Francesc Vilasis Capalleja (1932-) - Imagen de la Virgen

Francesc Vilasis Capalleja (1932-) - Imagen de la Virgen
Oil on canvas - Signed - 1964

Oil signed and dated
Exhibited in a carved frame

Francesc Vilasís- Capalleja entered the Escola Massana in Barcelona in October 1946. He was born in September 1932 in the ancient Villa de Gracia and he had already followed drawing lessons in the classical Llotja. Although in his family there was no artistic tradition, from a young age he showed a natural interest in drawing, and he obtained several children’s awards. 

Miquel Soldevilla was the director of the Escola Massana since 1939. This painter had specialised in the enamel technique, with which he had obtained recognition and different prizes in Europe. A meticulous and perfectionist artist, he developed a wide-ranging work which led him to create a personal technique, ideal for the execution of his precious miniatures. 

Actually, Miquel Soldevila departed from the miniaturist technique of the Geneva school, which had been consolidated in the 17th century, as well as the Limoges technique. The latter consists in applying transparent and opaque colours on top of the melting, which is spread on the metal plate in a similar way as a canvas is painted. In certain areas the Limoges white is used, as it allows the base colour to be revealed. The so-called grisaille should be placed in this technical modality: the desired subject-matter is shaped with Limoges white over a dark -almost black- blue, allowing the background to be revealed through the superimposed layers: the more layers, the greater clarity. In this way, numerous types of grey could be achieved. The richest and most decorative elements were made with gold powder or “paillons’, very fine gold or silver leafs which were covered with translucent or transparent enamel. The totality of the modelled subject matter obtained a slight relief. 

The Geneva technique consists of painting with very pure metallic oxides on an opaque, white base, very hard and resistant to the action of fire: on top of it, colours stand out in a vivid way. Because this procedure is very similar to painting on canvas, this is the system with which the enamel miniatures have been made.  

Miquel Soldevila established an amalgam of both techniques: he placed a dark background, he modelled the subject matter and added the gold and silver ‘paillons’, but at the same time he used the oxides to paint many areas in a meticulous pointillisme. 
Miquel Soldevila, at the peak of his professional activity, gave prestige to the Escola Massana by transforming it into an international centre of recognition for both the objects which were created in it and for the education that was provided in the enamel department. And from the first moment he struggled to create a broader group of disciples who could collect his techniques and apply them faithfully. This group of disciples started to come into existence in the early 1940s and it formed the basis of what was later called the Escuela de Esmalte de Barcelona. Francesc Vilasís was the youngest of this group among which se can mention Joan Gironès, Josep Brunet, Antoni Cortada, Núria Nialet... 

Francesc Vilasís spent eleven years in the Escola Massana: the nine first years he was registered in the official courses, where he obtained the best marks that could be obtained. Also, he collaborated from the first moment with his master’s team. Not only he joined the team completely, but he also belonged to the small group of disciples who collaborated closely with his master: in the school and during the long stays in different parts of Catalonia, carrying out works of significant scale. Given Vilasís young age, his dedication to an activity that fulfilled all his wishes and the friendly way in which Miquel Soldevilla treated him, the years that he spent in the Escola Massana marked him at professional level, but also from a human point of view. Not surprisingly, in his full maturity, he dedicated an exhibition to his master, an unusual gesture: “ I have always thought that I was in debt to my dear Master and eminent enameller Miquel Soldevilla i Valls. Now, after thirty-five years of full dedication and true vocation for the art of torch-fired enamel on metal, I have enough courage to dedicate him this exhibition of my works, in a simple but emotional tribute to his memory”, wrote Francesc Vilasís in the catalogue of his exhibition in the Galería Comas, in December 1982. It took eleven long years, with intense experiences, with technical and aesthetical training. Thus, he learned to draw with surprising academic perfection, he learned to paint with realistic precision, he learned to know the effect of fire, the soaked in the belief that one of the components of artistic creation is decorative magnificence, according to his master’s aesthetical belief. During the years he stayed in the Escola Massana, he started his exhibition activities -apart from his participation in the school’s collective exhibitions. In April 1951 - almost four years after making his first enamel- he exhibited some pieces in the collective exhibition of Foment Gracienc de les Arts, an entity which was commemorating the fifth anniversary of its establishment and of which Francesc Vilasís was a founding member. In this exhibition he obtained his first review: Juan Francisco Bosch, from Radio Barcelona, said: “...the very valuable contribution of the excellent enameller Francisco Vilasís, whose works, of praiseworthy perfection, deserve the most effusive praise”. An expert, like no other, in the specialty that he cultivates with extreme dignity in such a difficult task. His production is one of those which -given its perfection- no one will be be able not only to beat, but even to imitate. From the first moment, a total recognition was granted to his technical perfection. 

