Did you know that Frederic Marès (1883-1991) is the sculptor with the greatest presence in the public space in Barcelona? Plaça Catalunya, Diagonal and even inside Santa Maria del Mar and the Palace of the Catalan Government, for example.
There is also much of his work spread out around the cemeteries of the whole of Catalonia and he was responsible for the reconstruction of the royal tombs at Poblet. Despite such a prolific presence, Marès’ sculptural works, with their strong links to Noucentisme plus the fact that he was the artist commissioned to produce many institutional works during the Franco period, are not as widely known or recognised as his collecting activities, which made it possible to open the magnificent museum in the 1970s next to the cathedral.
Nowadays that museum is one of the most original in Barcelona. It tells the story of Hispanic sculpture form the medieval era to the end of the nineteenth century through a collection made by the sculptor. But apart from the sculpture collection there are also curious collections of thousands of everyday objects, from fans to watches to tin soldiers, toys, ceramic and glass pieces and daguerreotypes. It is a real collector’s cabinet and the result of Marès’ obsession, making it a really special place. Despite its central location and the wealth of its collections the museum continues to be unknown to many of the people who live here and around 60 per cent of the visitors come from outside.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary on 25 November last year, the museum took advantage to promote knowledge about the artistic side of its founder. Throughout the year several event have taken place to promote and spread knowledge about the work of Marès.
So the first of the anniversary celebrations was the sculptor’s spectacular study-library – a space on the second floor of the building which was designed in 1964 but not opened to the public until 1996, five years after his death. This is where Marès accumulated books, where he had his desk and where he received his visitors and which today is the room of the museum which is especially dedicated to his work, in the typical atmosphere of the house.museum. But up until now the motley and dense collection of works did not permit any kind of organised museographic discourse which would allow visitors a greater understand of them.
That is why the museum has now modernised the presentation of this space with a structured discourse and fewer works in order to facilitate a greater view of the pieces and a renewal of the display cases and lighting. Through six thematic areas visitors can get an idea of the artist’s working process with models and versions of many of the works that are now in the public space. For example, there are deer from the monument situated at the crossroads between Diagonal, Gran Via Carles III and Sabino Arana; the monument of Francesc Soler i Rovirosa on Gran Via, which is not a homage but an allegory; the Sant Jordi in the Palace of the Generalitat; the bust of Goya in Saragossa and the Drummer of Bruc. Some of his initial works are also exhibited, some more Modernist in style and clearly influenced by Rodin and Eusebi Arnau, who was Marès’ teacher, and a wooden relief which Marès made for Barcelona City Hall to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the visit of Carles V to the city, and which was never hung in the place that it was destined for. Other exhibits include the large production of medals and funeral art by Marès.
To enter the space you have to walk through the interior courtyard, displaying a reproduction of the sculpture Nude (Plenitude-Springtime), from 1936. The original of this perfect example of Noucentisme can be found in the Barcelona City Hall. Also, until mid-November the permanent collection of the museum is accompanied by photographs from the museum’s Centre for Documentation and Research, showing Marès himself beside some of the pieces.
Another activity organised for the anniversary is the Barcelona of Frederic Marès route which begins in the museum library and offers a two-and-a-half hour tour of some of the key points of the museum where there are sculptures either by Marès or related to him.