Ramón Martí Alsina

Barcelona, 1826 - Barcelona, 1894

  • Cliff-lined Coast with Shellfish Gatherers

    c. 1880-1888
  • The Seasonal Stream at Argentona


Ramon Martí i Alsina is the most important representative of Catalan Realism and a key figure in the renovation of modern Catalan painting. As a teacher he advocated and introduced the direct study of nature and efficiently contributed to the abandonment of old-fashioned academic methods and to liberating the teaching of art from old routines. He was the first Catalan artist of his period to approach nature openly and decisively. In his conviction that the principle of life was constant transformation and that real art was to be found in the real world, which was dominated by light and colour, he opened the doors to a new visual conception in which the following generation of Catalan painters was educated.

From a very early age, while he was studying philosophy, he attended night classes in drawing at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts, but his artistic convictions were shaped outside the school and in a rather independent way. The artist, who was untiring in his analysis of reality, did not believe in ready-made solutions for depicting a volume or a particular effect of light. Instead, he relied on a strictly attentive and analytical contemplation of nature and of the objects that were immersed in its atmosphere. As a self-taught artist, he became aware of his shortcomings and he avidly searched for news of the most advanced artistic circles, familiarised himself with the work of foreign artists and made an effort to travel and to visit museums and exhibitions. Even though the influence of Delacroix, Géricault and Vernet is recognisable in Ramon Martí i Alsina’s large history paintings, in the case of his landscapes it was the work of certain artists of the Barbizon School and Courbet which confirmed the direction he had already taken intuitively.

Mention should also be made of the role Martí i Alsina played in education, as he was a leading influence in art teaching during that period. He was elected a member of the academy and was the most enthusiastic co-founder of the Athenaeum, organising many of its exhibitions as well as those of the Society for the Exhibitions of Fine Arts, an institution set up with the aim of promoting painting and sculpture exhibitions, encouraging Catalan artists to show their works and, at the same time, stimulating the art market. He continued to work intensely and his studios were gatherings, painting schools and centres of artistic reflection all at once, as well as permanent exhibition rooms for his works. Some of his friends from the Catalan financial, industrial and agricultural circles of the day took care of his material needs. When he succeeded in allaying his financial worries, his inspiration and his productive capacity were inexhaustible. He gave up his academic post for ideological reasons and was dismissed from his teaching job at the School of Fine Arts for refusing to swear allegiance to the Constitution of the Monarchy of Amadeus of Savoy. All this contributed to his isolation from official circles.

Ramon Martí i Alsina would teach classes in the evening, work in his studio during the afternoon and get up very early in the morning in order to make sketches of landscapes. He always showed great interest in urban subject matters. This aspect of his creativity, viewed from today’s perspective, sets him apart from the Barbizon painters and brings him closer to the Impressionists, even though he only sporadically experimented with true Impressionism. Some of the events in his life show that his necessity to transform his fame into financial success hampered him not only in his search for new means of expression but also in his regular production, yet he had sufficient contacts with the artistic avant-garde of the moment to reaffirm his own convictions.

However, Ramon Martí i Alsina must be considered on the basis of the works that have made him worthy of the reputation of innovator and initiator of modern Catalan art in the 19th century.

Maria Teresa Guasch