Julio Gonzalez
Year, Birthplace 1876, Spain
Year, Place of death 1942, France
Julio González’s first thirty years were inseparable from his family’s activities. His father owned a prosperous jewellery and blacksmith company in Barcelona. Just like his brother and his two sisters, he learned the craft from a very young age, producing jewellery in the Catalan modernist style. He was enrolled in the Applied Arts classes in his native city’s School of Fine Arts and took part in an exhibition when he was fifteen. With his brother Joan, he then mingled with the Catalan artistic milieu that gathered at the café Els Quatre Gats, where he met Isidro Nonell, Jaime Sabartés, Carlos Casagemas, Manolo (Manuel Hugué), Eugenio d’Ors, Joaquín Torres-García, and Ramon Pichot... Discovering Paris and visiting the Prado in 1897 led him to become a painter. He settled in Paris in 1899 and was joined by all of his family the following year (his father died and his company was sold). He then started to work with beaten copper. He became close to Pablo Picasso (who was five years his junior), as well as Manolo, Torrès Garcia and Paco Durrio. In 1903 he took part in his first Salon in Paris with a sculpture (at the Société nationale des beaux-arts). Throughout this period, and over the following years, he continued to create jewellery, masks and several decorative objects. In 1904, unable to recover some drawings of his brother’s that had been entrusted to Picasso’s family in Barcelona, he fell out with the latter, a rupture which lasted more than seventeen years. He started to exhibit his paintings at the Salon des Indépendants [Independents Salon] in 1908 and then at the Salon d’automne [Autumn Salon]. In 1915 he and his family opened a shop that sold jewellery and decorative objects. In 1918 he became an apprentice welder at Renault in order to learn the new autogenous welding techniques. Soon afterwards he sculpted a crucifix in iron. His first solo exhibition took place in 1922 at the Galerie Povolozky in Paris, when the painter-sculptor was forty-six years old. A second exhibition followed at Galerie Le Caméléon the next year. In 1925 he was assistant to Constantin Brancusi, whom he helped to prepare an exhibition. His first piece of cut and bent wrought iron dates from 1927. In 1928 Picasso sought his help to weld metal sculptures, such as Petite maternité découpée [Small, Cut-out Maternity]. The following year and for four consecutive years, the two artists worked together on many works of art. A sketchbook shared by both artists (Musée Picasso, Paris) bears witness to this beautiful and rare collaboration. He definitively turned to sculpture, making a series of iron heads (including Tête en profondeur [Head in Depth], from 1930, and Femme se coiffant I [Woman Combing Her Hair I], 1931, one of his most important works) and exhibiting iron sculptures for the first time at the Salon d’Automne. The Galerie de France hired him (presenting his first solo exhibition in 1930 with a preface by Louis Vauxcelles). In 1934, at the time of an exhibition at the Galerie Percier in Paris, the author of the preface, Maurice Raynal, called him the ‘artist of emptiness'. During this period the sculptor increasingly took part in exhibitions and his reputation grew. At the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, which he organised at MoMA in New York in 1936, Alfred H. Barr situated González between Picasso and Jacques Lipchitz. Like Picasso, he could be seen as an artist that was close to surrealism, which explains the decision to include him in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism, also at the MoMA, in 1936-1937. However, from 1936 onwards Julio González’s sculptures could also appear abstract. This is the case of Femme assise [Seated Woman], Femme au miroir [Woman with a Mirror], Femme courbée [Bent Woman], and Petite Vénus [Little Venus]… In fact, he spent time with the abstracts and his work was reproduced in the journal of the group Abstraction-Création. He was commissioned by the Spanish Republic to produce a work for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition: La Montserrat (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), a powerful work that symbolises suffering and that would be placed alongside Picasso’s Guernica and Joan Miró’s El Segador [The Reaper]. The war years were difficult. On returning from his friend’s funeral Picasso, being particularly moved, painted three canvases depicting a skull in front of a window which, according to the painter, embodied ‘the death of González’. A retrospective was organised in 1952 at the Musée national d’art moderne in Paris. His influence on modern sculpture was considerable. AC