HILARIÓN BRUGAROLAS (1901-1996): his life, his work

Violeta Izquierdo

Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Historical and artistic context:

The life and work of Brugarolas coincides with an important page in the political and social history of Spain marked by the Civil War and exile. The disorder caused by the Civil War took away a significant part of Spain’s culture. Latin America and France were the main countries the exiled artists left to. Paris became a reference for the majority of the Spanish artists in France. However, it is important to highlight the existence of another major artistic centre in the South - Toulouse. Many painters and sculptors generating the local culture and representing the essence and character of Spanish art for decades gathered in the “Pink city”. This cultural identity gained a new momentum by instigating ties with the culture of the host country.

In France, the artistic exile presented major differences in terms of training and recognition, depending on the city the exile artists chose. The cultural and artistic environment in the forties was not the same in Paris and Toulouse. Consequently, the impact and scope for the group of artists who chose Paris was far more important than it was for those who settled in Toulouse, driven by the willingness to excel. The prestige of the Ecole Espagnole de Paris (Spanish School of Paris) was not comparable to that one of Toulouse, that could have gathered certain artists under the motto of Ecole Espagnole de Toulouse (Spanish School of Toulouse), ensuring its members an influence in Spain, comparable to that one of Paris.  However, this disparity began to change in 2002 when the exhibition Artistes espagnols exilés à Toulouse (Spanish artists exiled in Toulouse)[2]. This tribute took place in the Jacobins monastery complex and gathered in addition to the above-mentioned painters, the following artists: Pierre Daura, Apel.les Fenosa, Antoni Clavell (father and son), Francisco Bajén, Martine Vega, Antoni Clavé, Virgilio Vallmajó, Antoni Tàpies, Rosé Subirà-Puig, Arthur Saura and Concha Benedito. This artistic hub opened up to other close exile cities such as Bordeaux, Marseille and Albi.

Amongst the group of Spanish visual artists residing in Toulouse, it was necessary to make an explicit distinction between the different generations. The first, referred to as the “First Generation” of artists, were trained by those born at the beginning of the twentieth Century. The war came about at an age when their political awareness was already forged and for some, their careers were already well established. The break-up with their country, cultural origins and activities and their concern to satisfy their primary needs put aside this passion, sometimes for several years, before being able to permanently focus on painting or sculpture again. Among those to remember belonging to this first generation were the painters Hilarion Brugarolas, Manuel Camps-Vicens, Francesc Forcadell-Prat, Josep Suau, Pablo Salen, Josep Alejos, Call, Argüello, Zurita, Espanyol, Izquierdo-Carvajal, Medina and the sculptors Antoni Alos, Joaquim Vicens-Gironella or Mir Clavell.

Those belonging to the “Second Generation”, also born in Spain but twenty years later, crossed the border as children and were trained or pursued their training  in the country their parents settled in. Many of these artists attended the Toulouse School of Fine Arts, where they came across old Professors such as Bergougnan, Espinasse, and Letaudy. They acquired various technical and theoretical skills which they applied to their self-taught learning. The cultural paradox of these painters enabled them to enrich their works and situated them at a level of authentic expression, full of values and connotations. These artists became recognized on the French cultural scene. Some of them returned to Spain and regained their roots by forging a name and becoming recognized in certain artistic circles. Carlos Pradal, Juan Jordà, Rodolfo Fauria-Gort, Balbino Giner (son) and Antoni Clavell (son), are part of the Spaniards that exiled during their childhood and all have in common: art, exile and Toulouse.  

Brugarolas was one of the major representatives of the First Generation of Spanish artists that exiled to Toulouse. Inspired by impressionism, he was fond of outdoor painting and preferred figurative art using a refreshing style, a lively and colorful palette and a fleshy and powerful gesture. Brugarolas’ pleasant paintings depicted natural beauties and inspired feelings. His expressive representations reflected his sensitivity and personal vision and resulted from his emotional and psychological introspection. In other words, they reflected a desire to create and master artworks using the appropriate techniques capable of transforming this vision into images. His ability to integrate this criterion made of him a recognizable reference in this group of artists.

BIOGRAPHY:

  1. Barcelona (1901-1919)

Hilarión Brugarolas Planas was born in Barcelona on June 15, 1901. His father Elisée Brugarolas held a café in the Travesera de Gracia Street, a business that enabled the family to live comfortably. Hilarión and his brother both studied at the Claret College of Barcelona, attached to the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Not far from his house, on a vacant lot that now accommodates the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona, himself and his comrades followed the work of Master Gaudí on the cathedral. He often went, accompanied with the other youngsters of his age, to the artist’s workshop to view the construction of the church, based on matchsticks.

