José Manaut Viglietti


Born in Lliria (Valencia) in October 20th 1898, belonged to a family immersed in the love of art. In 1899 they moved to Valencia -where Manaut spent his childhood and adolescence. At the age of fifteen, he entered the San Carlos High School of Beaux Arts and, in 1915 began Humanities studies. But his passion for painting was too strong and, finally, two years later, his father accepted his decision to quit the University, specially after a visit to show his works to Maestro Sorolla, a good friend of the family, at that time in Valencia in order to paint a panel for the Hispanic Society of New York. From very early, Manaut frequented the orchards surrounding Valencia, and the sandy beaches closed to the city, drawing and painting following his own intuition. After some collaborations in different collective exhibitions, the opportunity came in January 1919: his first solo exhibition, held in Valencia, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes: a total of forty three landscapes, portraits and life studies, made from 1916. In this period of his life, Manaut was not only constructing his artistic personality, but also a philosophy of life directly reflected in his paintings. He gradually developed a highly personal kind of Taoism, in which nature occupies a central and essential place. After finishing his studies at San Carlos, Manaut moved to Madrid, in order to follow his artistic education in San Fernando School of Arts. In Madrid, he recovered his relationship with Sorolla, at that time teaching Landscape, Colour and Composition at the mentioned School of Arts. Nevertheless, our painter never became a «Sorollista» but he adapted Sorolla’s influences to his own personality. In San Fernando he had also the chance to study with Cecilio Plá. Manaut won a scholarship from the High School of Arts of Madrid to spend 1921 and 1922 summers in the Residence of Landscape Painters at El Paular, not far from Madrid. A true delight for our painter, providing him de opportunity to live closed to the nature. The work realised by Manaut in those years of training could be ascribed into a naturalism enrooted to the late 19th century landscape realism.

He followed the tradition of the portrait painters from Valencia, showing a particular predilection for his own image, that we can appreciate in a large number of self-portraits.

The Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts granted him with a one year scholarship in order to study Impressionism in France, Belgium and Holland. Manaut arrived to Paris on April 15th 1923. There he was immediately dazzled by the atmosphere of the city. The museums, the exhibitions, the private academies, the monuments… A whole set of opportunities for personal growth. He received first hand knowledge of the Impressionist movement, the historical avant-garde of the early 20th century. Manaut’s incorporation into the Parisian art scene was quick. He soon established contact with some educational institutions in the city in order to continue his artistic training. He also frequented several private art academies, like the international Colarossi, where he had the opportunity to contact other artists from different countries. In October 1923, Manaut was admitted in the sixteenth edition of the Salon d’Automne, the most important artistic event in the Paris of the time. One of the three works submitted was selected: portrait of little old lady called Madame Fauré. In April 1924 he travelled to Belgium and Netherland, following the indications of the scholarship, coming back to Valencia in October 1924, to marry his fiancée Angeles Roca. Some months later they come back together to Paris where a Manaut in love painted some delicious portraits of his wife. The end of the second scholarship was followed by a period of financial problems. Manaut had to work in decorative paintings ateliers and had to sold his pictures at the Seine banks. Finally, the lack of money, of a suitable housing and the imminent birth of his son Ariel, pushed them to come back to Spain. In 1925 the couple settled in Valencia, although Manaut continued spending periods in Paris, struggling to find a decent way of living. So, after the birth of their son, the couple returned to Paris. Manaut could then collaborate in a lot of different art exhibitions, such as the one organised, in March 1927: «Exposition de Peintures du vieux Montmarte». But the material problems never stoped and, a few months later, his wife forced him to a definitive return to Spain.

The paintings realised in France during this period show the bohemian quarters and picturesque Paris corners of the time.

Upon his return from Paris, and after a stay of several months in Valencia, the couple moved to Madrid on April 1928. In April 1929 he was admitted as a member at the Círculo de Bellas Artes and returned to his exhibitions. In parallel to his exhibiting activity, Manaut gave lectures, taught private drawing lessons, carried out interior design projects and restoration of paintings and old furniture in order to supplement his modus vivendi. In October 1930, he began his teaching activity at the Madrid School of Fine Arts as an assisting teacher of Ceciclio Pla. In 1932, urged by the financial situation, Manaut has to reorient his future in order to have a remunerated post in civil education. So, in October 1933, he began to work as a Drawing teacher at the Tortosa (Tarragona) Institute, his first destination. In January 1936, on his own request and always looking for new horizons for his landscapes, he asked to be transferred to the Ronda (Málaga) Institute. We know that Manaut accepted this professional situation only as a way of living, waiting for the moment he could pass his days only painting, writing and investigating in the world of art.

