The People of Gibraltar
1930s - Gustavo Bacarisas y Podestá - A Kind of Identity

Gustavo Bacarisas  (1902 - Self-Portrait) 
According to Julian Barnes' fictitious French philosopher:
History is that uncertainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
Which is certainly true of what little I have read about Gustavo Bacarisas where a tendency towards hagiography is almost universal. Perhaps unavoidably, and certainly unashamedly,  this article will continue this trend.

View of Gibraltar from the Cecil Hotel ( 1946 - Patrick Sacarello )

Gustavo Bacarisas was, in my opinion, Gibraltar's greatest and best known artist. He died in Seville in 1971. He was 98 years old. In his memory, the City of Seville gave a newly built street  his name - Calle Gustavo Bacarisas. Appropriately the street was in that most typical district of Seville - El Barrio de Triana.

Decades later an exhibition featuring Government owned pictures and several paintings from private collections took place in Gibraltar. Peter Caruana - then Chief Minister of the Rock - spoke on the opening day. Gustavo Bacarisas, he said,  was without doubt, one of the most important figures in the history of Gibraltarian art and culture.

But he was more than that - he was something that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar chose to ignore. Bacarisas was a Gibraltarian who felt very much at home in Spain. He was an example of a different kind of Gibraltarian identity, a  man who found it easy to embrace Spain and its culture without finding it in anyway incompatible with being a native born Gibraltarian.  

His was the kind of identity that opens intellectual horizons, widens our spirit, acknowledges neighbours, excludes nothing - and begins the journey away from a claustrophobic and unidimensional  past, in so far as Gibraltarians as a people are concerned, to one that accepts us as we were and therefore as we are. 

Bacarisas embraced the world - not as a Spaniard, nor as a Briton but as somebody with a unique identity. It is not something that for one reason or another sits well with a majority of Gibraltarians who often prefer to identify themselves to a history that is not really theirs.

Paisaje de Segovia  ( Undated - Museo de Salamanca ) 

Gustavo Bacarisas was born in Gibraltar in 1872. His father, Gabriel, quickly recognised and encouraged his exceptional artistic gifts and managed to obtain a scholarship for him from a group of local businessmen. At the age of nineteen he left Gibraltar for Rome to study in the Academia  Española de Bellas Artes  in San Pietro, Montorio.

Piazza del Popolo  ( c1900  - Gibraltar Ministry of Culture )

Santa María di Loreto e la Colona Traiana ( c1900 )

Campidoglio, Roma ( c 1900 )

Castel Sant Angelo (c1908)

The Roman Countryside (c1908)

Tapestry  ( c1900 - Casino Calpe Gibraltar )

Plaza de San Pedro, Roma ( c1900 )

Unknown Title  ( 1901 ) 

While  in Italy he also found time to enter one of his pictures for an exhibition held in Barcelona in 1898

Catalogue for the Exposición de Bellas Artes de Barcelona of 1898 and a black and white copy of  Gustavo Bacarisas' painting of Rome's main thoroughfare - 'El Corso'.

In 1905 he took part in the Venice Biennale where he may have been pleased to have his work admired by the King and Queen of Italy - however dubious their art critic credentials . It was the success of this exhibition that probably enticed him to move to Paris. It was a good decision. His pictures were beginning to show signs of French impressionist influences. He stayed in the old study of James McNeil Whistler - a man whose work he must have admired.

He didn't stay long but was obviously on his way up. The following year he found himself in London where he studied the works of classical English artists while finding time to exhibit at the Royal Academy. It was perhaps here that he managed to sell to a private American collector the picture of El Corso which he had exhibited previously in Barcelona. He got a thousand pounds for it - a considerable amount of money in those days.

El Tamesis  ( 1907 - Gibraltar Ministry of Culture )

Hyde Park ( 1907 - Ministry of Culture -Gibraltar )

London (Unknown)

In 1909 he returned to Gibraltar for a prolonged family visit and made various side trips including several to Morocco.

El Harem ( 1909 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

Apparently a keen mountain climber he also found time to make it to the top of the highest point of Monte Cridola of the Bellunesi Dolomites - the first ever ascent from the south of this massive 2581m peak.

