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Museu Viladomat – 1999

Museu Viladomat – Escaldes

by Peter Parkinson – Inter-Comm October 1999

Peter gives all the information we need about the museum so many of us have not visited – yet!

Most of us have seen, outside the Casa de la Vall, the life-size statues of the young couple dancing hand-in-hand, looking out across the valley, even if we were not all aware that it was created by the Catalan sculptor Josep Viladomat. He was born in 1899 at Manlleu near Vic in Catalunya. The Viladomat family moved to Barcelona in 1911, at which time he became apprenticed to a stonecutter, starting work a year later in the studio of another sculptor.

By 1916 he had begun participating in collective art exhibitions in Barcelona. In 1923 he won first prize with his sculpture “Motherhood” at the Barcelona Municipal Exhibition of Fine Arts, using the prize money to travel in Italy and Paris. There’s a copy of this statue in the Museu Viladomat. Thus by the age of 24 he had become an established sculptor, in which occupation he continued up to the time of his death in 1989, at the age of 90.

During 1937 and 1938 he fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. As a natural consequence, following the Nationalist victory, he had to go into exile in 1939 and settled in Andorra. Around 1950 he felt able to renew residence in Barcelona alternating with long stays in Andorra and continuing to receive many public and private commissions in Barcelona and in Andorra.

He was far from being avant-gardiste in his approach to sculpture and perhaps for that reason has not been highly rated by historians. If you look through the encyclopaedias located in the Andorra National Library, there are very brief entries in Ars Hispanic XXII, in the Historia del Arte España volume 10 and rather more information in the encyclopaedia Catalana volume 15, where he is said to have been “on the margin of the sculpture of his generation, to have evolved a realist style at times under the influence of Donatello, the Italian Renaissance sculptor.

He never attained the international reputation of another Catalan sculptor, Aristide Maillot, born Banyuls-sur-Mer in Pyrénées Orientales in 1861, dying in 1944 in the same part of France. The Catalan encyclopaedia writes that Maillot was born in Banyuls, Vall Espir which is seen as culturally Catalan, even though it has been politically French for more then 300 years.

In 1986 the Museu Viladomat was inaugurated as a permanent exhibition of his work, in the Career Josep Viladomat, close to the Comu of Escaldes-Engordany. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10.00 to 13.00 and again from 17.00 to 21.00, entry 300 pesetas, free for the under 18’s and over 65’s. You can buy an illustrated guide for 500 pesetas, including fourteen photographs of cultures, six pages of chronology, a brief essay on his sculpture and an introduction by his son, Frances Viladomat, who looks after the museum. The guide is in Catalan, and I also got a French version without the illustrations. There may be versions in other languages.

What will you find in the Museu Viladomat? An exhausting listing would not be useful, so all I shall do in this article is write a little about some of the things that I liked, without any claim that these are in some sense Viladomat’s best works. This photograph shows a reproduction  of the dancers outside the Casa de la Vall and to the right of that the bronze statue of Pau Casals and his violincello.

Casals, more uncompromising than Viladomat, was born at Vendrell (close to Tarragona) in 1876. He refused to return to Spain after the Civil War, settling at Prades in the Tet Valley upstream from Perpignan where he inaugurated an annual music festival that is still flourishing. (I’m prejudiced bout the ’cello’, my favourite musical instrument, for listening not playing, whether concertos like those of Dvorak and Britten or the unaccompanied sonatas of J.S.Bach). Copies of his sculpture are to be found in Prades, Lleida, Tarragona and Barcelona.A few of the sculptures of the Spanish dancer Carme Tortola Valencia that Viladomat created from the age of 20 are to be found in the museum. There is a female nude “Republica” holding aloft a flaming torch intended to be placed on top of a pillar in Barcelona, created by Viladomat in 1932, but not installed until 1986. I liked the bronze of Saint Veronica, kneeling, holding the kerchief, which she gave to Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha, to wipe his face.

There are several heads of young children, some of them highly finished in alabaster, others being preliminary studies in clay or plaster. Her’s crouching female nude in stone, that I have seen somewhere else, which one may contrast with a fully clothed young woman as a seller of violets, while sewing or spinning thread. The statue of Bishop Benlloch is best viewed in site, outside the church on Sant Esteve in Andorra la Vella. More austere is the Statue of St.Francis of Assisi dating from 1927, very linear and vertical: in the guide that faces a photo of “Motherhood” , all nerves and motion, a good contrast. Right at the end of his life he made four small statues, of a crocodile, a hippo, a wild boar and a gymnast with a crocodile.

In sum, a very satisfying life, vocation chosen early, still creating and experimenting up to the end, knowing that his work would continue to be kept together in his own museum. Next time you feel fed up with yourself, other people, life in general, I recommend a visit to the Museu Viladomat. it will help restore you faith in …………… Whatever.

Peter Parkinson

Published in Inter-Comm October 1999