Gustavo Bacarisas

Gustave Charles Bacarisas was born in Gibraltar on 23 September 1872, the eldest of three brothers, his parents being Gabriel Bacarisas and Adela Podesta; the family was then living in Castle Street. He was educated at the Christian Brothers College in Line Wall Road and already as a young boy had impressed everybody by one of his paintings of a warrior on horseback. One of the very first paintings that exist of the artist is a portrait of his brother Francisco painted in 1890. In 1892, at the age of 19, a group of Gibraltarian businessmen, at the initiative of a John Imossi, realizing his artistic potential, granted him a scholarship to study art in Rome. His earliest pencil drawings “Male Head”, “Female Nude” and “Male Nude” date from this period (1893).

During his long sojourn in the Italian capital he attended the Academia Española de Bellas Artes situated in San Pietro in Montorio. There he met some Spanish students including Salvador Viniegra and Enrique Simonet and studied with the likes of Benedito, Sotomayor, Blay and others who would also become famous in the world of art. One of his better known works of this Roman period is “Paisaje Urbano Nocturno” which he painted in 1897 and which already clearly showed an impressionist composition. Other paintings include “View of Venice” and “Church of San Giorgio” which are dated 1901 and his self-portrait of 1902 in which he appears with a moustache and beard. During this period he won the first prize in an exhibition in Rome for a portrait in pastel “Young Lady”.

In 1905 Bacarisas travelled extensively through Italy visiting Naples, Florence, Perugia and Siena and participating in the International Exhibitions of Venice and Rome. On this latter occasion he was introduced to the King and Queen of Italy who complimented him upon his success. That same year he decided to go to France where he made his residence in Paris working in the former studio of the famous painter Whistler. This Parisian phase had a decisive influence on his palette.

A year later, in 1906, he moved to London where he continued his studies and exhibited at the Royal Academy with his painting “El Corso”. This painting also later won a prize in Barcelona being finally sold to an American connoisseur for one thousand dollars. Articles on the artist and his works were published in the Roman newspapers “La Tribuna” and “La Vita”. In London he also participated in a collective exhibition of works organised by the Fine Arts Society.

That same year he returned to Gibraltar to visit his family and to make one of his innumerable trips to Morocco; his painting “Zoco en Tánger” dates from this year. In 1908 he travelled to Paris and Rome once again returning to Morocco in late 1909 when he painted “Impresiones de Tánger”.

On 29 August 1909, together with the painter and writer Luigi Tarra and Professor Antonio Berti, Gustavo Bacarisas undertook the climbing of the highest point of the Cridola. This being the first ascent via the south of these Bellunesi Dolomites.

In 1910 Bacarisas embarked for Argentina and settled in Buenos Aires for a few years. His exhibition of 1911 was so successful that a year later he was appointed professor in theAcademia de Bellas Artes. From Argentina he travelled to New York, Philadelphia and other cities in North America where his exhibitions met with great success. Two years later, in 1914, he returned to Europe, visiting Gibraltar and Morocco.

He then settled in Seville and in 1915 participated in the Certamen Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid with his paintings “Soledad” and “Sevilla en Fiestas” (the latter acquired in 1939 for the Museo de Bellas Artes of Seville). This particular exhibition also saw the participation of two other painters from the Campo de Gibraltar, namely José Cruz Herrera and José Gartner de la Peña. The art critic Fernando Periquet wrote that Bacarisas’ painting “Sevilla en Fiestas” was “perhaps the most commented on by the public in that exhibition”. On 13 March 1915 Her Majesty Queen Victoria of Spain and the Infanta Doña Beatriz visited his studio in Seville.

The Seville newspaper “El Liberal” reported in its edition of 17 April 1916 that at an important exhibition of Fine Art held under the patronage of the Seville Municipal Authorities one of the most successful exhibitors had been Gustavo Bacarisas who contributed greatly towards the success of the event.

In the spring of the following year in the Exposición de Bellas Artes of Seville Gustavo Bacarisas again presented his “Sevilla en Fiestas” together with seven other paintings including “Soledad”. Pedro de Gines writing in the magazine “Bética” stated that “the works of Bacarisas was one of the main attractions of the Exhibition”. In 1918 he painted the “Torre de Los Picos, Granada”.

In 1919 he was made “Hijo Adoptivo de Sevilla” for his outstanding achievements and some years later was appointed Honorary Professor of the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes and awarded the Gold Medal of the Ateneo de Sevilla. That same year he was commissioned to design the unified “pañoletas” of the Royal Pavilion and also the plans for the new pavilion for the Feria de Abril of Seville and his overall design continues to be used up to the present day.