At the age of 7, his mother Antonia Planas offered him a magnificent box of oil paintings for the Feast of the Epiphany. This gift awoke his passion for painting and was apparent since his youngest age in school. At the same time as his studies at the Claretian Brothers, he followed painting courses, during three years, at the School of Fine Arts of Barcelona.

He finished his secondary schooling at the age of 18 and following his father’s wish for him to become a missionary of the Congregation of the Claretian Brothers he obtained a degree in Theology. However, his personal convictions and family situation significantly altered his fate. The family’s economic situation drastically changed, following a decree prohibiting games, thus declining the business activity of his father’s café. In January 1919, his mother passed away following her poor health and his father only survived a few months later of that same year. Hilarión and his brother became orphans at the age 18 and 16. They were both broke and managed to sell a few tables and chairs from his father’s café for a derisory sum.  They then left to Granollers to stay with one of their paternal aunts.

1.2 Granollers (1919-1939)

Once at his uncles, Hilarión began working as a waiter in the family restaurant "Casa Layón". As soon as he had a free moment, he painted at home. In 1921, he was called in to do his military service in Burgos. However, given his hearing impairment in his left ear, he was assigned to the Department of Military Health. He never ceased to draw and paint cartoons and the commander witnessed his talent and bought some of his paintings.

At the age of 23, he returned to Granollers where he continued working in the restaurant, without neglecting his passion for painting, which he devoted himself to whenever he had a free moment. He was also interested in the cultural activities of the city and fervently collaborated with his friends José María de Sagarra Capdevila and Amador Garrel, amongst others, for the survival of the Granollers Theatre also known as "Talía".

Granollers was at the time a prosperous city that developed the twentieth Century in full industrial growth. This gave rise to an effervescent and modern cultural atmosphere which reached its peak in 1927 with the First Local Artists Exhibition, celebrated at the Casino. This exhibition aimed to introduce the new generation of young landscape painters including Vicent Albarranch[4] was raised. Amongst the instigators, excluding Albarranch himself, Hilarión Brugarolas, Francesc A. Planas Doria, the musician P. Iglesias, J.Mª Ruera and the photographer J. Bosch were also at the origin of this. The museum opened its doors thanks to the donations of these artists and others participating in this project. In 1932, Brugarolas was appointed General Director, following the proposal of Albarranch, who was at the time the Managing Director of the subcommittee Painting, Sculpture and Drawings of the Granollers Museum. All these painters took part in the first landscape pictorial movement of the city.

The age difference between Albarranch and Brugarolas was of only three years but yet for Brugarolas, Albarranch was his master and the one who taught him painting. They were both drawn by the same subjects and went on excursions together to the countryside, where they spent entire days painting nature. Guided by Albarranch, Brugarolas rapidly improved his artistic renderings and techniques. He took part in prestigious painting exhibitions. Apart from the local exhibitions of Granollers in 1930 and 1931, he also took part in Barcelona’s Regional Grand Salon in 1935, in Valencia in 1936 and in Madrid’s National Exhibition in 1932, 1934 and 1936. It was during Valencia’s Regional Exhibition that the painter Puig i Perucho was attracted by his works and encouraged him to take part in the Bueno Aires International Exhibition in 1935 and the Pittsburg Exhibition in the United States.

Hilarión Brugarolas’ paintings consisted mainly of landscapes. Those of the Catalan Vallès Oriental (Comarca of Catalonia), representing mainly plein air and outdoor paintings, resulted from his direct observation and assiduous work, alongside with Albarranch who taught him how to find the adequate framing, how to combine colours, create perspectives, play with light and cease moments to reproduce perceived impressions. Albarranch’s paintings were characterized by marked, thick, vivid and spontaneous brushstrokes, by colour intensity and with sceneries displaying deep and bright perspectives and lights. These characteristics were also apparent in the work of his disciple. Brugarolas’s Catalan impressionist style originated from this first phase of artistic training.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)

The Spanish War put an end to this successful early career and like other artists struck by the events he was faced with more immediate needs. Nonetheless, he never renounced to this vocation and took the opportunity to use his paint brushes as soon as he could.

Brugarolas joined the Republican faction during the Civil War. Like other residents of the city that drew closer to the CNT (National Confederation of Labour), he actively participated in the Ebro front and conducted missions as a mapmaker within the second assault brigade. However, the defeat of the Republican faction forced him, like thousands of others, to take the road of exile as this was the only alternative for resisting the enemy.

1.3 The exile in France (1939-1955)

Once the war ended in February 1939, the unity to which Hilarión belonged retreated to France, where the wounded received first aid at the Tour de Carol. His battalion was sent to the Septfonds concentration camp, close to Montauban. His living conditions were far from improving and deteriorated facing the imminent danger of World War II.