Monte Cridola 

He definitely seems to have caught the travel bug early in his life. In 1910 he visited Argentina at the invitation of Galerias Philipon. Before the year was out he was named professor of the Academia de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Meanwhile he extended himself internationally by exhibiting in both New York and Philadelphia before returned to Gibraltar in 1914. 

He didn't stay too long as he had decided it would be best both economically and artistically to move out of the rather limiting confines of his home town. He chose Seville where he continued to live for many years. 

Things went well and by 1915 some of his pictures had been selected and included in the Certamen Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid. According to the art critic Fernando Periquet: 
the painting, 'Sevilla en Fiesta' was perhaps the most commented on by the public in that exhibition'.  
Yet another critic, Aurora León described it as;
 . . un lienzo de poderosa fuerza expresiva conseguida fundamentalmente con un color desbordante, color que el pintor imprime con arrojo y atrevimiento en esos malvas, amarillos, rojo, verdes y violáceos. 
Bacarisas would later be able to say that yet another royal party had gone out of their way to view his work. The rather English Queen Victoria of Spain and her daughter the Infanta Beatriz visited his studio in Seville.

Preliminary sketch for Sevilla en Fiesta   ( c1915 )

Sevilla en Fiesta   ( c1915 - Museo de Bellas Artes - Seville )

Unknown title 

That same year back home in Seville he got to know the Laffite family, owners of an important ceramics factory known as 'Los Remedios'. He produced several impressive tile designs for them.

Finca Los Remedios

The following tile panels are all found on the Cava de los Civiles building on the corner of Calle Antillano Campos and Palles del Coro in Seville. It is perhaps symptomatic of the artists generosity in that he was in the habit of signing his tiles, not just with his own name but that of the master oven-worker who had helped create them. 

Carmen Gutiérrez 

Jovita Arenas 

Encarnación Arena 

Maria Teresa Arenas 

Entrance to Joaquin Arena's Grocery Store 

Entrance from Calle Antellano Campos 

In 1917 the Gibraltar Chronicle carried the following item of news;
We are glad to learn from the Seville paper of the 17th inst, that at an important exhibition of Fine Arts held in Seville under the patronage of the Seville Municipal Authorities , one of the most successful exhibitors was Mr, Gustavo Bacarisas. The excellent organisation of the exhibition was also mainly due to his energy and ability.
The exhibition was part of the famous Semana Santa festivities for which he also designed the publicity poster.

Torre de los Picos, Granada ( 1918 )

1919 was a particularly rewarding year. He proposed a design for the Seville Fair. It consisted of alternating red and white and green and white striped awnings and a unified design for the 'pañoletas' - the top triangular section of the Casetas, the booths and pavilions that are such an important part of the fair's unique atmosphere . It was not only accepted but is still used almost unaltered to this day. In acknowledgment the city made him Hijo Predilecto de Sevilla. 

Modern day Seville Fair Casetas using the same red and white and green and white striped awnings as proposed by Bacarisas. The pañoletas also follow the same principles as the original ones he created for the Royal Pavilion.

El Estanque del Mercurio del Alcázar de Sevilla (1920 )

El Estanque de los Mirtos (1921)

In 1921 he returned to Madrid and exhibited no less than 50 pictures in the Museo De Arte Moderno which included portraits of Andalucian stereotypes as well as some of his most recognisable pictures - the Sevilla en Fiesta series.  Spain's well-known philosopher José Ortega y Gasset had this to say in the prologue of the exhibition catalogue:
Es curioso advertir en la obra de Bacarisas, bajo este esplendor atmosférico, una emoción lírica, intima, de rara calidad que pulsa latente como un corazón dolorido.'
According to another critic, Pedro de Ginés - who covered the exhibition for the magazine Bética:  
. . la obra de Bacarisas es uno de los grandes atractivos de la exposición. 

Noche Sevillana

Muchacha con Abanico

Imperio Argentina

Unknown title

Mujer con Cantaro


Parque Maria Luisa, Sevilla

Unknown title

Somewhere in Madeira

A few years later in 1922 he was on the move again, this time to Stockholm where he had been commissioned by the Swedish Government to design the scenery and costumes for a production of Bizet's Carmen in the Royal Dramatic Theatre - or Dramaten as it was known after its relocation in 1908.  It would be his first of many artistic interventions in the world of the theatre and ballet. There was also an added bonus - it was here that he met his future wife Elsa Jernas who was herself a well know artist in Sweden. 

