Sert Room, National Art Museum of Catalonia

Josep Maria Sert (1874-1945) was one of the most sought after muralist painters of his time. His mural painting assimilated the tradition of the great Venetian masters. It is worth remembering, among many others, his murals for the Rockefeller Center or the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York; the decoration of the League of Nations in Geneva, without forgetting the cathedral of Vic and numerous mansions in Paris, Buenos Aires, Venice and London.

Indeed, in this last city in 1921, Sert was in charge of the decoration of the ballroom of Sir’s residencePhilip Sassoon, a leading figure in the political, cultural and financial world of British society. Sert covered that rectangular room (85 m2 and 6.5 m high) with oil-painted wooden panels, in black and silver, in a style that revives Baroque illusionism with connotations of l ‘art deco. The scene, titled Caravans of the Orient, features giant camels, palm trees with baroque fountains, ruins of a Greek temple, and human crowds marching toward an ideal city.

The work was completed in the open sky, on which he painted clouds and a celestial hole. Died Sassoon in 1939, the residence was demolished. The panels, except for the roof, were saved and acquired, after different vicissitudes, by the. Due to the new installation at the museum, the whole set was restored, following the restoration of the mural paintings.

Josep Maria Sert (Barcelona, 22 of December of 1874 – November 27 of 1945) was a painter and decorator Catalan of universal screening. He stood out mainly as a muralist specialized in the art of grill and received numerous commissions for decoration of both public and private buildings.

His Style
Sert developed his own style, far from the avant-garde of the moment, so he did not exert a special influence on the art of his time. He draws on Mannerist and Baroque painting, especially Tintoretto, Veronese, Rubens, Piranesi, Solimena and Tiepolo; it nevertheless received a great influence of Goya, of which it took the taste by the popular and costumbrista subject, with a certain idealization of the Spanish folklore. He will also have a penchant for orientalist and primitivist motives. Sert develops an iconographypicturesque, of popular types, with gigantic, titanic, muscular figures, in a sublime, monumental, grandiloquent tone. In the 1920’s, due to his contact with the Russian Ballets, he became associated with art deco, which was fashionable at the time, emphasizing its exoticism and its representation of primitive motifs. Sert introduces in this international style the taste for Spanish regionalist representations. In the 1930’s the Mediterranean theme, made in a neo- Baroque style, stands out in his work. Towards the end of his work he focuses mainly on the representation of the human figure, with hardly any decorative background.

Sert’s monumental style is further emphasized by its chromatic evolution, which ultimately relies on the predominance of the golden monochrome. It used a limited chromatic range: gold, ocher, toasted earth, with touches of carmine, using as a background a rich preparation in metal, silver, gold breads, etc. His painting is close to the grayscale, a technique that uses all shades of gray to achieve effects close to the sculptural relief of marble. Sert liked metallic glitter colors, such as those in daguerreotype photography. It had architectural elements placed diagonally in the composition, which helped to give a sense of depth and breadth. He painted on canvas that he fixed on the walls; he used to make sketches and models of his decorations, with the help of several assistants, especially Miquel Massot. His production process began with photographic studies, sometimes with large masses of figures.



The Cathedral of Vic
In 1900 Sert was commissioned to decorate the neoclassical cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, which will be his great work, the realization of which will occupy most of his life. For this project, Sert conceived a decoration that, going out from behind the main altar, would be developed throughout the cathedral, with a theme that could be defined as the triumphant exaltation of the Church. In 1904 he exhibits sketches of a decoration with a group of friends in his Parisian studio, and in 1905 he brings them to the Ramon Casas workshop in Barcelona, because his colleagues at the Artistic Circle of Sant Lluc (Joan andJosep Llimona, Dionís Baixeras and Antoni Gaudí), as well as Bishop Torras i Bages, deliver their opinion.

Being this favorable, Sert signed with the chapter of Vic, in 1907, the contract of the work for a value of 150,000 pesetas. The projects had been shown at the Ausetan cathedral in 1905, at the Sala Parés in Barcelona in 1906 and at the Paris Autumn Salon in 1907. However, the execution of the work is delayed, and in 1912 the contract period expires, although it is extended in 1915for another five years. The outbreak of World War I, a cause alleged by the painter to justify his failure, but especially attention to more harrowing commitments, will be the cause of the delay.

