Off and on throughout their long careers as two of Spain’s most successful figurative painters, Josep and Ramon Moscardó have shared a classroom, a studio, and a van. And, being twins, they have always shared a birthday. But while their work is often similar in style and subject matter – informed by the bold, graphic colourism of the Post-impressionists, and the holiday atmosphere of their native Catalonia – the brothers are no double act. The romance, joie-de-vivre and even, flat-out dazzle of the Mediterranean are ever present in their work, but they express this in rather different ways.
Josep trained at Barcelona’s Escuela de Bellas Artes de Sant Jordi, and the Escuela de Llotja, alongside his brother. He now works out of a studio in Cadaqués and paints works marked by his command of pure colour and panoramic perspective. His views often extend a birdlike – in some cases, even godlike – eye over the coves and marinas of this former fishing village, now famous resort town. Fascinated by the possibilities of realism, he is a master at selective perspective, often combining a dizzying focal point with partial cropping to suggest the kinetic presence of people, even if he has not actually included figures, such as the speeding Citröen CV in Approaching Cadaqués. He also captures a hive like energy in his views of the local marina merely by exploiting the repetition of the old town’s facades that are tightly arranged almost to the water’s edge and reflected in serried ranks by the calm blue waters of the bay, as in Staring at the Blue. And like all true inheritors of Post-Impressionism, Josep understands the power of shadows, that their forms, tones, and even relationship within a composition can express variously atmosphere, time of day or level of human activity.
In Santa Maria del Mar, his oblique view of the church, a masterpiece of the Catalan Gothic, is bathed in strong afternoon sunlight and confronts the gaily painted, but shallow blocks of flats and shops that mark this trendy Barcelona neighbourhood. The new buildings appear to almost shrink before the church’s towering façade and even the café patrons seem caught in the gaze of its magnificent rose window. Finally, Josep’s style is distinguished by his bold, rich brushwork, which produces effects ranging from the fondant richness of Santa Maria’s sunbaked porch, to the ‘shimmer’ that enhances the sweeping scope of his marina views and belies the precision that underpins these works.
If Josep’s style is typified by this balance between the formal and the sensual, Ramon’s style, although just as sensual, appears on the other hand to be more instinctive, and arguably more romantic in focus. His pictures express a keen sense of the anecdotal, and capture the subtle details that make memorable the little everyday events taking place all around us.
Ramon also uses perspective to masterful effect. But unlike his brother’s panoramic approach, his cityscapes and interiors are tightly observed and focus on whatever street, shop or café he spots the modest poetry of the everyday. He builds his compositions geometrically, and the oblique angles of so many of his scenes suggest a sense of the theatrical. But he avoids the artificial or banal through his acute observation of the tiny gestures and postures we adopt to communicate the unsaid. These small details lend his stylised, attenuated figures personality and wit, but also weave a light narrative throughout many of his pictures. The man watching the haughty trajectory of an animal leaving an otherwiseempty bar in Ramon’s Just a Cat illustrates this perfectly. But it’s also worth noting the pose of the couple walking along the Left Bank, which evokes the awkward tendresses of real people. Equally, Ramon grasps that how someone looks up from a newspaper when distracted by something fleeting (like a young girl on a bike), differs from how they look up when simply lost in thought, as well as the fact that these two gestures can have a different impact on other people.
This sense of the anecdotal, how figures react and interact within certain settings is further enhanced by Ramon’s taste for the atmospheric, especially when it’s altered by the shifting shadows of twilight or suddenly illuminated by electric light. In Silhouettes, Barcelona, deeply shadowed foreground figures framed by a proscenium of umbrellas pines look out upon the dazzling lights of the city in hushed anticipation of the evening ahead.
Josep and Ramon Moscardó have distinct styles and strengths as painters, but they undeniably share a natural pictorial eye and a true zest for the people and places they capture in their glowingly optimistic pictures. Since 1978, they have exhibited exclusively with Sala Parés, one of the oldest privately owned commercial galleries in the world, and the first ever in Spain. Since 1925, the gallery has been owned by the Maragall Family and for decades Messum’s has enjoyed a close professional friendship with its current director, Joan Anton Maragall. This exhibition of Ramon and Josep Moscardó’s up-beat, boldly graphic oils continues the partnership that Ton Maragall and David Messum entered into years ago to keep bringing the ‘Spirit of Barcelona’ to London.