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IGNACIO GIL: THE LUCK OF A GREAT PAINTER.
110TH ANNIVERSARY 1913-2023
Ignacio Gil Sala (Barcelona 1913-2003) was a lucky man, as he acknowledged in several interviews. His life was not exactly a calm sea, but he always managed to overcome the adversities that crossed his path. He was born into a well-off Catalan family. His father was a businessman with a great artistic sensibility that never got to develop. When he died, our artist was only nine years old, and due to the economic disaster caused by the loss of his father, Ignacio Gil had to start working as a workshop apprentice, errand boy, caretaker,… with equal fortune in his jobs, as he was fired from all of them for spending a good part of his time drawing. At the age of seventeen he enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, and in just one year he completed four courses of artistic drawing, winning the Silver Medal that same year, and excelling in every subject. After graduating in Fine Arts, he won the end-of-degree scholarship to study and make copies for six months at the Prado Museum.
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War caught him making a copy of a painting by Velázquez. Like almost everyone else, his life took a turn and he was enlisted to fight at the front. Ignacio Gil, who was apolitical and had no interest in anything other than painting, decided to join the infirmary, so he could avoid using guns and continue painting at times. As he himself once said: “the important thing was not to fire a single shot; neither to die nor to kill, I preferred painting”. Due to his good relationship with Mariano Benlliure, his drawings and paintings impressed some Republican generals, and from then on his daily battle was with canvases and paintbrushes to portray the high commanders of the Republic. At the end of the war, at the Jaén health command, after the mass flight of the rest, General Cabanellas and his General Staff surprised Ignacio Gil —a mere foot soldier— as the highest military authority of the place. Our genius, of course, was drawing.
When General Cabanellas looked at the preliminary drawings and sketches of the portraits of the rival Republican generals (Mangala, Miajas, Cardenal), Ignacio Gil envisioned his immediate execution in his mind. But fortune was again on his side. The general, impressed by his artistic quality, far from sentencing him to death, commissioned him to paint portraits of all the generals on the Nationalist side; this did not happen in the end, but it helped him acquire safe conduct so that he could return to his homeland in Barcelona and devote himself to the only thing that really mattered to him, the trade of painting.
After the war, Ignacio Gil discovered the Balearic Islands. Those around him told him that the Balearic archipelago was an ideal place to sell works of art thanks to tourism. However, in the midst of the post-war period, few visitors were to be seen in a land of misery. But fortune joined him once again. An important Majorcan industrialist —Mr. Alcover— impressed by his technique and style, hired him to decorate his large mansion with his works. For more than six months he worked tirelessly to cover the mansion with his canvases, enough time to fall in love with both Majorca and Ibiza. The magic of clear light and the chromaticism of his landscapes would leave a lifelong impression on him.
That same year (1940), the director of Galerías Costa, who saw his work, offered him an exhibition in Palma de Mallorca. The success was resounding, both in terms of sales and critics. Through Mr. Costa, Ignacio Gil would meet the director of the Galerías Augusta in Barcelona, and after a first exhibition in that same year, they would be held annually until Gil’s death.
Ignacio Gil was an example of absolute loyalty to art. Neither his early success nor his premature recognition ever diverted him from his goal. His canvases carry the passion and emotions of the landscape and its inhabitants. Like few others, he has integrated the human figure with its environment. Customs, traditions, celebrations and also daily chores emerge behind a vivid brushstroke that translates into the movement of its actors. The white dwellings of Ibiza, with the contrast of its clear skies and calm sea, seem eager to come out of the paintings. Although Ibiza was his own particular paradise, Ignacio was a restless traveller driven by his desire to observe and discover so he could depict it on his canvases. He travelled through many parts of Africa and the East, and his canvases are an honest testimony of this. Any motif has represented a theme, a reason to create; and not only to express what he perceives through his learned scrutinising gaze, but to transform reality into something different, something only he can perceive. In a well-known interview, the artist himself expressed this perfectly:
“Realistic painting is not like taking a photograph; the painting is an interpretation, it has to be. A painting is not just a matter of skill, or technique. It is not enough to paint reality; art has to be an interpretation, not a copy. It is about showing reality in new forms; in my paintings I try to leave a record of what I see, not as a copy but as an interpretation. A painting always carries, or should always carry, the great load of sensibility of its painter”.
Although luck was often on his side, Ignacio Gil’s life was a life dedicated to his work. He was born an artist; he could have become a singer —thanks to his tenor voice and the influence of Santiago Rusiñol’s daughter— or a poet, but painting captivated him from a very early age and he persevered in this discipline until the end of his days.
He was a bold and courageous artist who was never afraid of challenges. He ventured to paint the interiors of the cathedral of Ibiza, commissioned by the bishopric, and accomplished it with resounding success. He set up his easel in African regions in times of conflict and was never afraid of anything, always searching for new motifs for his work.
In his long career he won important prizes, medals and honourable mentions, and with the exception of Oceania, he held exhibitions on every continent. He held regular exhibitions in the prestigious Galerías Costa (Palma de Mallorca), Galerías Augusta (Barcelona), Cezanne Gallery (Cannes), Salón Cano (Madrid), and Lars Laine Gallery in Palm Springs, California (USA), among others.
Ignacio Gil died at the age of ninety just as he lived, painting and drawing a wonderful life.
Damian Verger Garau. Legal Expert in Antiquities and Works of Art and Art Critic