Elsa Jernas

Costume design for the opera Carmen ( Lady Hassan )

In 1925. he was also commissioned to design the scenery and decorations by the Trocadero Theatre in London for a production of Léo Delibes' comic ballet, Coppélia. 

Not content with all this he returned yet again to Paris that same year and was commissioned to design the scenery, decorations and costumes both for the opening of Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo in the Opéra Comique in Paris and in the Teatro Español in Madrid - both of them featuring the famous classic dancer La Argentina. In 1936, the ballet played again in the Palais Garnier of Paris using the same decor and costumes designed by Bacarisas.

The Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla who became an intimate friend of Bacarisas and the influential Spanish dancer, Antonia Mercé  - known as La Argentina who played the leading role in El Amor Brujo.

Manuel de Falla's final balletic version of El Amor Brujo - scenery and the costumes by Gustavo Bacarisas ( 1925 )

His professional relationship with La Argentina continued apace and he is known to have designed several of her costumes on many other occasions. According to Idoia Murga Castro in her Escenografía de la Danza en la Edad de Plata ( 1916-1936 ) the correspondence between them suggests that Antonia Mercé was not the easiest person to please.
La correspondencia entre el artista y la bailarina es abundante y gracia a ella es posible formarse una imagen de Bacarisas como trabajador meticuloso y perfeccionista  . . .  Gustavo . .  le diseño muchos figurines, pero siempre bajo sus indicaciones. Así lo confirma en una carta . . .  " Tu sabes lo que te conviene para tu libertad de movimiento al bailar."
And yet:
D. Gustavo . . . reúne un poder de creación solo comparable a su imaginación portentosa y a su profundo conocimiento de España . . 

Field Workers Gathering Hay ( 1926 - Gibraltar Museum )

Two years later he created the panels which were used in the Pabellón de la Plaza de America for the Argentina Pavilion as well as the posters for the Exposición Ibero-Americana of Seville of that same year. At the beginning of 1930 he visited the Pavilion together with its main architect Don Martin Noel, as an honoured guest. Later he presided over and judged a special exhibition of Sevillian art held in the Pavilion of Brazil which also formed part of the Exposición Ibero-Americana.

Exhibition poster 

Designs for the Argentinian Pavilion - 1929 - Exposición Iberoamericana de Sevilla           
( c1927 - Gibraltar Museum )

In the 1950s the Argentinean pavilion building was taken over by the Instituto Murillo and converted into a chapel. Bacarisas was asked to supervise the restoration of his own  paintings. The Spanish journalist José Andrés Vásquez visited him while he was hard at work in Seville:
Al vernos suspende su trabajo - que comparte con modestos auxiliares inteligentes - y nos abre su sonrisa, generosa y ancha de gran artista y de cabal hombre de bien. Y de Sevillano adoptivo, fiel a Sevilla madre. 
In 1929 he was commissioned to design the costumes for a production called Evergreen which was possibly either a play or a ballet - I have not been able to find any mention of it in the available literature. 

Costume designs for the production Evergreen - The two last are for Miss Masters and Miss Rhone, presumably characters in the play ( 1929 - Gibraltar Museum )

That same year he also designed several possible themes for large-headed dwarf Cabezudos. These outsided 'heads' made of papier maché, are worn by people dressed in the appropriate matching costumes. They are used in fairs and festivals all over Spain. I have been unable to discover who commissioned these.

Cabezudos ( Gibraltar Museum )  

Bacarisas rising fame inevitably threw him into an ever widening group of fellow artists which included household names such as the Guitarist Andres Segovia, Federico Garcia Lorca and Manuel de Falla. Many of these and more he would met frequently at that cultural institution - the Ateneo de Seville - well-known locally for having instigated the Festival de Reyes Magos. In the 1930s, perhaps giving us an insight into Gustavo Bacarisas generosity of spirit he was the person who gave the second highest donation out of a long list of local worthies when the Ateneo asked for help to cover its expenses.

Group photo taken in the Ateneo de Sevilla in the 1930s with Federico Garcia Lorca second and Gustavo Bacarisas fourth from left. Bacarisas knew Lorca quite well having met him in the Polinario Tavern of Granada, a place he visited frequently with Manuel de Falla 

The Exposición de Sevilla of 1930 included - perhaps unusually - a large number of portraits. One of them was his painting of the contemporary rector of the University of Seville, Dr Estanislao del Campo. It was considered exceptional.

