HILARIÓN BRUGAROLAS (1901-1996)
His life, his work
Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Barcelone – Le port
Barcelone – Las Ramblas
Les Cabannes – Ariège
The exile in France (1939-1955)
Once the war ended in February 1939, the unity to which Hilarión belonged retreated to France, where the wounded received first aid at the Tour de Carol. His battalion was sent to the Septfonds concentration camp, close to Montauban. His living conditions were far from improving and deteriorated facing the imminent danger of World War II.
During the German occupation in France, Brugarolas joined the resistance movements under the command of Colonel Maury in the scrublands of Picaussel. Arrested by the German police for being a Spanish guerilla, he was deported and sent to serve as labour in the Foreign Workers Group. He was also imprisoned in a concentration camp, but managed to escape with one of his comrades and returned to France after a long and adventurous journey.
At the end of World War II, he settled in Tarascon-sur-Ariège, where he worked as a painter in a factory. He then moved to Aston-sur-Ariège, where he worked as a cook in a power station. It was only in 1947, in Cabanas, that he managed to accomplish all the administrative formalities and paperwork to enable his wife and daughter, still in Spain at the time, to settle in France. After nine years of separation, their second child, Elíseo, was born.
After sixteen years of exile, the Brugarolas couple moved to Toulouse, attracted by the bigger opportunities offered by the capital of the Haute Garonne. He soon found a job at the Fournier factory as a tire recycler. This brought him financial stability and left him time to join associations of amateur painters that organized exhibitions in Southern France. Over time, Brugarolas acquired a leader status becoming a member of the Occitans Méridionaux association and then of the Indépendants association.
In parallel to this growing activity, his house was transformed into an improvised school workshop where students trained themselves and followed the courses of this accomplished and experimented painter. One of his disciples, Rodolfo Fauria-Gort, also exiled from the Spanish War, followed his classes for years until standing on his own two feet. Together with Fauria-Gort and Max Wallet, he formed a group named ORIÓN, organizing a number of exhibitions throughout the region.
In 1961, he presented his paintings for the first time individually. Up until then, he had only presented his work as a member of a collective group. However, the paintings were not sufficiently numerous and only partially reflected the multiple facets of his talent. It was only during an exhibition in 1974 in the art Gallery L’Atelier de Toulouse that large selections of his oil and watercolour paintings were gathered for the first time. The diversity of his paintings, alternating marine, landscapes, streets, bulls, flowers, and still lifes revealed an artist using different genres and driven by endless research and technical concern.
During the seventies and eighties, Brugarolas increased the number of paintings and exhibitions and took part with other painters, in several regional and national shows. He also organised many individual exhibitions and won several awards for the combination of his work. These honors marked his artistic career and his work was officially recognized during several tributes organized in the Midi-Pyrenees Region.
Hilarión Brugarolas was a painter who was recognizable at a first glance by the way he arranged his artwork, placed the material and filled the surface. His painting knife was an instrument he handled with skill and firmness giving to all his work a very personal touch and style. All the themes he addressed using this technique were illustrated with great fluidity. The paintings appeared as spontaneous, at times uneven, and were built around dissimilar, short, elongated, thin or thick features. They concealed a great command acquired over the years.
The technical skills illustrated in his work highlighted his innate sense of colour and light. Besides the thick and blunt paste he used in his paintings, bringing out colour and shadows, he was also keen on vivid colours and the brightness of the sky. His work used shadows and subtle light reflections. It also scattered the compositions and juxtaposed different tone colours, diluting them at times, in order to obtain a quality and effective rendering. He excelled in creating colourful sensations such as in beautiful landscapes or in the subtle and nuanced veil covering a vase of flowers.
His paintings do not follow the trends, movements and schools that he came across throughout his long life. This was not out of ignorance but merely because his passion for painting developed his creativity for the artistic movement that arose in the twentieth century. Characterized at times as an emotional artist, he was keen on impressionism and dilution of forms. The greatness of his paintings are characterized by colour dominance, becoming itself an expressive and independent criteria. His realistic artworks are based on impressionism, driven by a slight diction, a dimmed vivid palette that is capable of condensing the essence of reality and overcoming valuable details.
Throughout his life, Brugarolas explored the implicit possibilities in various subjects. He brought a personal touch to diverse themes such as landscapes, nudes, still lifes and flower bouquets. His work did not follow a distinctive progression filled with specific periods but it illustrated instead a combination of academic and experimental art by reflecting the topics and places he describes. Nevertheless, the pictorial personality and material always work simultaneously and serve to awaken shapes and colours that bring about the emotion in his paintings. The themes addressed fit into the academic tradition and reflect his passion for classical painting even though his technique resolutely focused on wide-ranging material giving its compositions a great touch of sensuality, freshness and modernity.