During this period he returned to Rome meeting up with old friends and then going to Madrid in June 1921 where he exhibited forty four paintings, ten drawings and two sculptures in thePalacio de Bibliotecas y Museos including his watercolour “Mujer con Peineta”. The foreword to his catalogue was written by the noted philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. This exhibition received very favourable notices in the press including articles in “El Sol”, “La Tribuna” and in “Mundo Gráfico”. “La Esfera” featured Bacarisas’ painting “Noche Federico Garcia Lorca”, the world famous poet and playwright knew Gustavo Bacarisas quite well having met him in the Granada tavern “Polinario” which the latter frequented with his friend Manuel de Falla.

Andrés Segovia, the eminent cellist and classical guitarist used to boast that his best trusted friends in Seville were Gustavo Bacarisas and Miguel del Pino, the eminent painters – “Gustavo Bacarisas and Miguel de Pino that remained dear to me for the rest of my life.”

There is a group photograph taken in the early 1930’s in the Ateneo de Sevilla of the “Generación del 27” in which appear Gustavo Bacarisas with Rafael Alberti, García Lorca, Chabás, Platero, Blasco Garzón (president of the Ateneo), Guillén, Bergamín, Dámaso Alonso and Gerardo Diego.

During this period Bacarisas travelled to several countries, exhibiting and painting. In 1922 the Swedish Government commissioned him to design the sets and costumes for Bizet’s “Carmen”. During one of these visits, whilst receiving honours from the Swedish people, Bacarisas also met Elsa Jernas who was to become his wife. Elsa was a well-known painter in her own right.

Bacarisas also designed the sets and costumes for the ballet “Coppelia” that was staged at London’s Trocadero.

By this time, Bacarisas had pupils in his Seville studio, but this did not stop him from painting, exhibiting and designing, nor from going on his extensive travels. This was to be the pattern for his life during the inter-war years, ending with him going to live in Madrid in 1933.

He was commissioned to do the designs for the production of “El Amor Brujo” for his intimate friend Manuel de Falla. These productions opened in the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1934 and in the Teatro Español in Madrid, featuring the famous dancers La Argentina and Escudero.

During this period he travelled extensively in Spain, visiting and painting in Segovia, Avila, Cuenca etc.

Bacarisas also worked in sculpture, chief among his bronzes being “Tanagra Andaluza” and “Busto de Gitana” (1919) and in ceramics, where his special shade of blue (called Bacarisas blue) is distinctive of his painting.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 found him in Madrid preparing for yet another exhibition and he was forced, together with his wife Elsa, to return to Gibraltar, travelling via France. Apparently, hundreds of his art works were unfortunately lost at this time.

Bacarisas carried on painting profusely and pictures from this period include a set of five huge gouache lunettes painted on canvas in 1937 for his family’s Cecil Hotel, in Gibraltar, where he was staying, depicting “Casemates” in Gibraltar and other street scenes in Castellar, Jimena, Aracena and Tangier. He also advised on the colour scheme for the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned and undertook the renovation of the Stations of the Cross.

During this period he also travelled to Casablanca where he stayed in the spacious studio of his friend Cruz Herrera.

In 1940, at the outset of the Second World War, he was evacuated with Elsa to Madeira, where he resided at the Savoy Hotel in Funchal. He painted regularly during the war years.

In 1945 once the war had ended he was repatriated to Gibraltar and then returned to Seville. During 1946/47 he spent time travelling through Andalucía painting the little white-washed towns of Aracena, Carmona, Estepona, Arcos de la Frontera etc. In 1947 he again exhibited in Seville in two galleries showing many of his Madeiran landscapes. Bacarisas was also commissioned to design the centenary poster for the Seville Fair in April 1947.

In 1952 he was in Gibraltar advising Natalio Langdon on the proposed re-modelling of St Joseph’s Church. A scheme which was never carried out.

In 1954 the Legislative and City Councils of Gibraltar commissioned a painting of the Rock for presentation to Her Majesty the Queen during her visit to Gibraltar and he undertook this work in oils based on a previous watercolour painted in 1937. This painting was presented on 10 May 1954 and for a number of years it remained in some obscure part of Buckingham Palace. Later on the Chief Minister of the day, Sir Joshua Hassan, requested the loan of this picture and with the gracious approval of the Queen it was brought back to Gibraltar to be displayed at the Convent in the Royal Suite. In 1988 approval was obtained for the painting to be on permanent loan to the Gibraltar Museum.

At the time he also painted the portrait of Marilu Langdon (1954), later on painting two portraits of her daughter Ann, as well as a “Rosia Bay View”, a “Corpus Christi Procession in Main Street” and a “Parade Commemorating the Coronation” as seen from the Cecil Hotel.