Portrait of Dr. Estanislao del Campo - Rector  (1930s )

Appropriately, when Del Campo took over from Dr Ramon Carande Thovar at the University, he presented him with a portrait which had also been painted by Bacarisas. 

Copy of a portrait of Dr Ramon Carande Thovar held by the University of Seville

In 1932 he took part in an international exhibition of modern art in the Baltimore Museum of Art which had been organised by the Carnegie Institute. The exhibition was visited by 30000 people. This was followed by another successful exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts of St Louis. The Spanish newspaper ABC was glowing in its reports  - although perhaps understandably forgetting his Gibraltarian origins.
Concurrieron después de selección, pintores de Inglaterra, Polonia, Italia, Francia, Holanda, Alemania, Suiza, Rusia, Austria, Hungría, Checoeslovaquia,  Suecia y Bélgica. De España concurrieron Gustavo Bacarisas,  . . . . . . 
In 1933 he travelled throughout Castile painting its countryside and towns. Yet it was during this period that he produced one of his most turbulent and atmospheric  painting - 'Viva la Republica'. It may have been  a statement  of his left-wing political leanings although some have argued that it was not. One telling incident in his life - his return to Seville at the end of the second world war - has been used to suggest that he was not as loath as other contemporary artists - Picasso for example - to live under the Franco regime.  

It is an unfair criticism. Gibraltarians of all hues were always quite prepared to enter Spain regularly for a variety of reasons during the dictatorship while at the same time strongly disapproving of the regime. He even painted 'Noche Federico Garcia Lorca' a picture making reference to the well known poet who was later killed by the Nationalist, almost certainly because of his support for the Popular Front. 

In any case, 'Viva la Republica' is not his only attempt at depicting the political mood of the day. As shown below, his numerous other Spanish Civil War paintings - which were done in 1936 - are all dealt with in a thoroughly sympathetic manner.

Viva la Republica ( 1931 )

Desfile de Sta Barbara - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

El Convoy - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

Interior de Taberna - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

El Interrogatorio - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

Milicianos en la Gran Via - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

Paqueo en la Calle - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

Niños Jugando - Spanish Civil War ( 1936 - Ministry of Culture - Gibraltar )

During this period he also designed the sets and costumes for a production of Léo Delibes' 'Coppelia' which was stgaged in London's Trocadero.

The start of the Spanish Civil War found him in Madrid. He returned  to Gibraltar. Here he painted some local scenes and took the opportunity to cross the straits to Tangier - yet again - and beyond.

In 1937 - and in sharp contrast to his rather sombre Civil War paintings - he produced a set of five large and lively paintings for the Cecil Hotel in Gibraltar which belonged to his brother Alberto. Generally the Bacarisas family were quite well placed on the Rock. His other brother Horacio would become the British Consul in Madeira during World War II. 

Aracena ( 1937 - Ministry of Culture Gibraltar ) 

Castellar  ( 1937 - Ministry of Culture Gibraltar )

Jimena  ( 1937 - Ministry of Culture Gibraltar )

Tangier, Morocco (  1937 - Ministry of Culture )

Casemates Gibraltar ( 1937 - Ministry of Culture )

Hotel Cecil

Self Portrait ( 1939 Gibraltar Museum )

In 1940, and at the start of World War II he and his family - together with most of the local population - were forced to leave the Rock. The Bacarisas were among the luckier ones who were evacuated to Madeira. He stayed at the Savoy Hotel

View of Coastline Funchal Madeira ( c1942 - Mrs Russo )

Boats in Gibraltar ( 1940s )

Boats and the Rock (Unknown)

When the war finally came to an end in 1945, he returned to Seville and launched into a series of paintings of what has often been described romantically - but appropriately - as Los Pueblos Blancos Andaluces. After so many years away from some sort of recognisable home, this must have been an exercise in nostalgia. 