Long years of silent work and training followed: study trips to Paris, Limoges, Florence, Rome... Exhibitions where enamels are frequently presented together with paintings. 
An enameller who never forgot drawing nor even painting, the latter always academicist, the former opting more and more for the love of colour. The years of patience search for perfection are long, long years of impatience to reach maturity. 

In his youth, he once sent a sketch to his master Miquel Soldevilla, asking him for his opinion. Soldevilla, in a letter dated in Reus in August 1949, pointed out: “In principle, I do not see any major difficulty regarding the project you are proposing me, although this subject should first be documented: i guess the drawing you are showing me is not the consequence of any previous study from nature, but a sketch made by heart.  
I also think that -because is a static, lonely image- it should be better if all the elements, including accessories such as veils and mantles, gravitate according to their weight, without giving the impression that they are swelled by the wind. This is correct when the subject of the composition or the movement involves it, and through this influence in hanging elements it expresses a convenient circumstance, but in the case of your project, it would only lead to an inappropriate emphasis on Baroque style. 

During the hours where you don’t have to work on your enamel, you should proceed to prepare the documentation and later, to concretize the base of that documentation for good, the final project, which I would like to see before starting the plate” I think that transcribing -reading- that letter is important, because either to follow his master’s advice or for personal need, Francesc Vilasís worked and carried out his projects with precision and thoroughness, delimiting them, outlining them, without leaving anything to chance.  

Long years of work. In the catalogue of his exhibition in Barcelona’s Sala Nonell, in 1978, he wrote a long text where he explained the evolution of enamel. This text -which he later published in a separate fascicle- was in fact a consideration about the technical modalities of enamel that have appeared through the centuries. 

Without a doubt, this text, unusual in the catalogue of an individual exhibition, is due to a passion for the technical means through which the creator expresses himself. I would even say that during these long years there was a bigger concern for the technical means than for aesthetics. “ The art of enamelling on metal is marvellous, almost magical. Its main element is fire”, he said. And if Vilasís-Capalleja complained from time to time about the fact that fire sometimes plays tricks on you, he immediately confessed that thanks to fire, he, and enamellers in general, are able to create an unique beauty. 

Just like his master Miquel Soldevila, he didn’t limit himself to repeat the technique in a mechanical way: maybe Soldevila had done it so due to certain limitations, in his case it was due to his broader knowledge. Thus, he thought that the dark background of Limoges traditional technique could obtain better results if it was not uniform: cold colours could be placed in shaded areas and warm colours in light zones. In this way, when the subject-matter was modelled he would already obtain new effects, because the modelling was already nuanced. At the same time, he incorporated the chiselling and the engraving or carving of the metal which served as support. In this way, he obtained better results in the metallic reflections, in the metal’s reverberation. The result was a greater magnificence in the decorative and ornamental parts of the work’s composition. In those moments he dedicated himself to a deep and thorough study of the technique used in the Gothic period, called “basse-taille” (carved low relief), with which he made several commissions of religious nature. In this way he was reinforcing a more technical aspect, more specific to enamel, and he was stepping away from the Geneva’s manner, less technical, more pictorial. This nuance provides remarkable results and has been followed by numerous enamellers. 

But the most valuable thing in Francesc Vilasís Capalleja are not his slight technical variations: his true contribution, the thing which makes him unique and makes him enter in the history of art, to have his own page in the history of enamel, is the overcoming of enamel as miniature, as painting -according to the way in which he conceived it fifteen years ago.  

