist.
Apart from landscapes, Nonell also demonstrated a strong interest in the human figure, a theme which would later play a predominant role in his painting. In particular, he was interested in the people of the street, the most humble, disadvantaged or marginalised in society. His caricatures, published in the newspaper La Vanguardia with which he collaborated, did not seek to ridicule, but on the contrary, to denounce poverty in the city. His interest in the human figure reached a climax after his stay in Caldes de Boí, where the artist travelled in the summer of 1896 with Ricard Canals and Juli Vallmitjana. Here he was deeply impressed by the deformations of the inhabitants of this isolated mountain community in the Pyrenees, where inbreeding was still widespread, and began his well-known series of drawings of people suffering from cretinism.
Between 1897 and 1900 Nonell spent two long sojourns in Paris to learn about the most modern French painting, especially appreciating the painting of Puvis de Chavannes, Whistler and the Impressionists. He presented several drawings at the Salon du Champ-de-Mars, participated in the XV Exposition des Peintres Impressionnistes et Symbolistes and exhibited in several galleries in the French capital. He progressively abandoned landscape to focus almost exclusively on figures and a few still lifes.
When, at the beginning of the new century, the artist returned definitively to Barcelona, his interest centred on portraits of gypsies, the series that has made him most famous. Characterised by small vermicular brushstrokes, between 1901 and 1906 dark greenish and reddish colours prevailed. From 1907 he continued to dedicate himself to a new vision of women using softer tones. During these years, the artist continued to send works to the Salons du Champs-de-Mars and to exhibit in the Sala Parés, the Barcelona Athenaeum and the Galerías Dalmau in Barcelona.
In 1911 Nonell died prematurely at the age of 38, a victim of typhus. A principal figure of Catalan postmodernism, the painter brought an important aesthetic renewal to the art of the country and was a faithful witness to a crisis period in Catalan life.