Thanks to the intervention of Francesc Cambó, the term is extended until 1926, although a few paintings may already be exhibited that year at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. In April 1927 the construction of the cathedral walls began, except for the dome sector; the whole followed the model of the first design, with a theme related to the Apotheosis of the Church, and reflects its Mediterranean era of those years. Sert situates in the center of the apse San Pedro and San Pablo, as founders of the Church, with the evangelists next; on each side of the central nave,The Old and New Testaments, and the transfiguration of Calvary, with the trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Unfortunately, the July 1936 fire destroyed Sert’s décor.

After the Civil War, the painter again undertakes the mural ornamentation of the headquarters: in this third decoration, Sert varies the previous theme, abandoning the idea of a triumphant Church for a concept of which the Passion of Christ represents the passion of all mankind; now it will be Calvary that will occupy the center of the apse, while saints and evangelists will become witnesses of the Christian faith. Sert represents an allegorical cycle of man’s redemption, developed into four groups: the condemnation of the human gender due to Original Sin, the life and condemnation of Jesus, the apostles and evangelists as testimonies of faith and death and resurrection of Christ. In the new decoration, Sert aims to blend the building’s architecture with the paintings in such a way that they look like bas-reliefs, created at the time of making the cathedral. It was solemnly opened on October 15, 1945, shortly before his death.

Hall of the Chronicles (Barcelona City Council), Palau Maricel (Sitges) and others

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Sert mainly worked around Barcelona, leaving behind several works: the decoration of the Lost Steps Hall of the Barcelona Courthouse (1908); the ballroom of the residence of the Marquis of Alella on La Rambla (1910); the allegories of World War I made in 1917 for the American millionaire Charles Deering in his Wagnerian- inspired Maricel de Sitges Palace, which can be visited today at the Maricel Museum; the paintings of Catalan theme that he executed in 1927 for the home of Francesc Cambó in Barcelona; the two panels on Spanish-Moorish subjects commissioned by Raül Roviralta for his estate in Santa Clotilde de Lloret de Mar (1933), etc. Particularly noteworthy is the Barcelona City Council ‘s Chronicles Hall (1929), so named because the artist was inspired by the exploits of Catalans in the East described in the chronicles of Ramon Muntaner and Bernat Desclot; is made up of twelve scenes on the history of the almogàvers, of monumental character, with a noticeable Mediterranean style.

Outside of Catalonia, Sert painted the dining room of the Marquises of Salamanca in Madrid (1920), the dresser of Queen Victoria Eugènia in the Magdalena Palace in Santander, the oratory of the Lliria Palace of the Dukes of Alba in Madrid (1932) and the walls of the old convent of San Telmo in Donostia / San Sebastián (1934)), destined to museum and that the artist decorated with subjects allusive to the history of that one region. In the postwar period he was protected by the billionaire Joan March, and had a rather favorable attitude toward the Franco regime. Also, the financier Joan March commissioned Sert to decorate his Madrid residence (1942) and his palace. Palma (1944). Also, it realized to glorify episodes of the Civil War of the pro-Franco side, like the defense of the Palace, project to decorate the crypt of the Alcazar of Toledo

Works in France
Sert received numerous commissions in his second city of residence, Paris: one of his first decorative works was the music hall in the Parisian residence of the Princes of Polignac (1910), followed by the dining room of the Countess de Bearne’s palace (1911).), the residence of Luis de Errazu (1912), the hunting lodge of the Baron de Rothschild in Chantilly (1920), the honor ladder of the palace of the Duchess of Elchingen (1922), the salon of Maurice Wendel (1924) and that of the rich residence of the widow of the diplomat Philippe Berthelot (1938).

Sert also emphasized like theater decorator for the company, the Ballets Russes de Diaghilev, such as The Legend of Joseph (1914), The gardens of Aranjuez (1918) and The astuzie femminili (1920), and also made the sets for the opera of Granados Goyescas performed at La Scala in Milan. His sets for the Russian Ballets are linked to the art deco, fashionable at that time, which Sert will adopt for about a decade.

