The work of Julio González (Barcelona, 1876 – Arcueil, France, 1942) has contributed decisively to the development of contemporary sculpture. Lying fully at the intersection of the new languages that evolved in the first decades of the last century, the constructive proposals of this artist are among the most authentic expressions of the modern sensibility, laden with reason, feeling and hope.
The acquisition and donation in July 1985 of a set of 360 works (sculptures, drawings, work in precious metals, paintings and reliefs) and of part of the artist’s archive marked the starting point of the IVAM project, and has had a profound effect on the centre’s collection and exhibitions focusing on the art that best expresses the anxieties and concerns of each period. The IVAM’s collection of works by Julio González makes it a worldwide referent for those exploring the evolution of the different sensibilities converging on the field of sculpture. This magnificent representation from the artist’s legacy was reinforced with a significant selection of works by his brother Joan, from the Paris years, and by his daughter Roberta, who worked to ensure the diffusion and appreciation of her father’s work.
Born into a family of craftsmen who ran a metal workshop in the Barcelona of modernisme (art nouveau), a time of great architectural projects in the city, González learned the techniques of metalwork during his youth. However, his creative aspirations, which he shared with his brother Joan, encouraged him to broaden his academic training before moving to Paris in 1900. After his arrival in the French capital, his creative vocation was consolidated through contact with artistic circles and figures of the stature of Pablo Gargallo and Pablo Picasso.
His collaboration with the latter in the late 1920s, centred on a series of projects for metal sculptures, was crucial for González. While he showed Picasso the plastic possibilities that iron had attained through several generations of craftsmanship, the consequences were even greater in the case of the Catalan sculptor, who saw the alternative of a formal renovation in his creative practice. He dedicated himself fully to sculpture, beginning a singular career that was to produce surprising results. In the following decade, he took part in some of the most advanced exhibitions of the day, such as the international show of the Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square) movement organised by Torres-García and Michel Seuphor, which included works by artists like Mondrian, Arp, Pevsner, Kandinsky and Le Corbusier, and whose repercussion was enormous.
Julio González used the procedures of autogenous welding to create metal assemblages from rods, plates and a variety of objects, generating pieces based on the absence of solid mass and the principle of constructed sculpture. He adapted his skill at welding and forging to the new demands of an art open to the great themes and challenges which were to mark the rise of the modern spirit, faced with great tragedies that truncated the hankering after progress. With his exquisite technique, he penetrated his material to achieve highly evocative works on the basis of a combination of planes, lines and forms that complement, intersect or rival one another. In the 1930s, he made sculptures of great importance for his artistic career. These works employ a variety of themes and techniques that reflect the artist’s determination to leave us an artistic legacy projected towards both the future and the past from a specific time and place. His heads, his women, his masks and his arms maintain a fine balance between abstraction and figuration that transmits the restrained emotion proper to human nature.
In surveying the sculptural work of Julio González, it is largely possible to identify an early phase characterised by a formal analysis through planes, with cut and welded plates. Afterwards there emerges another linear form which allows him to advance in the expression of the three-dimensional and dynamic character of his figures. His third path of formal investigation is distinguished by the positive use of empty space, materialising in the effects of light and shadow obtained by the use of curved plates. Finally, we find a naturalist manner that is accentuated in his final years after his contribution to the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the International Exposition in Paris, where he exhibited La Montserrat. The work chosen by González was originally Woman in front of a Mirror, but the opinion of José Gaos, the curator of the pavilion, finally prevailed, and the sculpture presented was the one that incarnated resistance against barbarity. The first option was destined for another exhibition whose intentions were more specifically artistic, Origins and Development of International Independent Art, held that year at the Jeu de Paume in Paris, which constituted the first systematic overview of the artistic trends of the 20th century.
Another factor of variety found in the work of Julio González, which blends in with the syntactic factor, lies in the perseverance of themes like motherhood, masks, feminine and dancing figures and dreams. This persistence of themes responds to a tradition in classical sculpture that receives new formal solutions in the hands of the artist.
Julio González remains the mirror in which we see and confront ourselves when we wish to seek the most essential and complex aspects of the aesthetic experience in its most innovative and human manifestation. His investigations of the expressive and aesthetic possibilities of iron have enthroned him as the inventor of sculpture made in this metal, which has produced illustrious examples in recent decades both inside and outside Spain. The structural solutions and the emotional charge of Julio González’s works prepared the way for the imposing spatial creations of artists like Eduardo Chillida and Richard Serra.