A faithful disciple of Miquel Soldevilla, for years he searched technical perfection and the decorative sense of his work.  
He could just as much show his extreme skill through a classical miniature subject-matter - a fishmonger under a slate-covered porch in a city with a Dutch atmosphere- as could be the reinterpretation of a slender Renaissance head or the combination of steel faces with lavish costumes, long hair and subtle veils. Everything was studied in a perfect composition in order to show an uneven mastery of technique and skill, of knowledge and mastery of fire. But in this moment where everything is perfect, when one starts to repeat oneself because it is difficult to surpass oneself, in the moment in which one creates his own Mannerism, Francesc Vilasís realised that enamel was not only a technique. Or rather, that enamel must not be only a technique. Because of this, in the 1976 Barcelona’s exhibition, along with his miniaturist preciosity, he started to surpass the technique, not denying it, but transforming its usage in heterodoxy; he timorously used ivory, iron in little plates... he mixed materials. This attempt finds its total assertion in his 1982 exhibition -also in Barcelona: on this occasion he presents himself not only as a good connoisseur of all the systems to make enamel, but as someone who questions what enamel had been so far: the frame in which the enamel is exhibited breaks, the pieces are irregular, they incorporate cardboard, there is a shift towards three-dimensionality...and in his last exhibition in Barcelona in 1986 he is presented as someone who confidently demolishes the concept we had of enamel so far. Now we don’t know anymore how to call the works he carries out: because the enamel, always perfect, is reducing more and more its dimensions, and the little ‘enamel’ plate becomes the organising element of a composition where contrasting materials intervene: from wood to cardboard, from fabric to iron and wire, even other small enamel pieces made by the artist himself, which are incorporated not as enamel, but as a closed element, as a found object - in the memory and recollection of oneself. 
Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja introduces himself to us as a self-assured demolisher of traditional enamel and at the same time as the self-assured creator of modern enamel. This is why he does it with a wise compensation between the old and the new (“I have never understood why -in order to be modern- it is necessary to renounce to all your academic education” he said, combining in this way antagonistic concepts. Thus, in what we still call ‘enamel’, his enamel, we find that collage acquires a critical value, when enamel is in fact a technique with a seamless surface; in his works we find the integration of poor and waste elements, whilst enamel has always been a sumptuous object, only usable in splendorous occasions. Vilasís- Capalleja has been able to tackle basic connotations of enamel and graft them with basic connotations of modernity. We are in front of works which we doubt we can still call ‘enamel’, because a very small part of them is made using this technique. However we know that we must keep on calling them enamel because not only they have been made by an enameller, but also because the small fragment made with this ancestral technique is the origin of the work, it is organising it: the small, glazed,metal plate is the heart of the piece.  

Enamels in a modern sense. In the same way that other artistic disciplines, it goes beyond the boundaries and breaks with all conventions. This is Francesc Vilasís great value: being at the origin, being the origin of a new period for enamel. 

In reaction to this last 1986 exhibition in Barcelona, I wrote: “Francesc Vilasís current exhibition is the most important step that the enamel world has taken in the last forty years: for his technical and conceptual contributions. Technically, he achieves an extreme perfection in the enamel and unique results in the colours, in the opaque colours. 
Conceptually, he tears enamel away from its dependency of painting and jewellery and it transforms it in an authentic, autonomous and independent work.” 
For all that, it is not difficult to imagine that in the limited world of enamel, his works are considered at international level, among the most significant ones. In reaction to his Brussels exhibition, in February 1979, Marie-Madeleine Arnold wrote: “ Francesc Vilasís waters, of unique fineness- long and Botticelli-like faces of virgins and young women- are many successes which remind us, and are not less good than the works of the old and modern masters. How is it possible to disagree with the beauty, the delicacy, the elegance of those miniatures which demonstrate the continuity of an artistic universe without concessions to simplicity and very close to an almost unrealistic perfection”. 

And along with words, facts: recognitions which largely qualify his work: such as being the only artist who has obtained two distinctions in Limoges - in 1975 he obtained the Medaille Ville de Limoges, and in 1984 he obtained the Prix Internationale a l’Art de l’Email Peint, during the III and VII biennials, respectively; and being invited to speak at seminars and conferences at the San Diego State University, the Japan Shippo Council in Tokyo, the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art, the German University of Kaiserslautern, in the Enamel Guild South, Wolfson Campus University of Miami, in the École Nationale des Arts Décoratives de Limoges, in the Maison des Arts in Laval (Canada).... 
Acknowledgements... Apart from what I have said so far, the technical and conceptual aspects of the enamel world that he modifies and transforms, Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja still thinks of enamel as an ornamental element -in this regard he does not disdain history. That is why he is dominated for that plastic which made of adornment its essential feature: Vienna, Secession, Klimt... Gustav Klimt, the painter of decay in the decadent Austro-Hungarian Empire, painter of the morbid symbolism, glittering player of the line and the colour stain.... Those fields of red and blue flowers, those costumes of arrhythmic geometry, crimped in gold and silver, those kisses whose eroticism is the outbreak of colour and shapes... Francesc Vilasís- Capalleja is subjugated by this sensuality in Klimt’s decoration. For him, aesthetical reasons prevail over the philosophical ones. Vienna, Klimt, enamel! Everything comes out incandescent. And everything joins the figures which the Renaissance drew better than anyone else. Enamel, which Francesc Vilasís-Capalleja has torn away from its old principles and which he has channelled towards they way of authentic creation.

Lot details
Francesc Vilasis Capalleja (1932-)
Title of artwork
Imagen de la Virgen
Oil on canvas
In very good condition
Sold with frame
6 kg
Image size
28×35 cm
Total dimensions
7×61×53 cm
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