Bronze nu. Julio Antonio: A Sculptor's Life
In 1968, the Museum of Modern Art in Tarragona was bequeathed a large part of the work of Julio Antonio (Móra d’Ebre–Madrid 1919).
Although the exhibition shows several aspects of Julio Antonio’s work, particularly his attempts at renewing sculpture in Spain and his links to the literary movement Generación del 98, its main objective is to make local people and visitors in general more familiar with the Monument to the Heroes of 1811 and to show the value of the relation between art and the society in which it exists.
The fact that the monument is located on the Rambla Nova, at the crossroads with the Carrer d’Yxart and the Carrer Cañellas has turned it into one of the icons of the city but, even so, many of those who are well acquainted with it would have great difficulty in telling us anything about it.
The family moved to Tarragona and lived in the Calle Augusto, at the corner of the Calle de San Agustín.
He attended classes at the Ateneo Tarraconense para la Clase Obrera, which provided an unoficcial education for working people. His teachers there were Marià Pedrol, who taught drawing, and Bernat Verderol, who taught sculpture.
Julio Antonio’s father was posted to Cuba, and the rest of the family moved to Barcelona.
Julio Antonio continued his training in the workshop of the sculptor Feliu Ferrer i Galzeran.
The family moved again, this time to Murcia, where Julio Antonio produced his first known sculpted group, Sick Flowers.
His letters written at this time lay down the theoretical basis of his future:
“I shall beg the protection of the great works of the Classical masters, I will ask them to show me where the mystery of form and beauty lies; there can be no doubt that through studying and rejecting them extensively they will tell me, and that is when I will create my work, that is when my intelligence will triumph…”
His circle in Madrid included Miquel Viladrich, Victorio Macho, Enrique Lorenzo Salazar and Lluís Bagaria.
He set up his workshop in the Calle Villanueva together with Miquel Viladrich.
He cultivated a friendship with Ramón Gómez de la Serna, whose writings are essential to an understanding of the life and work of Julio Antonio.
The Tarragona provincial council awarded him a travel grant of 1,000 pesetas and the sculptor spent three months travelling in Italy. In the company of his mother, he visited Rome, Florence and Naples. This trip enabled him to see at first hand the work of the two great sculptors who, along with Rodin, most influenced his art: Donatello and Michelangelo.
Upon his return from Italy he set up in Almadén with Lorenzo Salazar and worked on the Busts of the Race series.
This has led some scholars to state that Julio Antonio personified the ideals of this generation more than any other sculptor. Ideals of regeneration which enabled them to overcome the defeatism
into which Spain had sunk at the turn of the century.
Julio Antonio set off on a journey around Spain to find models, accompanied by Miquel Viladrich. He was seeking direct contact with the reality of the country, characters who could go beyond
their individuality to become an eternal present.
In 1909 he produced Minera de Puertollano, Rosa María, Mujer de Castilla, Ventero de Peñalsordo, and the following year, Hombre de la Mancha and Minero de Almadén.
The precendent for all these pieces was María la gitana, amante que fue del Pernales, and the epilogue was the portrait of the poet Lasso de la Vega; Two personal portrayals of two characters who have their own story but at the same time transmit all the symbolism of the Busts of the Race.
In 1914 Julio Antonio spent a stay in Ávila and in the Guadarrama hills in order to get back to work on the series of the Busts of the Race, and to recover his health somewhat. From this period we have: Moza de Aldea del Rey, Ávila de los Caballeros, Cabrero de las tierras de Zamora and El Novicio.
In 1811 he won the competition to build the Monment to the Heroes of Tarragona; his plan was selected above the proposals by Anselm Nogués and Carles Mani.
Julio Antonio moved his workshop to Madrid, where he set it up in an annexe to the Codina foundry. He worked on casting, in a more spacious studio which enabled him to take on larger-scale works such as the monument to Chapí, the statue of Wagner and the sculpture of St. John.
Ramón Gómez de la Serna founded in Madrid the famous Pombo crypt circle, in which numerous personalities from the worlds of literature and art took part. Julio Antonio was among the first, and the writer described him as follows:
“He sometimes appears with his Flamenco singer’s face, with his rough, dark gaze and his bullfighter’s, butcher’s hands, hands which move in the air as if, filled with clay, they were poking the clay, the index finger the spatula of the sculptor modelling what he is saying.”
The idea came from the first count of Rius, Marià Rius i Montaner, who gave the sum of 11,000 pesetas for the initiative, while the city council gave the remaining 14,000 pesetas.
On 11th April 1910 the council organised a restricted competition to design the monument, inviting Carles Mani, Anselm Nogués and Julio Antonio.
The jury consisted of the sculptors Josep Llimona and Miquel Oslé, the senior teacher of drawing at the Tarragona high school, Francisco de Cidón, and the historian Emili Morera.
On 9th April 1911 the winner’s name was released. It was Julio Antonio, with the second project.
Julio Antonio wrote in his decription of the project: ...avoiding all the awful monuments to the heroes of independence which are inaugurated in a fleeting manner, the composition of which is full of guns, helments, swords, cannons and unlikely figures in terrible taste… as a sculptor I have felt and feel that I should convey the sensation of heroism by means of the most attractive, harmonious nude form my intelligence and strength can manage.
