She’s one of the forgotten, or left aside women painters of the XXth Century. As we all know, there are countless male painters filling up museums with rubbish, yes, rubbish! And women painters? As if they did not exist. But they do exist! Lluïsa Vidal was the first female artist to exhibit at Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona, the place where Picasso first exhibited, the hangout of the greats…Catalans…to be at the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth Century. If that is not an accomplishment, then what is one?
Ms. Vidal was born in 1876 in Barcelona. She died in 1918. You can say she had a short life, after all, Picasso was born in 1881 and lived until 1973. The longer you live the more you can gain fortune, the more you can become famous, the more they will remember you…
Lluïsa grew up in an environment where culture and art were very important. She was the only female of her time, in Spain, to dedicate herself…professionally…to art and painting. She was the only Spanish female artist to go to Paris to study….
But, Vidal was also a feminist. Upon her return from Paris, she joined the Catholic Feminists that were organised and led by Carme Karr. She continued to be a feminist and to move in those circles all her life. Actually, most of the portraits she painted were of women from the feminist circles and their families.
Vidal was a social activist, completely committed to the cause of women’s liberation. She lived off her work as an artist and from teaching at her studio-academy on Carrer Salmerón, which is now called Grande de Gracia. During the war (WWI) she formed part of the Comité Femenino Pacifista de Cataluña, (Pacifist Committee of Catalonia). She met and associated with all the artists of the time, with all the refugees and with all those who longed for peace.
Like I said, she was the first and only woman to exhibit at Els Quatre Gats. She also did many illustrations for the feminist magazine Feminal where many articles and stories by prominent Catalan women published. It seems clear that she was a force to be reckoned with and a very good painter. She also was an extraordinary illustrator who created beautiful and powerful drawings…
Lluïsa Vidal was born during the time that Spain was confronting many grave problems. There were problems with Cuba, Spain’s far away province in the Caribbean who started thinking about independence and a revolution was brewing there. This independence movement in Cuba supplemented and fit in perfectly with the nationalist Catalan movement which was resurfacing and was causing much excitement in Barcelona.
The telephone had just been invented…Vidal read Zola and Dostoievski and listened to the operas of Richard Wagner. The vanguard artists and architects in Catalonia were José Vilaseca, Antoni Gaudí, and Lluís Domènech i Montaner and they were creating buildings in the city that were works of art. Catalonia was not like the rest of Spain, it was cosmopolitan and much more European. Soon the government in Madrid began to develop a restrictive and authoritative policy towards Catalonia, which fed the anarchist and separatist movements developing quickly there, as quickly as they had been developing all over Europe.
These were Vidal’s times. She was the first Spanish female painter to accomplish many things, i.e. going to Paris to study painting, exhibiting at Els Quatre Gats and joining the feminist cause. She is considered a modernist painter of the second generation, eclectic and very Catalan…
Lluïsa’s untimely death in 1918 was brought about by the Spanish Flu pandemic which caused so much death that year.
Although she was…during her lifetime…considered one of, if not the best, female Catalan artist, she disappeared completely from Art History. Her modernist approach to art, her feminist attitude and the way she chronicled the things of her time were all forgotten. It was as if she never existed among Catalan painters.
She left us three beautiful self-portraits that I believe say so much about her personality…
This one from 1899:
This one from 1909:
This one from 1918:
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