Carles Casagemas i Coll was a Catalan artist and writer who was born in Barcelona on September 27th 1880 within a bourgeois family. His father, Manuel Casagemas i Llabrós, was General Vice-Consul of the United States of America in Barcelona and Lluïsa Casagemas, one of his sisters, was a well-known composer. Casagemas was considered one of the most singular Catalan artists within the framework of the second modernist generation. His main artistic reference was Isidre Nonell.
Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Carles Casagemas. 1899-1900. Oil on canvas. 55 x 45 cm. MPB 110.022 | Picasso, Ángel F. de Sotoand Carles Casagemas on the family terrace of the former, in the street of la Mercè circa. 1900. Source: Eduard Vallès Archive, Barcelona
Casagemas initially had a studio in the street of Nou de la Rambla where literary evenings were organized with his friends. Once his formative years had passed, the artist formed part of the grup bohemi-barceloní (the Barcelona-Bohemian Group), made up of the Fernàndez de Soto brothers, Joan Vidal i Ventosa, Ramon and Cinto Reventós brothers, and Jaume Sabartés, among others, and they would frequent the tavern Quatre Gats where, between March 26th and April 1900, they put on an exhibition.
Around 1899 he met Pablo Picasso, with whom he built up a close relationship and jointly set up a studio in the street of Riera de Sant Joan, nº 17. Picasso did various portraits of Casagemas, the first known ones dating back to 1899. In the museum, we conserve some of the portraits that Picasso did of his friend during their years of friendship, among which being the magnificent oil painting Portrait of Carles Casagemas, recently restored by the team of the museum, which is exhibited in the gallery 4 alongside a sketch done with charcoal on paper.
Pablo Picasso. Portrait of Carles Casagemas. 1899-1900. Charcoal on paper. 30.3 x 19.9 cm. MPB 110.653 | Pablo Picasso. The painter Casagemas and Picasso. Paris, 1900. Pen and sepia ink, watercolour and gouache on paper. 18 x 8 cm. Acquisition, 1995. MPB 113.004
At the end of September 1900 both friends went on a trip to Paris during which Casagemas fell in love with the model Laure Gargallo (her maiden name), better known as Germaine. Picasso and Casagemas set themselves up in Montmartre in an area of nighttime activity and brothels; they wanted to live the vie de bohème and form part, temporarily, of the group of expatriate Catalans of Montmartre.
The asymmetrical relation between Casagemas and Germaine started deteriorating along with his mental state, who at the same time increased considerably his consumption of alcohol. Germaine didn’t hide her frustration with this man who treated her as his fiancée, but never ended up consummating the relationship. To such an extent that once when she mocked Casagemas, he threatened to commit suicide.
Portrait of Germaine. Paris, 1900. Source: Catalogue of the exhibition “Casagemas and his time” of the art gallery Dedalus
At Christmas of the same year, the two friends returned to Barcelona and subsequently spent the New Year in Malaga with the excuse of distracting Casagemas. Far from sorting out his amorous problems, after some weeks the two friends ended up going their separate ways: Picasso would go to Madrid and Casagemas, after a brief visit to Barcelona, would return once again to Paris. They neversaw each other again.
On February 17th 1901, Casagemas would end his life in the Café de l’Hyppodrome of the Boulevard de Clichy. Marçal Olivar explains the facts in the catalogue of the exhibition of 1979 “Casagemas and his time” of the art gallery of Dedalus:
“It happened just midday on the mentioned date in a small restaurant or bistrot called then Café de l’Hyppodrome of the Avenue de Clichy. The three friends [Pallarès, Casagemas and Manolo Hugué] had dined in the company of two models when the ”so-called” Casagemas, having handed over some letters to one of these young women, by the name of Laure Florentin (née Gargallo) – married, therefore, and probably Spanish – and upon her attempting to leave, took out a revolver from his pocket and fired a shot at her and believing he had wounded her, turned the weapon towards himself, and put the gun to his right temple, inflicting himself with a wound from which he would die in the Hopital Bichat the following night.”
Casagemas was little more than 20 years old. The death of his friend profoundly affected Picasso, who produced some works about his death and his burial and subsequently more portraits. It is said that his suicide generated the blue period of the artist and in fact Casagemas is the main protagonist of La Vie,the major work of this period, of which an exhibition was held in 2013 in the museum. Curiously, in the sketches prior to the work the face of the man represented was that of Picasso, but in the final painting the male face was that of Casagemas himself.
Pablo Picasso, La Vie, 1903, Oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1945.24
The location of his tomb has always been a cause for controversy. It was initially said that he was buried in the Cimetière du Montmartre, even though the family descendent of Casagemas said it was the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Now a study of 2013 by Dolors R. Roig, The best kept secret about Carles Casagemas (cat), located the tomb of Casagemas in the Cimetière de Saint-Ouen, situated at 69 Avenue Michelet, on the outskirts of Paris. And in fact, since 2008 Claude Picasso, the son of the artists, has been charged the maintenance of the tomb.
Despite the premature death of this artist and his scarce production, his work is one of the most singular of Catalan art and is characterised by a strong social criticism and of miserabilist chronicles and is spread around different museums such as Cau Ferrat, the Museu d’Art de Sabadell, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or the Fundación Francisco Godia, among others.
This autumn the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya will be inaugurating the small format exhibition “Carles Casagemas. the artist behind the myth”. This exhibition, with Eduard Vallès as curator, will count on some thirty unpublished or never previously exhibited works, and aims to take an in-depth look at the work of this artist, and to highlight its value, beyond the character created around his suicide and his link with Picasso.
References and links
“Carles Casagemas” a: Eduard Vallès, Picasso: amics catalans de joventut. Centre Picasso d’Orta: Museu Picasso. Barcelona, 2009. Page. 112
“Carles Casagemas” a: Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso i els seus amics catalans. Aedos. Barcelona, 1971. Pages. 93-95
“Carles Casagemas” a: Pierre Daix, Le nouveau dictionarie Picasso. Robert Laffont. París, 2012. Pages 162-136, 125-131
“Le période bleue de Picasso et le suicide de Carlos Casagemas” a: Pierra Daix, Gazette des Beaux-Arts núm. 1179. París, abril 1917. Pages. 239-246
Picasso. Una biografía. Vol 1: 1881-1900, John Richardson. Alianza Editorial. Madrid, 1995. Pages. 159-175
Catàleg de l’exposició de Dedalus “Casagemas i el seu temps”. Pages. 44 i 56
“El secret més ben guardat sobre Carles Casagemas“ a: Dolors R. Roig, Bonart. Girona, 15 de juliol del 2013. Pages. 32-35
“El artista oculto detrás del mito“ a: Teresa Sesé. La Vanguardia. Barcelona, 28 d’abril del 2014. Pages. 34-35
Exhibition “Journey through the blue: La Vie” at Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Exhibition “Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: La Vie” at Cleveland Museum of Art
Exhibition “Carles Casagemas: l’artista sota el mite” at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Chronology of Pablo Picasso, historic facts, artistic context
Informatioun about Casagemas the museum library
Project by Dolors Roig: Carles Casagemas Coll. Vida i obra d’un burgès bohemi