Jose Riquelme Sanchez, writing for the 'Almoraima' magazine, quotes Jose de las Cuevas who was particularly impressed by his paitings of Arcos de la Frontera:
Consigue captar el pueblo reflejado en el rio, sin escaparse ni una sola luz, ni un solo tono o matiz por leve que sea. Elsa, su mujer, dibujaba burillos deliciosos.
The author Enrique Valdivieso was equally admiring :
Aquí en Andalucía valoramos al máximo toda la pintura suya . . '

Pueblo Andaluz

Feria - Barrio de Granada

Puesto de Flores


La Feria

Unknown Title

Calle Nocturna del Pueblo

Galanteo en el Patio de Juderías

Unknown Title

Aracena   ( 1947 - Lady Hassan )

A rare watercolour on the left and its oil equivalent   (Unknown title)

In 1947 he took part in his first major Spanish exhibition since the end of the Civil War. It was sponsored by the Subsecretaria de Educación Popular and la Comisaria de Bellas Artes, both of them well under the thumb of the dictatorship. Perhaps conscious of the political implications Bacarisas seems to have ensured that one of the guests of honour was Hugo Border, the British Consul in Seville at the time.

Feria de Sevilla poster designed by Bacarisas ( 1947 )

In 1952 he visited Gibraltar in order to advise the local architect Natalio Langdon on a proposal to remodel St Joseph's - the main church in the southern area of Gibraltar. It was a project that was unfortunately never carried out. 

St Joseph's Church   ( Tito Vallejo )

In 1954, the City Council of Gibraltar commissioned a picture of the Rock from Bacarisas. It would be presented to Queen Elizabeth when she visited Gibraltar during her Commonwealth tour. It remained in Buckingham Palace until it was returned to Gibraltar at the request of Sir Joshua Hassan, the Chief Minister of the day. In 1988 permission was obtained for the painting to remain on permanent loan to the Gibraltar Museum.

Gibraltar  ( 1954 - Gibraltar Museum ) 

Rosia (  1954 - Langdon Family ) 

                  Corpus Christi Procession, Main Street Gibraltar  ( 1954 - Langdon Family ) 

Coronation Parade, Main Street Gibraltar  ( 1954 - Langdon Family ) 

In 1961 he was made correspondent to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The following year his home town finally acknowledged his achievements. They granted him the freedom of the city by making him the first ever Honorary Freeman of Gibraltar. 

In 1968 the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de Santa Isabel de Hungría dedicated the main section of their Autumn exhibition to Bacarisas and awarded him with its prestigious Gold Medal. As one art critic commented in a newspaper eulogy it was well deserved not just because he was such a good painter but because of the influence his work would have on other Sevillian artists.
El Ilustre artista inyectó una savia nueva a nuestra pintura, cuyos conceptos, demasiados tradicionales, experimentaron una saludable renovación por el influjo de las creaciones de este poeta del color  . . .

Paisaje de Avila  ( 1968 - Ministry of Culture Gibraltar )

Fleet in the Bay of Gibraltar ( c 1968 - Gibraltar Museum) 

None of which made him stop painting and indeed in 1970 he was still producing some of his best work. Since his death in 1971 his name has continued to be honoured both in Gibraltar and in Spain. with innumerable conferences, retrospective exhibitions, biographical articles, the naming of streets and building after him, and the issue of a series of Gibraltar postage stamps bearing his portrait.

Baile ( 1970 )

Mujeres con Frutos y Fondo Arquitectónico ( 1970  )

But it was not until 2011 that the very first Bacarisas exhibition was held in the Government's Exhibition Gallery. Gibraltar was honouring him posthumously and perhaps belatedly, possibly due to a serious lack of available pictures to exhibit. It is something that has since been partially remedied by the Gibraltar Museum and the Ministry of Culture who at present own more than forty of his pictures between them. 

Finally, perhaps I should mention that I had an added incentive for writing  this short article. Just like the Bacarisa family the Chipulinas were also evacuated to Madeira via Morocco. It was in Casablanca that my father, Pepe Chipulina met, took lessons from, and became a good friend of the great man. The fact that Pepe was an inveterate dabbler in watercolour painting could have had something to do with this friendship - but I would like to think that it was much more a question of a meeting of minds. 

Patio del Rey Don Pedro

With special thanks to Anthony Aquilera who very kindly sent me a copy of "Gustavo Bacarisas - Life and Legacy". Without this book I would not have been able to write the above. Thank you Anthony.