SOLANA José Gutiérrez
( 1885-1945). Spanish painter; born and died in Madrid. The descendant of an old and halfruined family of Santander, Solana always worked alone, beginning to paint when he was very young, without going through any recognized school. His painting is no more than the illustration of the secret passions of his life, which was spent almost entirely in the slums and suburbs of Madrid, and in the Cantabrian harbours. In very curious literary works, among them the two volumes of Scenes and Customs of Madrid ( 1912 and 1918), written in a direct and bitter style, he drew up a kind of a balance sheet of his interests: he associated his existence closely with the proletarian districts of the Spanish capital or the wretched villages of Castille that he visited tirelessly in stagecoaches, in ramshackle vehicles of another age, or in dirty third-lass railway carriages. In rustic feasts and their coarse masquerades he discovered rites of ancient grandeur. At the Madrid 'flea-market', the Rastro, he picked up odd debris of the past and filled his studio with exotic or bizarre objects, which became for him an inexhaustible source of inspiration. He was particularly fond of dolls and wax figures, whose coloured effigies come mysteriously to life behind shop windows. A visit to the Musée Grévin in Paris inspired him to a reconstruction of strange revolutionary scenes ( Charlotte Corday, Madame Roland). He also excelled at painting groups of friends and representatives of the same trade or the same class; he gave living beings something like the plenitude and indifference of objects; individual qualities were obliterated in favour of collective evocations of unusual power; The Choristers, The Return of the Indian, The Bishop's Visit, Outcasts of Fortune. Solana painted with thick pigments, charged with greenish glitters, under a dark light, with sometimes blood-red flashes of lightning that recall the black paintings of Goya. It is an essentially physical painting that reflects the author's fondness for terrible smells and strong flavours. But in his extensive graphic work, scenes reduced to their mere structure retain the same quality of presence. In spite of the fear he inspired, Solana was recognized by his countrymen. He was awarded the chief official distinctions of his country, and large exhibitions abroad confirmed his renown. However, until his death he led a gloomy, retired life in Madrid. Isolated and savage, he expressed the anguish and tragic despair of a great, torn nation. While Spanish writers of the preceding generation -- Unamuno, Ganivet, Ortega -- analyzed the causes of Spanish decadence to find remedies in them, Solana did not want to give up any part of the legacy with whose miseries he was as well acquainted as anyone, but whose haunting qualities and obsessions he loved because he sensed their hidden meanings.
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