Works in Belgium, Italy, Britain
Outside of France he painted the residence of Baron Becker in Brussels (1930); Prince Mdivani’s Palace in the former Abbey of St. Gregory of Venice (1935); the Kent House, a London residence of Sir Saxton Noble (1913), the Coombe Court, owned by Constance Gwladys Robinson (Lady of Gray, later Marquess of Ripon, 1915) and located in Kingston, in the county of Surrey, now Kingston upon Thames, part of London; the palace of Port Lympne, by SirPhilip Sassoon Port Lympne, near Folkestone (1915), the dining room of the castle Wretham Hall (1919), also belonging to Sir Saxton Noble and ballroom Trent Park, a stately home in London of ‘another old client, Sir Philip Sassoon (1924). He also received commissions on the other side of the Atlantic: in Buenos Aires he decorated the Errázuriz mansion (1922), the Pereda residence (1932) and the home of Messrs. Kavanagh (1938).

Works in the United States
In the United States he was tasked with decorating: the Cosden House Music Hall in Palm Beach, Florida (1924); nine panels for Harry Phipps in Pittsburgh (1924); the decoration of the Rockefeller Center skyscraper (1931 – 1941), with a thematic subject of the progress and the American society; and especially fifteen Spanish-themed panels (Don Quixote scenes) for a luxurious dining room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan (1929 -1931), which was thereafter called the Sert Room. The scenes Sert Room of the Waldorf-Astoria were: forcing, dancers, Horses, trapezoids, Guitars and mandolas, tightrope walkers, Castellers, the siesta, The Marriage of Camacho, drunkards, charanga, fortunes, Cavallfort, brave and The Astrologer; these paintings were removed by a hotel remodel in 1972, and acquired by the old Catalan industrial bank, Bankunión, which, due to the large size of the works, moved them to the El Sucre building in Vic. The bank went bankrupt in 1982, was purchased by the Hispanic American Bank, and the works were moved to the “Ciudad Grupo Santander ” in Boadilla del Monte.

Works in Switzerland
Through Salvador de Madariaga, Sert was in charge of the decoration of the great Hall of the Council of the Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva (1935 – 1936).), in which he developed a series of allegories of War and Peace, of the Progress of Humanity, of Justice and of International Law. The central panel is an allegory of the continents, represented by five gigantic figures destroying an arc, a symbol of war; on the sides are the consequences of war, with the double version of winners and losers, and at the ends, the allegories of dead peace and resurrected peace; on the sides are the achievements of humanity and the virtues that guide them; on the roof, international law represented by the lesson given by Francisco de Vitoria at the University of Salamancaand that he must achieve the union of the five continents, five giants joining their hands forming a crown of arms just in the middle of the room. Ironically, the inauguration took place in October 1936, during the Civil War.

Sert exhibited at the Vatican Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exposition a work alluding to Spanish tragedy, The Intercession of Santa Teresa to the Spanish Civil War, a painting with the caption, “Plus Ultra”. Spanish, praising the ‘martyrs’ of Franco’s army and now deposited in the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid.

Retrospective exhibition
During 2012 there have been three exhibitions around his work and his way of preparing the murals: at the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastián, at the Jeu de Paume National Museum in Paris and at the National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid (the latter lasts until the beginning of 2013).

National Art Museum of Catalonia
The National Art Museum of Catalonia, also known by its acronym MNAC, is a museum of art in the city of Barcelona which brings together all the arts whose mission is to preserve and exhibit the collection of Catalan art ‘s most important world, showing everything from Romanesque to the present. Its current director is Josep Serra.

The MNAC is a consortium with its own legal personality constituted by the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Barcelona City Council and the General State Administration. In addition to the public administrations, individuals and private entities collaborating with the administration are represented on the museum’s board of trustees.

The main headquarters are located in the National Palace of Montjuïc, opened in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition. Three other institutions are also part of the museum as a whole: the Víctor Balaguer Museum Library in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Garrotxa Museum in Olot and the Cau Ferrat Museum in Sitges, whose management is independent and its ownership is based on the respective councils.