Brugarolas’ landscapes are the most emblematic pictorial representations of all his work. His intention was not to duplicate the reality but to rediscover and recreate the landscape through brushstrokes deviating from naturalism by drawing them closer to impressionism giving them the possibility to deepen their ultimate meaning using vast perspectives and a poetic inspiration. The views and emotions of Brugarolas revealed his clear vision and peaceful expression, animated by inner reflection rather than a desire to reproduce. He renounced to naturalist perceptions in his landscapes, opting for a more jubilant and spiritual restitution of these landscapes. He claimed that painters do not have to copy nature but instead understand it and replicate it using their emotions and techniques. Brugarolas’ work demonstrates that the most important criteria was to wisely take into account the correct theme, frame and perspective and choose the right light, perspective, colour and volume. The rich impasto and colour conception was accompanied by a sunlight that moderated colours and forms.
Brugarolas was fascinated by outdoor painting and went to the seafront or the foot of the mountains with his equipment to find scenic spots. His work demonstrated the desire he had to share nature’s grand performance. The landscapes becoming the object and subject of the painting revealed a realistic interpretation of the grandness and silence of nature and humankind, without its voices or its inhabitants. His vision was concerned about always reflecting the spectacle of life, continuously bringing a touch of understanding, tenderness and even connection with his characters.
Some of the paintings also illustrated arid landscapes under stormy skies in an intense and fanciful expressive atmosphere, radically opposed to the peaceful feeling characterized in some of his quiet and romantic landscapes in tones of green and wild olive trees.
Brugarolas who spent many years in the Camargue region was a lover of the sun and blue skies of southern France, displayed in many of his paintings. The bulls, horses, men and landscapes of this beautiful region were represented, using a symphony of light and colour, far from the usual traditional images. The bulls he illustrated, using shades of white to give a feeling of clarity, brightness and freshness, appeared to glow from the haze of the muddy lands. The olive trees, the blooming almond trees and the chiseled vineyards illustrated all the benefits of the Mediterranean sunshine.
The magnificent marine landscapes represented his finest landscape works. They illustrated images of the sea, the waves colliding against the rocks at dawn or the shimmering seafront during the gleaming sunset. His style of naturalism was depicted with accuracy and skill, giving movements to the painting and combining colours (dark green, purple and ocher) with light variations on the marine waves. The beaches, rocks and dunes filled up the artist’s marine representations and were sometimes livened up by a small boat stranded on the beach or a small house filled with memories. The sea was a recurring theme in his work. Its various conditions and movements were analyzed by the painter and showed his interest that went beyond mere representation and reflected a more intimate relationship.
Brugarolas did not often illustrate concentration camps but when he did he revealed humankind’s frailness. The tragic fate of the deportees, stripped from their roots and families, depicted anxiety, fear, pessimism and melancholy. The silhouettes of the characters in his remarkable set of work on the Nazi concentration camps illustrated his own experience and revealed cold and skeletal bodies. These men and women with bulging eyes appeared petrified by their dramatic and shocking fate. There was no brutality in his paintings but rather a touch of clarity which revealed a mysterious and immaterial emotion with shadows and reflections, belonging to a distant past but still alive in the artist’s memory. The illustrations send a hint of remorse for these forgotten stories and renew tragic emotions that illustrate a moving realism and expressionist painting.
Brugarolas’ idea on still life and flower paintings was to capture the reality as closely as possible.
His still lifes, assembled in a Cezanne-style and colourful disposition, depicted apples, grapes, pears and pomegranates in bowls beside bottles or glasses, sometimes with a backdrop of Zurbaranesque tissues. The lyrical vitality of these assortments of fruits and objects, placed by chance, incite to examine the various components of this universe.
The flowers belonged to two categories, those that illustrated excessive naturalism and those that evoked impressionism focusing on the skills rather than duplicating a simple copy of reality. Rich in tone, they revealed the artist’s colourful inspiration and suggested a Van Gogh style. They illustrated bouquets of lilac, mimosa, daisy, lily, and a few dahlias flowers. The stems were soft in colours and the petals were positioned towards the light creating a lively and bright atmosphere. The flowers were cut and grouped into delicate bouquets illustrating in their composition a domesticated nature with a lyrical touch.
Brugarolas was always open to suggestions and built his work around different thematic references to illustrate various subjects and genres which enabled him to interpret different styles. His female nudes were drawn with generous, voluptuous curves and accurate features. The outpouring colours were enhanced by a shimmering background. The beauty of these representations lied in the pose adopted by the models that were difficult to transcribe. The bullfighting paintings represented symbolic value, mystery and drama, and illustrated the painter’s will to create new representations. The red and black colour palette used in his works characterized this iconography. The bullfights, the parties, and the attitude adopted by the man and bull, fighting in the arena, suggested a tragic feeling and tone.
To sum up the artist’s bulk of work, it is important to focus on the first impressions conveyed by his paintings. Brugarolas never claimed, except occasionally, to convey ideological messages. His paintings were driven by intuition, by the pleasure of observation and the love of colour and visual experiences. His skills, his determination to do well, to achieve technical perfection enabling him to idealize the essence of humankind and objects were often represented in his paintings. His artistic career illustrated an undeniable maturity in terms of creativity and a dense and consistent work.