Obiols Vié met Tàpies through the well-known Catalan poet Joan Brossa, with the three becoming close friends in the late 1940's. The trio soon became important members of Club 49, an association that gathered the cultural elite in Barcelona in the 50's and 60's. In that context, Obiols Vié bought El Dolor de Brunhilda directly from Tàpies in the early 1950's. Due to financial limitations at that time, he could not pay the whole price at once and so Tàpies would knock at his door for the next ten months to get his monthly payment of 500 pesetas from his friend.
El Dolor de Brunhilda dates from a very specific and exciting moment of Tàpies’ career. It was painted in 1950, only a few short years after he abandoned his legal studies to fully pursue his art,and just as he was starting to be recognised as an important and original young talent.
Born into a family of active Catalan nationalists, Tàpies was exposed to these ideas from a young age. He discovered contemporary art on his own terms through reproductions in the publication D’ací i d’alla, and spent time pursuing art, music and philosophical ideas while convalescing from a lung condition. He commenced his legal studies in 1944, but continued to pursue art in his free time, experiencing some instruction but remaining largely self-taught, before making a more committed switch to his creative endeavours three years later.
In 1948, Tàpies was involved in the founding of an avant-garde art collective, Dau al Set. The name refers to the seventh face of thedice, giving a clear indication that this was a movement steeped in understanding of the Dada and Surrealism movements. The group was created as a reaction to the conservative political climate in Spain; and their ambition was to re-invigorate artistic counter-culture. At this time, from 1948 until the year of the painting, 1950, Tàpies’ art reflected this interest in, and preoccupation with Surrealism, imbued as it was with a sense of the mystical, the dream-like and the uncertain.
He was particularly concerned with mysticism and a sense of moving from magic and mystery towards the possibilities of inner exploration. As a result, this period has been termed his ‘magic period.’ As celebrated Catalan writer Pere Gimferrer points out, this phase in Tàpies’ work can also be characterised by a preoccupation with scenography, with a strong sense of the picture plane structured visually like a stage set, and perspective joyfully challenged. This can be seen so clearly in El Dolor de Brunhilda, with its bold, graphic shapes of doorways, alcoves, recesses and stage wings.
As an early work, El Dolor de Brunhilda, does not obviously fit visually with the later works we so strongly associate with the name Tàpies, yet it does engage with key themes and devices that were to become emblematic of his work, for example, the use of the colour red, the forming of bold, graphic lines and shapes, and themes of loneliness, silence, pain, suffering and contemplation. The title translates to ‘the pain of Brunhilda,’ and refers to the Norse myth in which Brunhilda is cruelly deceived and betrayed by her lover; she exacts her revenge and condemns him to death, yet when he is killed at her instruction, she is overcome with grief and commits suicide to allow herself to be reunited with him in death.
1950, the year of the painting, becomes a key moment in Tàpies’ rapidly accelerating career. In it he holds his first solo exhibition in Barcelona, in which this painting is included, and the whole of which is accompanied by a Dau al Set special publication. It is also the year that he receives a grant from the French government which allows him to live for a few months in Paris. In hindsight it is something of a turning point, as only a few short years later, by 1953, he has abandoned surrealist figuration and abstraction completely to work on the themes and techniques that were to become his mature approach –heavily built-up surfaces incised and scratched with letters, number, signs and symbols. His career and reputation go from strength to strength as his work is shown and acquired by major international museums, and he is awarded the prestigious Velázquez prize, as well as being made 1st Marquess of Tàpies.
Throughout this illustrious and productive career, Tàpies always followed his ownsense, that for me, art is a mechanism, a system that makes it possible to change the spectator’s way of looking and to bring him or her closer to a state of contemplation of reality at its deepest level,” and so the artist is like the mystic: each one acts in his own way but their common purpose is to achieve the inner illumination that enables them to perceive the depths of reality.” His style and subject may change, but this definite intention is already present fully formed and successfully delivered in 1950, and El Dolor de Brunhilda.
Manuel Borja-Villel, Director of Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum and previously Director of the Fundacio Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, says of Tàpies,“you cannot understand Spanish art and culture without his presence.” He is a central figure to the development of Spanish culture, and the wider world of contemporary art, and so the auction of this painting is an exciting opportunity for a collector to engage with this towering contemporary figure at a key formative moment in his career, through a striking and important work.