Exhibition “Figuration and essence”.

Exhibition “Figuration and essence”.

The Gustavo de Maeztu Museum presents the exhibition “Figuration and essence” by the artist Javier Ciga

The Gustavo de Maeztu Museum presents the exhibition “Figuration and essence” by the artist Javier Ciga, the greatest exponent of Naturalism in Navarrese painting.

From 5 July to 27 October 2024, the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum is holding an exhibition in the temporary exhibition hall devoted to the work of Javier Ciga Echandi, one of the leading exponents of Naturalism in Navarrese painting in the first half of the 20th century.

The exhibition, curated by Pello Fernández Oyaregui, president of the Ciga Foundation, proposes a reflection on the concepts of figuration and essence that define his work. At the same time, it is an encounter between the two great artists, Gustavo de Maeztu and Javier Ciga, who shared a period and the same pictorial universe. Both exhibited in Parisian salons and coincided in the National Exhibitions of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1915 and 1917. Likewise, in commemoration of the fifth centenary of the birth of Fray Diego de Estella, Ciga’s portrait of this egregious figure is presented as the protagonist of this exhibition, in the competition organised by the Estella-Lizarra Town Council in 1924, with which he won first prize.

Ciga’s work is rooted in Romanticism and Realism, from the former he took his love of the land and the people who inspired his work, from the latter his ideal of capturing reality and reaching perfection, overcoming academicism. His painting, based on technical rigour and a well-learned craft, transcends to a Painting with capital letters, balanced, serene, without stridency, where with unequalled mastery he paints practically all genres and techniques. From his stay in Paris he would incorporate the new uses, although Ciga consciously remained faithful to his aesthetic ideal linked to realistic perfection and to the great values of painting.

In addition to his facet as a painter, he was also a teacher, as a master of masters, and his influence was to be felt by the next generation of painters. For more than forty years, like a Parisian atelier, the Ciga Academy was a living centre, where our painter, with great professionalism and affection, transmitted to his students his enormous knowledge, but above all, he initiated them in the ability to be enthusiastic through Painting and Art with capital letters.

In terms of themes, we could say that Ciga is a painter of a wide spectrum who dealt with very diverse genres: portrait, ethnographic and genre painting, landscape, still life, religious painting, nudes and historical, allegorical, symbolic, etc. themes. In terms of techniques: oil, drawing (pencil, charcoal, gouache), watercolour and poster.

The exhibition at the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum is divided into five thematic blocks.

The first is entitled “Academy Drawings (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando and Social Realism. Madrid period 1909-1911)” Through classical statuary, Ciga learned the proportions of the human body and absolute mastery of drawing, as well as the study of perspective, colour and pictorial techniques, without falling into academicism. On the other hand, he interpreted this crude social reality by echoing it, taking a stand for the underprivileged. Street children, illiteracy, drunks, the world of the underworld and the sordidness of the poorest neighbourhoods were the subjects of his painting, thus participating in that pictorial current we call Social Realism, so much in vogue at that time, which was a trait of absolute modernity.

In the second block we find “Landscapes of Paris (1912-1914)” These works constitute one of the most beautiful and original experiences of his pictorial work. They are characterised by the treatment of that sifted, greyish, suggestive, misty, diffused light. Ciga, like his Impressionist predecessors, Monet, Sisley and Pisarro, made the Seine the protagonist of his paintings in order to capture the effect of atmospheric variations in the reflections of the water, creating a blurred haze where water, sky and atmosphere merge. He used a vibrant, fragmented, undone, gestural brushstroke which, in the case of Nocturne on the Seine, is somewhere between Fauvism and abstraction.

The third thematic block is “Portraits” The portrait in Ciga’s work, with a post-romantic influence, is characterised by its neutral but nuanced backgrounds, generally in brownish colours, where the artist concentrates all his attention on the physical and psychological features of the sitter, the light is used to highlight the face and hands, and emphasis is placed on a deep gaze that connects with the viewer. He combines, on the one hand, the natural fidelity and dignity of the sitter and, on the other hand, the psychological capture. Ciga does not stop at the physical façade, but delves into the interior of the human being and reflects his soul

This genre was very dear to him, both independently and as a complement to other genres. Special mention should be made of the landscape of Baztan, where he found that locus or lurra, the frame of reference of his painting, with that bucolic style that defines him; all of this seasoned with that sensation of humidity, sifted, enveloping and suggestive light, or the raging colours of the Baztan autumn.

Finally, the fifth thematic block is “Ethnographic painting”, in which Ciga depicts life in all its complexity: work, leisure, pilgrimages, love idylls, experiences in the square, going to mass, funeral rites, religious emotion, or the ethnic types with their features and signs of identity of that Basque society and culture. In this genre, he captured the Basque essence of Navarre with emotion and feeling. In short, he transcended the costumbrista scene to delve into and capture the essence of this people.

Ciga can be described as the master of serene painting, without pomposity or stridency. He avoids artifice and easy complication. His Painting of Truth will not remain in appearance, but will go to the deepest interior. In his ethnographic painting, he captured the Basque essence of Navarre with emotion and feeling. In his work, behind the simple appearance, there is always a conceptually rich beyond. Being shapes and permeates his work, giving it an existentialist character that leads us to classify his painting as transcendent or metaphysical realism, in its literal meaning of the term. Above all, Javier Ciga was a painter of essences and truths and an interpreter of the soul and society of his time.

Javier Ciga Echandi (Pamplona, 1877-1960)

He was linked to Baztan both pictorially and through his family ties, as he painted its landscape, types and customs time and again.

In 1892 he began his training at the Pamplona School of Arts and Crafts. Between 1908 and 1920 he produced six posters of San Fermín, renewing this technique and endowing it with pictorial values. Between 1909 and 1911 he continued his training in Madrid at the San Fernando Academy and studied with the famous professors and artists Garnelo and Moreno Carbonero, obtaining the title of professor, with five first-class diplomas and a gold medal.

Between 1912 and 1914 he began his Parisian period, incorporating the new uses and techniques of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Constructivism, but always within realistic perfection. In addition to his visits to the Louvre, Ciga trained as a free pupil at the most important academies: Julian, where he was taught by the very famous master Jean Paul Laurens, Grand Chaumiére and Colarossi. The most important event was his inclusion in the Spring Salon in 1914 with his painting The Elizondo Market and, consequently, his recognition as a member of the Grand Salon in Paris. The outbreak of the First World War cut short his Parisian training and forced him to return to Pamplona.

Between 1915 and 1936, he began his period of maturity. He took part in the National Exhibitions of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1915 and 1917, and for the latter he presented his other great masterpiece, “A Viaticum in Baztan”. After his Parisian triumph, he was at the height of his career, becoming a pictorial reference in Navarrese painting in the first half of the 20th century.

Another important aspect of his life was his political commitment. Faithful to his nationalist ideology, he was a defender of the Basque language and culture. Between 1920-1923 and 1930-1931, he was a councillor on Pamplona City Council for the Basque Nationalist Party to which he was affiliated. In the middle of the Civil War he was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for a year and a half. As a result, his creative process was cut short, which, together with the physical problems of old age, had a negative influence on his last period from 1939 to 1960, in which he repeated the aesthetic ideal he himself had created. He died on a cold and snowy 13 January 1960, at the age of 82.

Admission to this exhibition is free and it can be visited from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30 to 13:30 and from 16:00 to 19:00; Sundays and public holidays, from 11:00 to 14:00.