Awards & Collections
1876 - Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes, Madrid. Second medal
1894 - Exposición de Bellas Artes, Barcelona. First medal
1895 - Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes, Madrid. First medal
1896 - Exposición de Bellas Artes, Barcelona. First Medal
1898 - Exposición de Bellas Artes, Barcelona. First medal
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña, Barcelona
Museo de Arte de Gerona, Girona
Fundación Rafael Masó, Girona
Biblioteca Museo Víctor Balaguer, Vilanova i la Geltrú
Museo Carmen Thyssen, Malaga
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Modest Urgell was born in Barcelona in 1839 to a well-to-do family. Although the world of theatre fascinated him from a young age, his parents disapproved of this passion and Urgell decided to direct his artistic inclinations towards painting, enrolling in the school of Fine Arts, la Llotja. There he was a pupil of the realist painter Ramon Martí Alsina and interacted with other important artists such as Joaquim Vayreda, Maria Fortuny and the Masriera among others.
Upon completing his studies, he went to Paris where he met Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot and Charles-François Daubigny, and became acquainted with new artistic currents such as Realism, Symbolism, and the Barbizon School. Apart from this trip to Paris, Urgell spent his entire life in Barcelona and its surroundings, discovering Catalonia and depicting the abandoned-looking villages and landscapes which most fascinated and intrigued him. Fleeing an outbreak of Yellow Fever, he settled for some time in Olot, where his friend Joaquim Vayreda had created an artistic school focused on landscape representation, which greatly influenced his work.
Urgell's entire, vast production, in fact, has landscape as its centre. Landscapes completely devoid of bucolic idealisations and without special social will, but rather melancholic and mysterious, both theatrical and dramatic. The difficulty of classifying his works, which the artist almost never dated, is due to the somewhat repetitive choice of themes: rural visions of deserted alleys, solitary marinas on cloudy days, fields and cemeteries of abandoned villages. So prolific was this latter theme that the artist himself, ironically, came to title them 'Lo de siempre' ('The usual'). Obsessive and a perfectionist, his interest was to treat and rework essential, naked and everyday truths.
Realism obviously underlies Urgell's paintings, though one can pick up on literary allusions that would, somehow, bring them closer to Symbolism. His interest in capturing the true and fugitive, without ennoblement or idealisation, and his willingness to express feelings giving a very personal and imaginary touch to the matter, make the artist the most outstanding exponent of Romanticism in Catalonia.
Modest Urgell was highly appreciated by the public and critics of his time, especially from the 1970s onwards. He received many commissions and exhibited his works in art galleries, both in Spain, for example, in the Sala Parés in Barcelona since its founding in 1877, and abroad – Philadelphia, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and Chicago. He attended all of the National Exhibitions from 1864 to a year before his death and also participated in numerous competitions, among which the National Exhibition of Fine Arts of Madrid in 1895 was important, where he was awarded the First medal.
In 1894, on the death of the artist Lluís Rigalt, Urgell was appointed professor of perspective and landscape at the School of Fine Arts la Llotja. His teachings had a great influence on the work of artists such as his son Ricard Urgell, who was also a painter, Joan Miró, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Ponç.