During the German occupation in France, Brugarolas joined the resistance movements under the command of Colonel Maury in the scrublands of Picaussel. Arrested by the German police for being a Spanish guerilla, he was deported and sent to serve as labour in the Foreign Workers Group. He was also imprisoned in a concentration camp, but managed to escape with one of his comrades and returned to France after a long and adventurous journey.

At the end of World War II, he settled in Tarascon-sur-Ariège, where he worked as a painter in a factory. He then moved to Aston-sur-Ariège, where he worked as a cook in a power station. It was only in 1947, in Cabanas, that he managed to accomplish all the administrative formalities and paperwork to enable his wife and daughter, still in Spain at the time, to settle in France. After nine years of separation, their second child, Elíseo, was born.

Toulouse (1955)

After sixteen years of exile, the Brugarolas couple moved to Toulouse, attracted by the bigger opportunities offered by the capital of the Haute Garonne. He soon found a job at the Fournier factory as a tire recycler. This brought him financial stability and left him time to join associations of amateur painters that organized exhibitions in Southern France. Over time, Brugarolas acquired a leader status becoming a member of the Occitans Méridionaux association and then of the Indépendants association.

In parallel to this growing activity, his house was transformed into an improvised school workshop where students trained themselves and followed the courses of this accomplished and experimented painter. One of his disciples, Rodolfo Fauria-Gort, also exiled from the Spanish War, followed his classes for years until standing on his own two feet. Together with Fauria-Gort and Max Wallet, he formed a group named ORIÓN, organizing a number of exhibitions throughout the region.

In 1961, he presented his paintings for the first time individually. Up until then, he had only presented his work as a member of a collective group. However, the paintings were not sufficiently numerous and only partially reflected the multiple facets of his talent. It was only during an exhibition in 1974 in the art Gallery L’Atelier de Toulouse that large selections of his oil and watercolour paintings were gathered for the first time. The diversity of his paintings, alternating marine, landscapes, streets, bulls, flowers, and still lifes revealed an artist using different genres and driven by endless research and technical concern.

During the seventies and eighties, Brugarolas increased the number of paintings and exhibitions and took part with other painters, in several regional and national shows. He also organised many individual exhibitions and won several awards for the combination of his work. These honors marked his artistic career and his work was officially recognized during several tributes organized in the Midi-Pyrenees Region.

PICTORIAL WORK

Hilarión Brugarolas was a painter who was recognizable at a first glance by the way he arranged his artwork, placed the material and filled the surface. His painting knife was an instrument he handled with skill and firmness giving to all his work a very personal touch and style. All the themes he addressed using this technique were illustrated with great fluidity. The paintings appeared as spontaneous, at times uneven, and were built around dissimilar, short, elongated, thin or thick features. They concealed a great command acquired over the years.

The technical skills illustrated in his work highlighted his innate sense of colour and light. Besides the thick and blunt paste he used in his paintings, bringing out colour and shadows, he was also keen on vivid colours and the brightness of the sky. His work used shadows and subtle light reflections. It also scattered the compositions and juxtaposed different tone colours, diluting them at times, in order to obtain a quality and effective rendering. He excelled in creating colourful sensations such as in beautiful landscapes or in the subtle and nuanced veil covering a vase of flowers.

His paintings do not follow the trends, movements and schools that he came across throughout his long life. This was not out of ignorance but merely because his passion for painting developed his creativity for the artistic movement that arose in the twentieth century. Characterized at times as an emotional artist, he was keen on impressionism and dilution of forms. The greatness of his paintings are characterized by colour dominance, becoming itself an expressive and independent criteria. His realistic artworks are based on impressionism, driven by a slight diction, a dimmed vivid palette that is capable of condensing the essence of reality and overcoming valuable details.

Throughout his life, Brugarolas explored the implicit possibilities in various subjects. He brought a personal touch to diverse themes such as landscapes, nudes, still lifes and flower bouquets. His work did not follow a distinctive progression filled with specific periods but it illustrated instead a combination of academic and experimental art by reflecting the topics and places he describes. Nevertheless, the pictorial personality and material always work simultaneously and serve to awaken shapes and colours that bring about the emotion in his paintings. The themes addressed fit into the academic tradition and reflect his passion for classical painting even though his technique resolutely focused on wide-ranging material giving its compositions a great touch of sensuality, freshness and modernity.

Brugarolas’ landscapes are the most emblematic pictorial representations of all his work. His intention was not to duplicate the reality but to rediscover and recreate the landscape through brushstrokes deviating from naturalism by drawing them closer to impressionism giving them the possibility to deepen their ultimate meaning using vast perspectives and a poetic inspiration. The views and emotions of Brugarolas revealed his clear vision and peaceful expression, animated by inner reflection rather than a desire to reproduce. He renounced to naturalist perceptions in his landscapes, opting for a more jubilant and spiritual restitution of these landscapes. He claimed that painters do not have to copy nature but instead understand it and replicate it using their emotions and techniques. Brugarolas’ work demonstrates that the most important criteria was to wisely take into account the correct theme, frame and perspective and choose the right light, perspective, colour and volume. The rich impasto and colour conception was accompanied by a sunlight that moderated colours and forms.

