Julio Gonzalez

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 Head of the Montserrat, II And Bacons screaming pope.

This head of a peasant woman with her face frozen in terror (a fragment of a planned larger sculpture, never realized) was cast in bronze from a plaster left in González’s studio at the time of his death in 1942. The artist made several paintings and sculptures of this subject beginning in 1936, in response to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which claimed the lives of thousands of civilians before its conclusion in 1939. (Montserrat is a mountain range in the Catalonia region of Spain, where González was born; it is also a popular first name for women of the region.) This representational work marked a radical departure from the abstract, Cubist-inspired sculptures for which González was best known at the time. In 1937, a full figure sculpture of the same subject stood at the entrance to the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Art in Paris, where Pablo Picasso first presented his monumental anti-war painting Guernica—like this work, a response to Fascist violence in Spain.

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Study for Head of Montserrat Crying No. 2

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The Cactus

The Cactus pair [above] characterizes the more metamorphic and expressive qualities of González’s drawings and sculptures of 1937 and after. These screaming figures with upraised arms are dehumanized by their transformation into pulpy and spiny cactus plants. Like Picasso’s grotesque mutations in his series of etchings Dream and Lie of Franco (1937), they give an almost physical sense of revulsion and pain. The demonic expressions and terror of the figures reflect González’s emotional reaction to the events of the Spanish Civil War. Monserrat (h. 1.62 m, 1937; Amsterdam, Stedel. Mus.) was commissioned by the Spanish Government to promote the Republican cause at their pavilion in the Paris Exposition Internationale of 1937. It stood near Picasso’s Guernica (1937; Madrid, Prado) and the commissioned works of other well-known Spanish artists. Although the realism of this forged and hammered-iron sculpture seems to be a radical departure for González, the peasant mother with her sickle in one hand and bundled child on her arm recapitulates a theme that occurs frequently in his drawings as early as 1906. With its suggestive title—after the black Madonna of Montserrat—and serenely heroic stance, reminiscent of Socialist Realism, the life-size sculpture was enthusiastically received by the pavilion’s organizers and was used in government literature.

After the Cactus figures, González did not produce much more sculpture. Only through the hundreds of drawings of this period can one understand González’s increasing fear and demoralization engendered by his pessimistic reaction to the events and consequences of the Spanish Civil War. Because of his personal modesty and low public profile, he had little recognition during his lifetime. However his sculpture has become widely known through the retrospective exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1952), and exhibitions in Amsterdam (1955), New York (1956), four cities in Germany (1957–8) and Madrid and Barcelona (1960).

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