PARIS, FRANCE.- Drawing on its exceptional holdings of his paintings, sculptures, drawings and jewellery, the Centre Pompidou pays tribute to the Catalan sculptor Julio González (1876-1942) with an exhibition of some two hundred of his works, representing for the most part the gifts and bequests of the artist's daughter Roberta González. A key figure in the art of the first half of the twentieth century, Julio González was the father of welded-iron sculpture. His work has been a great influence on contemporary sculpture, and more particularly on those who followed him in using iron, from David Smith to Eduardo Chillida, from Jean Tinguely to César. This retrospective sets out to retrace the major stages in his artistic development, from the early figurative works still influenced by Classicism and Puvis de Chavannes, through the tremendous linear iron sculpture of the Thirties, to the tragic bronze heads and allegorical figures of the war years. A display of photographs and archive materials documents the artist's life and career, and the exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue raisonné of the Centre's holdings of his works. The exhibition opens today and will be on view through October 8, 2007.
"Julio González is astonishing. With a dazzlingly productive imagination and a wealth of means of expression, he is painter, sculptor, glassmaker, potter and furniture-maker; he forges, beats and embosses iron, copper, gold, bronze and silver; he works in wood, designs dresses and embroideries. What is more, he is so modest that over the twenty years since he left his native Barcelona for Paris, he has hidden it all, so that you could know him for ten years and never set eyes on his work, and has started to show in the last few years only under pressure from insistent friends." Preface to the catalogue of Julio González' first one-person show, at the Galerie Povolozky (1 -15 March 1922), by Alexandre Mercereau, reprinted from Les Hommes du Jour.
The simultaneously thematic and chronological arrangement of the exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the art of Julio González, from the beginning of the 20th century to his death in 1942. The exhibition opens with a display of jewellery and works of decorative art, his craftsman's work that laid the foundations for his later sculpture in metal. The first room then shows paintings, drawings and sculptures from his earliest years as a fine artist. Portraits, orthodox nudes and peasant scenes testify to a classicizing approach, while a number of copper masks of relatives (Portrait de Pilar, 1913) represent his first essays in metal sculpture.
The second room is exclusively devoted to the sculpture of the late 1920s and early '30s, which evidences great stylistic diversity while also illustrating the major shift inspired by González' collaboration with Picasso. The Cubist-inspired masks of sheet metal (Pilar au soleil, 1929) are the first of a series of linear iron sculptures that also includes Don Quichotte (1929-1930). In the centre of the room is a group of geometric heads on the cusp between Primitivism and Abstraction, an iconic example being the Tête en profondeur (1930), the first work of 20th-century art to be classified as a "national treasure" by the French state and acquired by the Centre Pompidou in 2003 thanks to the support of Pernod Ricard. With their sharp, blade-like edges, other sculptures such as Le Rêve / Le Baiser (1932-1933) and La Petite trompette (1932-1933) reveal González' connections with Surrealism.
The passage to the next room, holding the great monumental sculptures of 1930-1935, is marked by Femme se coiffant (1931), exemplifying the artist's notion of a sculpture conceived as "a drawing in space." Beyond it are three groups of sculptures of 1932-1936, displaying González characteristic back-and-forth between abstraction and figuration. The great linear sculptures Femme à la corbeille (1934), La Girafe (1935) and L'Ange, L'Insecte, La Danseuse (1935) stand opposite figures inspired by antique and archaic sculpture (Petit torse égyptien, 1935-1936). The studies displayed alongside document the process of progressive formal simplification. Finally, a series of bronze heads cast from stone between 1933 and 1936 illustrates a new interest in volume inspired by the cathedral statuary that González discusses in his theoretical text "Picasso et les cathédrales: Picasso sculpteur" (1931-1932).
Last come works dating from the late 1930s to the sculptor's death in 1942. La Femme au miroir (1936-1937), a monumental sculpture in bronze, introduces one of the privileged themes of González' last years, the work allegorically symbolizing hope in the face of the conflict raging in Spain, the land of his birth. He also makes use of the Catalonian Virgin of Montserrat to articulate the sufferings of his own people. A series of drawings and a number of realist sculptures (Tête de Montserrat criant, 1942, Petite Montserrat effrayée, 1941-42) and more abstract works (Masque de Montserrat criant, 1938-1939) give touching expression to his concern. Metamorphosis too emerges as an important theme in these last works, in the shape of Daphné (1937), with its geometrical lines, and L'Homme cactus (1939), a spiky biomorphic form. The exhibition draws towards its end with González' late drawings, marked by the same sinuous and aggressive forms as his late sculptures, and closes on the artist's last self-portrait, the Autoportrait of 1941, painted a year before the his death. Mid-way through the exhibition is a room that traces the life and work of Julio González through drawings by his daughter Roberta, photographs, and archival documents held by the Bibliothèque Kandinsky.
A key work in this exhibition, which otherwise draws on the Centre's own collection, has been loaned by the González estate. La Femme au miroir (1936-1937) is a bronze cast of the iron sculpture that was to be shown at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937, but was replaced by La Montserrat (1937, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). This loan recalls the generosity and steadfast support shown to the Centre Pompidou by the artist's daughter Roberta González and her own executors, Carmen Martinez and Vivianne Grimminger.