Artists in Canada
Vilallonga, Jesús Carlos de
De Vilallonga, Jesús Carlos
Vilallonga, Jesús Carles de
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Painting; Mural painting and decoration; Mosaic
Edmonton Art Gallery - Library
University of British Columbia - Fine Arts Library
Winnipeg Art Gallery - Clara Lander Library
National Gallery of Canada - Library and Archives / Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
Art Gallery of Ontario - Edward P. Taylor Research Library and Archives
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - Library
Vancouver Art Gallery - Library
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A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (Hide)
VILALLONGA, Jesús Carles de
Born: 10 March 1927, Santa Coloma de Farners, Catalonia, Spain
Painter, muralist, sculptor and graphic artist of imaginary subjects, Jesús Carles Isidre de Vilallonga de Pares i Rosell i Planas de Farners was born in Santa Coloma de Farners, Catalonia, Spain, the fourth of eight children. His father, Salvador de Vilallonga was an agricultural landlord and amateur painter. As the family home was a meeting place for painters and sculptors, Vilallonga was introduced to the world of art at a young age. Despite the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Vilallonga continued his studies at the local Catalan school and in 1938, at the age of eleven, won first prize for painting. In the spring of 1939, following the death of his father and the war's end, Vilallonga moved with his mother and siblings to Girona, where he attended the Girona Institute and took his first drawing lessons from the painter Orihuel. From 1941 to 1944, he attended boarding school and following graduation, he studied art with local watercolourist, Roca Delpech. Between 1945 and 1948, honouring his family's wishes, he studied engineering at the National Institute of Civil Engineering in Madrid. At the same time, he continued to paint and in 1947, exhibited twenty watercolours at his first solo exhibition at the Busquet Bookstore in Girona.
Between 1948 and 1950, Vilallonga studied architecture at the University of Barcelona and took drawing classes at the Valls Academy with the painter Ramon Rogent (1920-1958). In 1949, he decided to become a painter and attended the Sant Jordi School of Fine Art in Barcelona, in addition to painting, he also studied fresco painting and other techniques. In 1949, he designed and decorated a new wing for the Sol I Neu Hotel at La Molina in the Pyrenees, and from 1949-50, he did military service. In the summer of 1952, he painted frescoes on the wall of the apse Virgende las Nieves at Super Molina, and in the same year he met Jordi Bonet, another Catalonian born artist who would immigrate to Canada in 1954. In the fall of 1952, he traveled to Paris to enrol at the École des Beaux-Arts where he studied with Marcel Gromaire (1892-1971) among others. In 1953, he won the first national prize for watercolour in the spring exhibition held at the Palau de la Virreina, Barcelona.
With an invitation in 1954 to decorate a Spanish restaurant in Montreal, Vilallonga travelled to Canada - discovering on his arrival that the restaurant had not yet been built. Prolonging his North American sojourn into 1955, he stayed for three months with a brother in Philadelphia and painted portraits. Returning to Montreal, he painted watercolours of Westmount houses that he often succeeded in selling to their owners. Through the painter Giorgio di Carlo, he became acquainted with the Montreal avant-garde who gathered at the Café L'Échouerie where he met other young artists such as Robert Roussil, Armand Vaillancourt, Jean-Paul Mousseau and Guido Molinari. To help make ends meet, Vilallonga also worked as a cabaret singer, enrolling in the musician's union under the name of Nino de San Martin.
In 1956, Vilallonga designed the costumes and scenery for the ballet La Llamada for the National Ballet of Canada and during this time made several appearances as a singer-guitarist on Montreal television. He continued to paint watercolours of houses, historic buildings, and madonnas, and exhibited his work at the Agnes Lefort Gallery. In the summer, he returned to Spain and into the early months of 1957, painted murals in the Quintana Church, Orista, Catalonia, and in the dining room of the Hotel Roger de Flor, Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava.
In the autumn of 1957, Vilallonga returned to Montreal, residing with a friend whose apartment was beside the Dominion Gallery on Sherbrooke Street. In the early months of 1958, he painted a mural in the Carmen Restaurant on Stanley Street and met Dr. Max Stern, the prestigious dealer and owner of the Dominion Gallery. Scouting for new talent and enchanted with Vilallonga's painting, Stern purchased twenty of Vilallonga's paintings and offered him an exclusive Canadian contract that would continue until Stern's death in 1987.
In the invitation for Vilallonga's first exhibition at the Dominion Gallery in March 1959, Stern voiced his confidence in Vilallonga's talent, "In my opinion, J.C. Vilallonga is one of the most promising artists in Canada today." Vilallonga exhibited works with a wide range of themes that included Mediterranean landscapes, Montreal street scenes, clowns, portraits of friends, still life and fantasy subjects. In his poetic chronicles of everyday life, works such as 6 P.M., 1958, (purchased from this exhibition by the Musée du Québec), were rendered with a fantasy/folk sensibility. As Luis de Moura Sobral writes in his book, Vilallonga - Cloister of Dreams, "Finally, the painter was progressively more receptive to a distinctly Surrealist universe of dreams, undefined atmospheres, juxtapositions of distinct realities, the intrusion of the fantastic into everyday life and the unpredictable." The show was a great success; of the forty-eight paintings, forty sold, and fourteen before the opening. Reviewing the exhibition in The Gazette, Dorothy Pfeiffer wrote, "His art is essentially decorative in quality but it also is overlain with haunting and lyrical tenderness."