Once the final model in bronze had been completed, Tarragona city council asked Ramón de Valle Inclán and Julio Romero de Torres, professors of aesthetics and clothing respectively at the Madrid senior school of fine art, for an opinion on the sculpted group. They assessed it “as a work which, due to its artistic sense, emotional force and unsurpassable technique, may be considered as the highest representation of contemporary art.”
With the celebration of the centenary of the siege of Tarragona imminent, the first stone of the monument was laid on 23rd September 1910. In May 1911 the plinth and the garden around the work were completed on its site on the Rambla de San Juan, at the junction with the Calles Añellas and the Calle Yxart. However, the pulmonary illness affecting Julio Antonio delayed the finishing of the monument.
Moreover, difficulties in obtaining the bronze from the foundry meant that Julio Antonio never saw his work completed, as he died on 15th February 1919.
Finally, in 1920, Tarragona city council delegated responsibility for supervising casting at the Madrid firm of Mir y Ferrero to Enrique Lorenzo Salazar, a disciple of Julio Antonio.
On 9th February 1922, the monument went on display at the Madrid museum of modern art, inaugurated by the minister for public education, and was subsequently shipped to Tarragona.
After the success it achieved in Madrid, the position of a group of citizens who questioned the siting of the sculpture on the Rambla in Tarragona is hard to understand. The arguments they used were as follows:
- First of all, it might detract from the views and perspective of the Rambla.
- Secondly, the public display of a sculpted group of nude figures might offend passers-by.
The controversy was reflected in opinions for and against which appeared in the newspapers Diario de Tarragona and La Cruz.
In the end the monument was placed in the Tarragona archaeological museum, then located in the Plaça de la Font in the city centre
Nevertheless, a group of citizens continued to petition the mayor of Tarragona for the monument to be covered with a cloth, and a popular song to the tune of “Ai mare” went around by word of mouth, speaking ironically about the situation: The despicable women showed the mayor who’s boss and told Senyor Segura to cover that monument.
The arrival of the Republic in 1931 led to the final placing of the monument on the site originally planned for it, and on 24th September it was officially inaugurated in the presence of the local authorities and the mother and other relatives of Julio Antonio.
On 15th February 1919, Julio Antonio died in the Villa Luz sanatorium in Madrid, where he had been admitted through the mediation of Dr. Gregorio Marañón. At the moment of his death he was accompanied by his mother and sisters, by Dr. Marañón himself, Enrique Lorenzo Salazar, Julián Lozano, Lluís Bagaría, Moya del Pino, Vázquez Díaz and Ramón Pérez de Ayala.
His death was a veritable cause for mourning in cultural circles.
Shortly before, the people of Madrid and their political and cultural representatives paid homage to him in the public presentation of the Lemonier mausoleum.
The plan for the Spiritual Beacon was formed in Valencia. The piece, some sixty metres high, was to be sited on the Cerro de los Ángeles, considered the geographical centre of the Iberian peninsula.
The project was complex: four friezes on the base, facing the four cardinal points of the compass. The frieze on the north side represented the land, the sower, effort; the one on the south side men of the whole peninsula, including Portugal (farmers, fishermen and miners); those to the east and west portrayed work in the factory and workshop, intellectual work, etc.
In the end the monument was commissioned to Aniceto Marinas.
The Wagner society in Madrid commissioned him to create a monument to Richard Wagner, to be sited close to the Moncloa palace.
Julio Antonio made seven sketches of the plan for the monument, the musician’s face, a rough model and the final preliminary model in bronze. He then started work on the final model, eight metres high and made of clay.
The outbreak of the Great War (1914-1918) led to internal conflict in the Wagner society and put an end to any chance of the project being completed.
Only the head remains of this monumental sculpture. In 1969 the sculptor Bruno Gallart made a reproduction, which is now sited in the gardens of the Camp de Mart in Tarragona.
In 1912 the Hispano-Moroccan trade centre commissioned the building of a monument in Tarragona, dedicated to the engineer and humanist Eduard Saavedra.
Julio Antonio made five preliminary models for this monument, three of which are more ambitious than the final work. The monument is sited in the Parc de Saavedra in Tarragona, and consists of a pyramid-shaped stone base and the bust of the subject.
Julio Antonio shared this project with the sculptor Sebastián Miranda. The idea came from a society of Asturian ex-colonists headed by the Marchioness d’Argüelles, and it was to be sited in Oviedo.
The monument was conceived as a complex, grandiose work forming a single project, in which the sculptures were to be by Julio Antonio and the reliefs by Sebastián Miranda.
In 1915 Ignacio de Zuloaga bought from the Lucientes family the house in Fuentetodos where Francisco de Goya was born. He immediately started collecting funds to restore it, as well as setting up a museum and building a monument to the Aragonese painter.
The Goya museum was opened on 8th October 1917 in the painter’s house, and on the 19th October 1920 the monument by Julio Antonio in the church square of Fuendetodos was inaugurated.
On 4th April 1917 Julio Antonio signed a contract with the Spanish authors’ society to build a monument to the composer Ruperto Chapí.
This monument is the only one which was built with an architectural setting planned by the sculptor and involved the acceptance by critics of a new monumental concept and the final recognition of new values in sculpture.
Julio Antonio began this project in 1918 without any specific commission, simply as a result of the consternation which the composer’s death caused him. His ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel while he was returning from the first showing of the stage version of Goyescas (1916) at the New York Metropolitan Opera. The sculptor’s death in 1919 left the project unfinished.