One of the artists that the renewed halls of Modernist art in the MNAC have permitted is the rediscovery of Antoni Fabrés (1854-1938).
Specifically, one of the works by him that most caught my eye was Repòs del guerrer (Warrior at rest) (1878). This sensual Orientalist nude, unfinished, carries with it a great energy. The display includes some of the works by Fabrés which were successful during his lifetime and became major donations to the museum in the 1920s. They were even exhibited in their own room in the museum but were removed from exhibition at the beginning of the 1930s. From glory days to ostracism in the blink of an eye. And the works relegated from the walls of the museum to the warehouse until 2014.
The MNAC, being the national museum that it is, had the job of rescuing the wok of Antoni Fabrés – a versatile and effective artist who moved on from the academic and Orientalist approach of his early works. And this is what it has done now in an exhibition that follows the necessary line of monographic shows and books dedicated to Catalan artists, with works that demand profound consideration by artists such as Lluïsa Vidal, Torné Esquius, Carles Casagemas, Xavier Gosé and Josep Tapiró.
In this case, it was Aitor Quiney who delved into the bibliography and the work of this vehement and passionate artist and curated an exhibition to bring back to the walls of a museum hall the work of Fabrés in all its glory. In a privileged space within the Modernism section, this exhibition of Fabrés does him justice. His first calling as an artist was as a sculptor, a discipline in which he was very gifted as can be seen in the exercise of extreme virtuosity which won him a grant to travel to Rome: Abel mort (Dead Abel), a work which he made in only eight hours. But life led him to become a successful painter and his evident virtuosity was especially seen as a draughtsman and painter in his magnificent portraits and landscapes.
Somewhat nomadic with studios in Rome, Barcelona, Paris and Mexico City, it seems that Fabrés experienced a kind of inner tension, partly to please his conservative clientele and partly in his desire to let himself go a bit in his own personal language with works of a social and naturalist style, where his brushstrokes were more free and his expressiveness much greater. That tension, which was typical of the experience of many academicist artists at the beginning of the twentieth century, marks this exhibition. One example is in the minimalist landscape Desert blanc (White desert) (1901), which in principle is a war scene with a dead soldier lying in the snow. But years after making this work, Fabrés erased the dead body and made the work into an almost monochrome landscape.
Portrait of a very young Diego Rivera, student of Fabrés in Mexico.
Quiney’s research into all the works stored in the museum warehouse has, to date, offered some curious discoveries such as the portrait of an extremely young Diego Rivera, who was a student of Fabré in Mexico.
Another good decision in the exhibition is the mounting of a kind of painting cabinet, with design by the artist Jesús Galdon, and the paintings hanging on different levels. The only concession that could have been made to the visitors today would be to place the information about the works on the walls and not on the gallery leaflets to further yet more the kind of new knowledge offered by recovery exhibition such as this.
The exhibition Antoni Fabrés. De la glòria a l’oblit (Antoni Fabrés. From Glory to Oblivion) can be seen at the MNAC until 29 September.