The relationship between Cusachs and Sala Parés began in June 1880, when he exhibited for the first time. He presented La primera cura, an artwork that was part of the collective exhibition held in honour to Simó Gómez (one of his tutors), some days after he passed away. From this relevant case, the artist used to exhibited with some regularity in the collective exhibitions, generally military portraits in large format or military topics increasingly refined and better worked (1882; 1883; 1884 for the opening of the Large space, 1887 at the Exhibition of Fine Arts).
Cusachs acquired a technical perfection and a capacity in animal portraiture, envied by many artists of the time. His first-person knowledge of the details of military life, both campaign and battle as the most anecdotal, are reflected with the approach of the represented themes, which acquire an unusual veracity. Quickly, his paintings became a desired object by the Catalan bourgeoisie with aristocratic taste. The military topics and the horses of Cusachs rose like a signature of good taste and perfect sophistication to decorate the houses of this social class.
The 12th of June 1881, Cusachs made a trip to Paris that marked a turning point in his artistic career. In the French capital he met the artist Édouard Detaille (1848-1912), a specialist in military subjects, who served as his tutor during the internship. After two months of “license for own affairs” obtained from the army, he managed to extend the permit two more months. He also connected with Alphonse de Neuville (1835-1885) and enjoyed the painting of Meissonier (1815-1891) whom he admired and used as a model. This trip to Paris (although he possibly did some more) was an initiatory experience, in which he perfected his technique and extended the thematic repertoire of his painting.
The consolidation of the Catalan artist in the art market would come after the General Exhibition of Fine Arts of Madrid in 1887, where, applauded by the critics and the public, his three canvases presented were acquired by the Regent Queen, Maria Cristina of Habsburgo (El campo de maniobras, La primera cura and Un vivac). 1 At the end of this year Cusachs received the key commission that spread his painting even more: the realization of 264 illustrations for the book The Military Life in Spain, published by Successors of N. Ramírez in 1888 and text of the Captain Francisco Barado. 2
With these artworks he gave to know the state of the Spanish army in the XIX century, through illustrations where he represents the indumentaria, grades, hierarchies, routines, etc. The 264 reproductions were photographs of the original artworks, most of them in oil or ink. From that editorial work, Mr. Parés organized, due to the success of the painter and the increasing demand of his works by the Barcelonan bourgeoisie, an exhibition to admire all the originals that illustrated the volume. The exhibition was one of the first monographs of the Sala Parés’s history, after the good reception of Eliseu Meifrén’s months earlier and Baldomer Galofre’s (1886).
The exhibition was titled as the book (Military life in Spain), held during the month of September and composed of 183 oils and a large number of previous drawings. The press dedicated articles that praised the exhibition, and the public and commercial success was highlighted. With the consolidated Cusachs brand, Sala Parés reaffirmed itself even more in the local market with a different pictorial style that made it his own and popularized it and elevated it to success. In short, the exhibition The Military Life in Spain of 1889 meant “a starting point in the history of Sala Parés.” 3
From 1889 on, the private commissions of military scenes and family portraits by the most conservative bourgeoisie to Josep Cusachs was abundant. 4 Since then, Joan Baptista Parés bet constantly on the production of Cusachs and his works were recurrent for the collective exhibitions of the gallery until this death. Cusachs was part of the most regular group of painters of Sala Parés, with Modest Urgell, Laureà Barrau or Eliseu Meifrén, among others. In this way he becomes one of the most representative painters of the first stage of the gallery. After his death, Mr. Parés dedicated a large tribute exhibition to him during the June of 1909, which occupied the whole large room with oil paintings and about a hundred unpublished drawings from his last creative period.
Sergio Fuentes Milà, PhD in Art History
1.MORA, P., Josep Cusachs i Cusachs. Barcelona: Diccionari Ràfols, 1988.
2.BARADO, F., La Vida Militar en España. Barcelona: Sucesores de N.Ramírez Editores, 1888.
3.MARAGALL, J-A., Història de la Sala Parés. Barcelona: Selecta, 1975, p.43.
4.As an example, José Gallart Forgas, a Spanish politician and businessman who collected works by Cusachs. After the exhibition of the Sala Parés of 1889 he commissioned the painter two large-format portraits of his sons. FUENTES MILÀ, S., “De Ponce à Barcelone. José Gallart et le pouvoir à travers des arts”, Université Perpignan-Via Domitia, 2017.