Now that the Facebook robot censors have put into practice the implacable and efficient, white and starched, orders of Silicon Valley puritanism and they spend their time pixelating women’s nipples in historical works of art pompier or harshly punishing the publication of now classical film stills, as was the case with this very publication not so long ago, while letting through with abandon photos of open-shirted blokes with turgid nipples, looking for a hot date or just to turn people on…not to mention the volume of their chests, inflated through hours spent in the gym – not a moob in sight… it brings to mind an interesting and strange controversy which took place in Barcelona at the height of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship at the end of the 1920s.
All of this happened because of a painting exhibited in the Sala Parés in December 1926 as part of the second solo exhibition of Josep de Togores in Barcelona.
As Joan Antoni Maragall explains in his Història de la Sala Parés (Editorial Selecta, 1975), the exhibition was a runaway success and almost everything sold, even then when a togores was already really expensive since he had contracted one of the most important international dealers in the field, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who distributed them from Paris to the rest of Europe and America. The enthusiastic public of the Sala Parés, as well as the critic and collectors, suggested that the biggest work in the exhibition – a modern version of The Three Graces painted in 1924 in Comps sur l’Artuby, should be acquired by the Museums Board and added to the collection of the Art Museum, then situated in the Parc de la Ciutadella, which did not have any works by this artists who at that time was becoming world famous. But the members of the board snubbed the suggestion – nobody was going to tell them what they should and should not buy! In fact, some ten years later, they themselves, or perhaps some other equally proud members, had already arranged for the most important work of the eccentric Ismael Smith to be destroyed. The work, En abundància, was the most devastating version ever make of the theme Susanna and the Elders, a life-size sculptural work, bought and awarded a prize in 1907, when Josep Pijuan and Raimon Casellas were still in the institution. Those who followed them would soon stand out for their mediocrity and narrow mindedness.
The Museum’s Board refused it, arguing that it was a work of pornography.
Since the municipal board had turned their back on the purchase of the Togores in 1926, the public organised themselves and the painting was bought by popular subscription, despite the fact that it must have been worth millions. Salvador Dalí, who was at that time a great admirer of the artist, was one of the first to put up some money, alongside Ramon Puig Gairalt, Esteve Monegal, Feliu Elias, Josep M. de Sagarra, Joaquim Gomis, Josep Obiols, Màrius Guifreda, Alexandre Plana, Rafael Benet and, among, many other, the widow of Joan Maragall and his son Joan Antoni, as well as thirty anonymous subscribers to the Nova Revista, and even a groups of Barcelona workers, according to the breakdown made by Togores himself in his autobiography, dictated to Esteve Fàbregas i Barri and published by Aedos in 1970. Once paid for, the painting was offered as a donation to the aforementioned board, which, affronted by their audacity, refused it, arguing that it was a work of pornography. The excuse is curious given that at the same time as the Plaça de Catalunya was being filled with sensuous, nude matrons in the purest style of the Primo dictatorship. It would seem that the nudes, as long as they were metallic and in the open air, were free of any kind of capacity for arousal.
The togores affair created a real stir. For months the Barcelona newspapers were full of it and the scandal reach even the most highbrow press in Madrid. The kind of headlines were enough to have the public transfixed. The whole business lasted two years and finally somebody came up with the reasonable solution of giving the painting to the mayor of Barcelona as a gift. For the whole of the dictatorship this position was occupied by Daríus Rumeu i Freixa – the Second Baron Viver – and who would donate it to the museum. In the face of an imposition by its maximum municipal authority, who was equally traditionalist, would the Museums Board finally concede? And they did, but not before changing the name of the painting to Primavera de la vida, a title would in fact would give the painting a more provocative tone than it actually had, seemingly making the three girls even younger (one of whom was no less than the artist’s future wife). As well as changing the name they also changed the date to 1927. Since they were in the mood for changes it would make no difference and might even draw attention away from the absurdity of the whole affair. So, with this spurious name and the date it remained in the inventories and publications until 1998, when the retrospective of the artist took place at the Reina Sofia and the MNAC, and things could finally be out in the open.
Tres nus was hung in a room dedicated to Togores in the Museum of Art of Catalonia when it was established in Montjuïc during the Republic, and also when the Museum returned to the Ciutadella. But when all Catalan art was brought together again at the National Palace around the year 2000, the work sadly passed into the reserve where it remained until a few months ago. Luckily it can now be seen in the Art Museum of Cerdanyola, thanks to the deposit of works made by the MNAC, together with two other paintings from the most memorable period of this artist. it is worth visiting this small museum in the Vallès to celebrate the fact that these three lovely young girls painted by Togores, and generously acquired by an educated society which confronted the institutional that was in the hands of a few repressed and recalcitrant voyeurs, can at last show of their lacquered skin and sensual curves which are in dialogue with the hills of the landscape that surrounds them, in all their innocence and splendour. Very often, the supposed provocation of an image is not inherent in the image itself but in the turbid gaze which blasphemes it.