Life wasn't very kind to María Blanchard (Santander, 1881-Paris, 1932). Physical deformity, the kyphoscoliosis she had suffered since birth, marked her existence. Her suffering, and the exclusion and rejection she experienced, led her to paint as a way of seeking beauty. She moved to Paris to get away from the persecution, and joined the group of artists who consolidated the renewal of art at the beginning of the 20th century.
Juan Gris (Madrid, 1887-Boulogne-sur-Seine, 1927) was the 13th child of a wealthy family. Paris was also the city he chose when he was 19 and wanted to avoid military service and the war in Morocco. There was no place for death in the plans of a young man who was dreaming of a bohemian life and brilliant artistic career.
Paris, art and Cubism brought María Blanchard and Juan Gris together, and from 6 October these two Spanish artists will be meeting again at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga, in an exceptional exhibition in which, for the first time, the works they produced between 1916 and 1927 will be on display. These were the years of Cubism’s ‘second moment’, when the leadership of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque was over.
‘Juan Gris, María Blanchard y los cubismos’ is a display of 68 works, including paintings, sculptures and sketches by these two artists and also featuring Jean Metzinger, Jacques Lipchitz and Albert Gleizes. It is curated by Eugenio Carmona, professor of History of Art at Malaga university, and Lourdes Moreno, the artistic director of the Carmen Thyssen Museum.
An impressive range of Spanish and international museums have loaned works for this happy reunion of Cubist artists, as well as the Generación del 27 Cultural Centre of Malaga and numerous private collections.
“All the museums who agreed to loan their works could see that this was going to be a serious project to enhance knowledge, not just an exhibition to please tourists. We want to be involved in the present process of thought, which says that the world of art needs to take a further look at the second period of Cubism,” says Eugenio Carmona.
This is the first exhibition “to portray an important part of Spanish Cubism and, at the same time, highlight the situation of a female artist, at that time,” he says, pointing out that Juan Gris, who illustrated the front page of Litoral magazine as a tribute to Góngora, “is the painter who most influenced the painters of the Generation of 27.”
Through this exhibition, which will undoubtedly be one of the most important in the forthcoming season, a connection is made between an international experience, such as Cubism during the early years of the First World War in Paris, and the origins of Malaga culture, with the Litoral magazine and the Generation of 27.
Lourdes Moreno explains that “the second life of Cubism was a period of creation which took place during a short space of time, during the war and the bombardment of Paris, when these painters of extraordinary forms and shapes withdrew from the world and produced their works.” Gris and Blanchard were there, with Jean Metzinger, Jacques Lipchitz and Albert Gleizes. They all used to meet up in the Café de la Rotonde in Paris.
It was all much more difficult for María Blanchard than for Juan Gris. “She suffered in a totally male world, which is still latent today,” says Lourdes. “It was also a world which was very unfair and cruel to anybody different. She was obviously different, in Spain and in Paris. Henry Kahnwiler, an art dealer who was one of the patrons of Cubism, never contracted her and even used to say nasty things about her.”
Female and deformed
Eugenio Carmona says that Gino Severino used to say that María Blanchard had great talent, despite being a woman and deformed as well.
“Art critics at that time, complained that her Cubism wasn’t very feminine, as if she was only supposed to paint pretty pictures,” he says. “Her painting is rigorous, thoughtful, intellectual, and that wasn’t seen as proper in a woman.”
Lourdes Moreno says the exhibition brings us closer to artists who “at a time of what seemed to be total destruction, wanted to give the world an example of purity, of intellectual focus and development, but based on everyday life, on the objects around them, however poor they may have been. It was a mental exercise of thinking that shapes and colours are a universal language, something which could be understood in a similar way to religious belief.”