The restoration works carried out in the Chapel of the Hermandad de la Soledad in Seville, by Joaquín Romero Murube, during May 1956 to February 1957, was undertaken under the expert advice of Gustavo Bacarisas and Santiago Martinez.

In 1958 the well known sculptor Vassallo completed two sculptures of the artist, a bronze now belonging to the Bacarisas family and a stone sculpture presently on exhibition in the Museo de la Academia de Bellas Artes in Seville.

In 1960 Bacarisas was appointed as the adjudicator for the First International Art Exhibition held at the Calpe Institute, Gibraltar, from 22 to 28 May. On 16 February 1961, the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes of Seville accorded him the title of Catedratico Honorario of the said entity for his unstinting work over the years.

On 15 June 1961 the following motion was moved at a special meeting of the City Council of Gibraltar by His Worship the Mayor : “that, under the powers vested in them, the City Council confer the Honorary Freedom of the City upon Gustavus Bacarisas Esquire, of this City, in recognition of the eminent position he has attained in the world of Art and as an expression of the high esteem in which he is held by the citizens of Gibraltar”. This motion was unanimously adopted by the Council and Bacarisas was informed that he had been appointed as the first Honorary Freeman of Gibraltar.

On 3 October 1962 the ceremony of conferment took place in the Council Chamber of the City Hall, led by His Worship the Mayor, the Hon Sir Joshua Hassan; Gustavo Bacarisas being accompanied by his wife Elsa. The scroll of conferment was executed by his fellow artist Jacobo Azagury and was contained in a casket made of local olive wood and designed by Natalio Langdon.

In 1964 he was named a correspondent for the Real Academia de Bellas Artes of San Fernando, Spain.

In 1968 he stayed for some time in Aracena, near Seville, where he undertook various works. Some time later he painted the portrait of his life-long friend and famous guitarist Andres Segovia.

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of St. Elizabeth of Hungary also presented him with its Gold Medal of Honour in its autumn competition. The City of Aracena honoured him by naming a street after him.

Gustavo Bacarisas died in Seville at the age of 98 on 7 January 1971. On 18 December 1971, at the express wishes of her late husband, his widow Elsa presented a large oil painting of “The Mediterranean and Atlantic Fleets in Gibraltar Harbour” to the people of Gibraltar. This painting was displayed for many years at the City Hall and is now at the Gibraltar Museum.

In February 1972, an anthological exhibition of his works was held in the Palacio Mudejar in Seville.

In 1973 the Gibraltar Government decided to name one of the new blocks of flats at Glacis Estate after Gustavo Bacarisas. Similarly, there is also a street named after the artist in Seville.

In 1974 an anthological exhibition of his works was held in Madrid from 8 to 28 February and in Seville in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo during October and November of 1974. In 1977 yet another exhibition of his works took place at the Caja de Ahorros Provincial de San Fernando de Cadiz. His paintings also took pride of place in the Silver Jubilee Exhibition held at the John Mackintosh Hall, Gibraltar, from 6 to 9 December 1977.

The 1980 European issue of Gibraltar postage stamps which commemorated famous local personalities featured Gustavo Bacarisas together with John Mackintosh and Archbishop Peter Amigo. The art work for Bacarisas portrait for this stamp was executed by American artist Mark Schuler.

In 1987 another retrospective exhibition of Gustavo Bacarisas, numbering 208 works of art, was held at the Sala de Exposiciones of the Pasaje de Villasís from 5 to 29 November organized jointly by the Fundación Avenzoar and the Obra Cultural del Monte de Piedad y la Caja de Ahorros de Sevilla.

In 1988 Seville introduced a new painting prize named after the artist and as from 1990 the main prize in the Gibraltar International Art Exhibition, held annually, was also named after Bacarisas.

In 1991, a series of conferences took place in Gibraltar, organized jointly by the Ministry of Culture and the Vicerrectorado de Extensión Universitaria of the University of Cadiz. In thisPrimer Encuentro, the brochure featured the lunette of Casemates painted by the artist in the 1930s. One of the conferences, held on 14 May, was given by Professor Fernando Perez Mulet from the University of Cadiz entitled “Gustavo Bacarisas, la Pintura de un Último Romántico”.

Articles on Bacarisas appeared in the “Almoraima” in June 1989 and October 1996 and in the “Insight magazine” in June 1993 and in May 2004.

A very important exhibition of the works of Gustavo Bacarisas was held in the Sala de Exposiciones in Cordoba from 5 to 28 February 1997.

The Gibraltar Ministry of Culture Art Collection and the Gibraltar Museum Collection presently hold over forty works by Bacarisas.

A Selection of Works

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*Click image to see larger version.