In 1928 Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973) went to see his old friend and fellow Spaniard Julio González (1876 - 1942) in Paris. He needed the help of the talented metalworker to turn a two-dimensional design into a metal sculpture. It was to be the start of a close partnership and the continuation of a unique friendship.
They worked together on a number of sculptures over a four-year period. For both artists, the collaboration provided a major push to further development. Thanks to González, Picasso discovered new modes of expression in sculpture and for González the collaboration was the final leg of his journey towards a distinctive artistic style. This exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
focuses principally on Gonzálezs development from craftsman to avant-garde artist. With no fewer than 20 works by Picasso, it is also a celebration of the friendship between the two men.
Julio González encountered metalworking at an early age, in his fathers workshop in Barcelona. It seemed a matter of course to follow his father and grandfather into the trade and he learned a variety of metalworking techniques from the former. These enabled him to create decorative objects and jewellery, for which he won a number of prizes. Despite this success, he aspired to become a painter and started to show his work at the Paris salons, while at the same time continuing to earn his living by producing decorative objects in metal. At the end of the First World War he found a job in the Renault car factory, where he learned a sophisticated welding technique. Given his consequent mastery of metalworking techniques, it is no wonder that Picasso called on him for advice on working in metal, even though their youthful friendship had fizzled out many years earlier.
to autonomous artist
From 1928 to the end of 1932, González and Picasso collaborated on a number of metal sculptures that are now attributed to solely Picasso. It was thanks to Gonzálezs technical expertise that Picasso arrived at new forms of expression. In the first instance, González translated Picassos sketches into three-dimensional works. Later, once González had taught Picasso techniques like forging and welding, the two men worked together on sculptures such as the more than 2-metres-high La Femme au jardin (Woman in the Garden) (1929). Subsequently, González worked alone to produce a second version of this piece for Picassos garden. He copied the individual components by cutting them out of sheets of bronze and then meticulously joined them together, a task that he described as a titanic undertakingʼ. Influenced in part by his collaboration with Picasso, the 52-year-old González made great strides in his own artistic development and the works he produced from this period on can be seen as blazing a trail in art history. In the past, sculptures had always been carved from single blocks of stone or moulded in clay and only later cast in bronze. González changed this time-consuming process; by welding steel components together, he was able to create new works directly, without intermediate stages. The result was a highly distinctive and personal style that lay somewhere between Cubism, Constructivism and Surrealism, but which invariably remained rooted in figuration despite its abstract air.
González, Picasso and friends
The exhibition also examines the highly personal friendships that Julio González maintained with other artists. He worked for some years as an assistant to Constantin Brancusi (1876 - 1957). Pablo Gargallo (1881 - 1934), who drew on Gonzálezs technical expertise as early as 1923, recognized his artistic talent and encouraged him to devote himself entirely to sculpture. And it was in Gonzálezs workshop that Gargallos son-in-law, Hans Hartung (1904 - 1989), created his first and only sculpture in 1938.
González and the Spanish Civil War
Although González moved to Paris around the turn of the century, he continued to cherish his Catalan roots. A recurrent subject in his work is an indomitable Catalan peasant woman bearing a sickle and holding a child on her arm. Developments in the Spanish Civil War are reflected in Gonzálezs work, as they are in that of Picasso and other Spanish artists of the period. As the war went on, but especially after 1939, when General Franco seized power, González's indomitable female figures underwent a metamorphosis. Their faces were now screaming and distorted with terror. They display similarities with the wailing figures in Picassos Guernica (1937), several sketches for which are included in the exhibition. Gonzálezs more abstract 'cactus figures' of 1939 have similarly gaping mouths, although at the same time they radiate great strength. It is tempting to see them as symbolizing the fortitude of the Catalan people, standing firm in the face of their oppression by Francoʼs regime.
Out of the shadow
Julio González is considered one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century, on a par with Constantin Brancusi and Pablo Picasso, and his work influenced post-war artists like David Smith and Eduardo Chillida. To the general public, however, his name is far less familiar than theirs. The museum hopes that this exhibition will give González the place in the limelight he so richly deserves, alongside Picasso and Brancusi.