Obituary: Carlos Nadal

John Duncalfe
Friday 19 June 1998 23:02 BST

THE CATALAN painter Carlos Nadal was the last wild expressionist of Spain. He was also perhaps one of the last artists with direct connections to the original group of Fauvist painters.

"A page of script can never replace a canvas," writes Hubert Nyssen in his book Carlos Nadal (1980):

Words seem to be inadequate in their attempt to recreate the pictorial work. Looking at this work, five words seem to invite themselves: revelry, childhood, folly, dream, magic . . .

Nadal's work at first appears to be naive, almost childlike. However, it is difficult not to turn and sup the extravagant wild colours, bold lines and strange perspective.

Nadal was heavily influenced by Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, whom he met first as a young child at his father's studio. He was born in Paris, in 1917, to Catalan parents. His father ran an atelier of decorative arts, making posters and theatre backdrops, which in the early 1920s was a lucrative business.

In 1921 his parents returned to Barcelona. The young Carlos Nadal could think only of painting. At the age of 13 he lied about his age and enrolled as a student of the School of Arts and Crafts in Barcelona, and in 1932 became a student of the Senior Fine Art Academy of St George, Barcelona.

In 1936 he was conscripted into the Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War, fighting with them on the Aragonese Front and, towards the end of the campaign, in the front line at Tremp.

In January 1939, he was captured and interred at the concentration camp at St Cyprien. He spent five long months only able to draw on walls and pieces of detritus. This stood Nadal in good stead as he later could and would paint on anything from tea-towels to wallpaper, if the correct materials were not available.

Nadal escaped from the camp and returned to Spain without documents; there he was arrested once again and detailed at Figueras. Eventually he was given a conditional discharge and returned to Barcelona, where he continued his studies. In 1942, Nadal's first one-man exhibition took place.

In 1944 he was commissioned by the Spanish painter Miguel Farre to assist with painting a series of large religious murals in three churches, the Iglesia Santa Ana and the Carmelites, in Barcelona, Tarrasa Cathedral and the Chapel Raventos, at the Raventos family estate, San Sarduni De Noya.

At the end of the Second World War, Nadal returned to Paris with a small scholarship from Barcelona Council. He additionally received a grant from the French Ministry of Culture. He began studies in the atelier of Ossip Zadkine, where he met his wife-to-be, a Belgian art student called Flore Joris.

At this time Nadal roomed in the Montparnasse area, where his close friends included the painters Antoni Clave, Oscar Dominguez, Andre Lanskoy and Joan Mir, and the writer Jean-Paul Sartre. He also met Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Albert Marquet, Raoul Dufy and Maurice Utrillo.

Nadal was able to take up residence in the Spanish Hall at the Universite de la Cite and, while sketching in the Parc Monceau opposite, he met Braque again, who had been watching him work for several days. He was invited to visit Braque's studio and, from then on, the Braque family often fed the hungry Nadal.

Although, by this time, Abstraction was becoming the great fashion, Nadal never lost his love for the Fauvist movement. In a series of later paintings, Homage to My Friends, he captures Fauvism and Cubism within a single canvas.

Nadal was offered a US scholarship in 1949 by the Carnegie Foundation, but chose instead to marry Flore Joris, by now a sculptor. They moved to Brussels, where Nadal took up a contract with the art dealer Louis Manteau, and where their neighbour was Rene Magritte. Nadal also made friends with Paul Delvaux.

Louis Manteau gave the Nadals use of a house on the Cote d'Azur near Villauris and there Nadal painted many of his Mediterranean works, Wild Seas with Luminous Skies, Bateau, and Paysage, with its red trees and blue villas - always colours to shock and astound. It was here that Manteau introduced Nadal to Picasso, and the two Spaniards became good friends, sometimes visiting Matisse, who was by now unwell.

In 1957 Nadal was commissioned to decorate the Belgian Pavilion at the World Atom Fair in Switzerland and then in 1958 to paint a large continuous mural for the Belgian Congo Transport Company at the Universal Exhibition in Brussels, consisting of 320 square metres of continuous painting.

By the Sixties, Nadal was in great demand for exhibitions in Europe, although little known in Britain. At last he had enough money to build his own studio and summer house near Barcelona.

In 1978 I was introduced to Nadal in Barcelona, and asked to represent him in the UK. I was stunned by "the artist that got away" - where had he been hiding? After several shows in the provinces, the Harrogate International Festival invited Nadal to hold a retrospective in 1984. Philip Solomon, Brian Sewell and I travelled out to Spain to make a selection for an exhibition in 1987 at the Solomon Gallery, in London.

The first UK auction of Nadal's work was at Christie's in London in 1983 - the two paintings sold were La Terraza and Los Pirineos. His work now frequently turns up at auction in Britain.

John Duncalfe

Carlos Nadal, painter: born Paris 24 April 1917; married 1949 Flore Joris (died 1988; two sons); died Barcelona 6 June 1998.

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