AGAPITO CASAS ABARCA
Agapito Casas Abarca, born in Barcelona in 1874, was defined by a childhood and a family life steeped in the arts. Both of his uncles, Venanci and Agapit, were nationally famous sculptors, and Abarca’s parents introduced him and his brother to painting from infancy. However, perhaps the greatest influence on the young artist’s future career and subject matter would be his marriage to Dolores Robert in 1894. While the young couple and their four children would live in Barcelona, they would make increasingly frequent trips to Dolores’ family home in Sitges, a beautiful coastal town in Catalonia well-known for inspiring countless artists. The house, known as La Fragata, was designed in modernist style by Gaudi’s contemporary, the architect Salvador Viñals, and its gardens and arcades provided Abarca with ample subject matter.
The Barcelona of the early 20th century was a vibrant centre of the arts; a progressive bastion of art nouveau and modernism within a still archaic Spain. This milieu offered Abarca the opportunity to exhibit frequently with other young artists. From the mid 1890s his preferred subject matter had become apparent, Catalan landscapes, the neighbourhoods of Barcelona, and of course the town of Sitges. Whether in pastoral or urban scenes, the artist’s works always focused on the interplay of bold light and shadow, creating a luminous atmosphere through the use of highly saturated colours. As an artist, Abarca was known widely in Barcelona, exhibiting not only at international shows, but frequently contributing works to raise money for schools and parks in deprived neighbourhoods.
His success in Barcelona gained Abarca national recognition, his work sought by collectors across Europe for its ability to subvert the traditional vistas of Spain while still retaining its sunlit beauty. His works in and around Sitges remain his most iconic, the artist’s intimate knowledge of the town charting an intensely personal view of its gardens across 70 years of paintings. Describing his relationship with the town at Abarca’s solo exhibition in 1928, the arts newspaper, La Esfera, captured the unique quality of the artist’s approach:
“Abarca’s series of paintings about Sitges give us a new vision of the white, seafaring Sitges which is presented to its visitors. The artist shows another Sitges, mountainous, with incomparable greys, ochres, and delicate greenery; it is an indoor Sitges, with patios and shady gardens, orchards with warm gilded silhouettes, the sun catching its characteristic buildings. A hidden Sitges”.