After the 1959 Dominion Gallery exhibition, Vilallonga experimented with cubic forms and compositions that verged on abstraction, but concluded that he preferred figurative expression. In the early 1960s, the artist temporarily abandoned urban landscapes and situated figures in super-imposed cubist constructions with dark overtones that evoked the bleakness of contemporary society. For his 1963 exhibition at the Dominion Gallery, Pfeiffer noted, "As a sometimes heavy-handed satirist Vilallonga excels, especially in such a painting as The Community which depicted macabre, vacant-eyed pates peeping over the rims of accordion-pleated stone compartments. Actually the word 'macabre' might be truthfully applied to Vilallonga's art in general."
In some work of the 1960s, Vilallonga embellished the surfaces surrounding the figures with richly coloured and patterned designs inspired by Hispanic ceramic tile and Quebec quilts that the artist collected. He also began to paint allegorical scenes situated in a landscape with figures and beasts that recalled those of Marino Marini. In the Comédie humaine series of paintings, he assembled a frieze of characters representing a variety of personality traits or personifications of morals. The Comédie humaine also embodied a stylistic innovation that would be explored further in work of the 1970s, where, as in a collage, the artist superimposed a network of coloured lines and geometric forms over the figures.
At the end of the 1960s, Vilallonga settled permanently in Spain, dividing his time between Barcelona and his house at Cadaqués, an old fishing village on the Mediterranean coast, and spending only a few months of every year in Montreal. In the 1970s, the artist abandoned the thick impasto of his work in oil and began to work increasingly with egg tempera paint, creating clean lines and smooth surfaces that revealed the colourful complexity of his compositions. The sources and themes of Vilallonga's work became increasingly multifaceted - from Catalan Romanesque painting to Jungian symbols to create archetypal figures expressing universal situations or sentiments. In Argonauta, 1988, Vilallonga explored the iconography of the angel or winged messenger, creating a female angel with rockets on her back instead of wings. As Sobral writes, "for the artist [it] is the only possible celestial being in an age of satellites and interplanetary voyages." Throughout Vilallonga's exploration of mythic iconography, the most constant image is that of the female, she is mother earth, Venus, the director of the grand theatre of the world, a priestess and a guardian angel. Vilallonga also explored the animal world using horses, bulls, birds, and elephants to produce a vast menagerie of mythical beasts. In contrast, in Hommage à Richard Meier, 1989, a striding female nude, her body a collage of colours and textures, carries a model of one of Meier's buildings in one hand and wears another in her hair, an inventive personification of contemporary architecture. Vilallonga's efforts to increase his European reputation were manifest in solo exhibitions in 1973 in Hamburg, Berlin, and Rome, and in 1974, in Vienna, but it was the exhibition at the Galeria Marques in Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain that launched his work and secured his place in the history of 20th century Catalan art.
In the early 1980s, Vilallonga embarked on his most ambitious work, Imaginary Portrait of 24 Universal Geniuses of Today, 1980-81. Working on a large canvas, 2.60 x 4.6 metres, he assembled a group of artists, actors, dancers, writers and scientists whose work he felt had marked the 20th century. Recalling a medieval triptych with its division of the surface into three areas, Vilallonga assembled a group of fourteen men on the left, a silhouette of a dancer and a female (Bette Davis) figure/tower in the centre, and a group of three women on the right. Richly painted with a collage-like surface that recalls Byzantine mosaics, it is Vilallonga's personal pantheon of 20th century western culture. In addition to the painting itself, the artist also produced serigraphs, a lithograph, a wooden panel, a painting with collaged photographs of each person's head, and numerous drawings of the individual figures. First exhibited in 1981 in Girona, Spain, it also traveled to Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid, terminating its tour in Montreal at the Dominion Gallery in 1983. In 2005, it was acquired by Concordia University, Montreal.
In 1986, in honour of their long association, the Dominion Gallery hosted a large exhibition of Vilallonga's work that continued to impress and attract positive response in the press. Writing in The Gazette, Lawrence Sabbath enthused, "If flair, élan, and a natural talent for creating stage settings, for dazzling the eye with an endless array of harlequinades and pleasantly fantastical charades…then Vilallonga is the magician of pyrotechnical displays."
Although Vilallonga had produced etchings and serigraphs since the early 1970s, in the 1980s, his production increased. In the series of etchings such as Les phases de Vénus, 1987, Mes Québecoises, 1988, Série classique, 1989, Vilallonga produced images of stylized female figures and portraits that personified places and mythic stories.
In the early 1990s, Vilallonga explored the realm of sculpture using the female nude as his subject. Early works such as Katherine and Marissa were made of stucco and cement with the method of direct molding. In 1992, he studied with the American sculptor Rodger Mack at Syracuse University in New York, and there investigated the lost-wax process, and casting in bronze. Works such as Salvana, 1992, a head of his daughter, and Maternity on Wheels, 1993, a nude mother figure presenting her child in front of her, confirmed his versatility in three dimensions. The death of the artist's mother in 1993 also inspired a series of paintings that nostalgically reflected on the mother-child relationship. In Ma Mère et moi, 1991, Mother Earth's green hair sweeps under her floating nude body and becomes the foliage for a forest of trees.
Throughout his long and prolific career as an artist, Vilallonga has exhibited widely nationally and internationally.
Selected Public Collections
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Artist's Documentation File, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S.
MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and