Brugarolas was fascinated by outdoor painting and went to the seafront or the foot of the mountains with his equipment to find scenic spots. His work demonstrated the desire he had to share nature’s grand performance. The landscapes becoming the object and subject of the painting revealed a realistic interpretation of the grandness and silence of nature and humankind, without its voices or its inhabitants. His vision was concerned about always reflecting the spectacle of life, continuously bringing a touch of understanding, tenderness and even connection with his characters.

Some of the paintings also illustrated arid landscapes under stormy skies in an intense and fanciful expressive atmosphere, radically opposed to the peaceful feeling characterized in some of his quiet and romantic landscapes in tones of green and wild olive trees.

Brugarolas who spent many years in the Camargue region was a lover of the sun and blue skies of southern France, displayed in many of his paintings. The bulls, horses, men and landscapes of this beautiful region were represented, using a symphony of light and colour, far from the usual traditional images. The bulls he illustrated, using shades of white to give a feeling of clarity, brightness and freshness, appeared to glow from the haze of the muddy lands. The olive trees, the blooming almond trees and the chiseled vineyards illustrated all the benefits of the Mediterranean sunshine.

The magnificent marine landscapes represented his finest landscape works. They illustrated images of the sea, the waves colliding against the rocks at dawn or the shimmering seafront during the gleaming sunset. His style of naturalism was depicted with accuracy and skill, giving movements to the painting and combining colours (dark green, purple and ocher) with light variations on the marine waves. The beaches, rocks and dunes filled up the artist’s marine representations and were sometimes livened up by a small boat stranded on the beach or a small house filled with memories.  The sea was a recurring theme in his work. Its various conditions and movements were analyzed by the painter and showed his interest that went beyond mere representation and reflected a more intimate relationship.

Brugarolas did not often illustrate concentration camps but when he did he revealed humankind’s frailness. The tragic fate of the deportees, stripped from their roots and families, depicted anxiety, fear, pessimism and melancholy. The silhouettes of the characters in his remarkable set of work on the Nazi concentration camps illustrated his own experience and revealed cold and skeletal bodies. These men and women with bulging eyes appeared petrified by their dramatic and shocking fate. There was no brutality in his paintings but rather a touch of clarity which revealed a mysterious and immaterial emotion with shadows and reflections, belonging to a distant past but still alive in the artist’s memory. The illustrations send a hint of remorse for these forgotten stories and renew tragic emotions that illustrate a moving realism and expressionist painting.

Brugarolas’ idea on still life and flower paintings was to capture the reality as closely as possible. 

His still lifes, assembled in a Cezanne-style and colourful disposition, depicted apples, grapes, pears and pomegranates in bowls beside bottles or glasses, sometimes with a backdrop of Zurbaranesque tissues. The lyrical vitality of these assortments of fruits and objects, placed by chance, incite to examine the various components of this universe.

The flowers belonged to two categories, those that illustrated excessive naturalism and those that evoked impressionism focusing on the skills rather than duplicating a simple copy of reality. Rich in tone, they revealed the artist’s colourful inspiration and suggested a Van Gogh style. They illustrated bouquets of lilac, mimosa, daisy, lily, and a few dahlias flowers. The stems were soft in colours and the petals were positioned towards the light creating a lively and bright atmosphere. The flowers were cut and grouped into delicate bouquets illustrating in their composition a domesticated nature with a lyrical touch.

Brugarolas was always open to suggestions and built his work around different thematic references to illustrate various subjects and genres which enabled him to interpret different styles. His female nudes were drawn with generous, voluptuous curves and accurate features. The outpouring colours were enhanced by a shimmering background. The beauty of these representations lied in the pose adopted by the models that were difficult to transcribe.

The bullfighting paintings represented symbolic value, mystery and drama, and illustrated the painter’s will to create new representations. The red and black colour palette used in his works characterized this iconography. The bullfights, the parties, and the attitude adopted by the man and bull, fighting in the arena, suggested a tragic feeling and tone. 

To sum up the artist’s bulk of work, it is important to focus on the first impressions conveyed by his paintings. Brugarolas never claimed, except occasionally, to convey ideological messages. His paintings were driven by intuition, by the pleasure of observation and the love of colour and visual experiences. His skills, his determination to do well, to achieve technical perfection enabling him to idealize the essence of humankind and objects were often represented in his paintings. His artistic career illustrated an undeniable maturity in terms of creativity and a dense and consistent work.  


[4] The museum had no official headquarters before 1946 which was the year of its inauguration. The museum is currently located in a modern building that was built for this purpose in 1974.