At his time, he took part in different exhibitions, as well in Valencia as in Madrid and Barcelona.

Manaut was spending holydays in Valencia when the Civil War break out. Both, him and his wife, were intensely involved in Cultura Popular, an institution created by the Republic Ministry of Public Instruction in the early 36 to promote culture and sports. With the outbreak of the war, Cultura Popular was engaged to collect books and distribute them into the battled front. March 1939: Franco’s troops were closing in to Valencia. Due to the Republic fall, the city did not offer much resistance. Manaut’s father and brothers were obliged to go to exile. They were living for years in Mexico. But our artist did not take the same decision because he did not consider dangerous his cultural involvement with the Spanish Republic. But, in view of the repressive measures implemented by the new regime in Valencia, he decided to travel to Madrid with his wife and child, living during a few years under the protection of his cousins, Camila and Josefa Nebot. The new government emerged after the war cancelled his official title of Drawing Teacher. That was the beginning of a succession of disasters. In Madrid, Manaut was gradually involved in restoration activities, interior design and illustration of books, the only way of living he could find. Spain was stalked by the shadow of a harsh post-war period, full of material and spiritual misery, particularly cruel for an artist. In the middle of all this disaster his daughter Stella was born in January: a glimmer of hope in a difficult situation. Due to the political cleansing machinery developed in Spain under the dictator government, Manaut was arrested and sent to prison accused to have work for the Republic and also to have belonged to the Mason group. He was captured and imprisoned from 1943 to August 1944. Nevertheless, in spite of the terrible conditions of living, he never stopped drawing. All those drawings and some small paintings were taken out introduced between the dirty clothes he gave to his wife twice a week. The enter collection (330 drawings) was founded by chance, thirty years after his death, in his own studio. All this interesting material, reflecting the interior of franco’s prisons, is frequently exhibited to show the way of living of all those poor people in such a terrible period of the Spain history. After being released from prison, Manaut still had to suffer one more year exile in Durango (Vizcaya). Surrounded by the nature, his spirit began to vibrate again. In August 1945 he was allowed to fix his residence in Madrid. Little by little he was recovering his former life. The reencounter with his family and loved ones put an end to a long period of absence.

But it is difficult for someone out of scene during three intense years to recover the rhythm of living in such a difficult situation.

In October 1946, he began to work as a drawing teacher at the Lycée Français in Madrid, where he continued working till his retirement. Little by little, everything returned to a certain situation of normality. Different solo exhibitions, as well in Madrid as in Valencia, show us the renaissance of the Maestro. 1947 was particularly fertile, judging from the amount of work preserved. Together with the exhibitions, he never neglected his fact as an art theorist, giving many lectures and writing texts about other artists. He also travelled as much as he could (the lack of money was always a handicap), capturing in his pictures and writings the sensations he experimented in front of singular and beautiful Spain landscape. In June 1960 he received a grant from Juan March Foundation to travel to Italy (one of his most liked dreams). With a very short money, he was able to stay there for three months, painting and studying the Italian art in his own sources. When coming back to Spain, he published two studies concerning the investigations realised on the Hellenistic-Roman paintings stemmed from Etruscan funerary paintings to move towards a study of mural works kept in Roman and Naple Museums. He was also very interested by Caravaggio’s works and his influence in Spanish Art. Back to Spain, he presented to the Ministry of Culture a project of a six volume encyclopedia under the title: «Viaje Artístico por España y Portugal» This interesting work never arrived to a happy end. Different solo exhibitions and, in 1964, a new book: «Crónica del Pintor Joaquín Sorolla», grounded in the admiration and affection he always kept towards his Maestro. Lectures, courses, investigations and paintings… always working for art. And, in January 1966, a new journey through Italy, following an itinerary parallel to that of José Ribera, ending up in Naples to complete the research he had begun in Spain about the Spanish artist born in Valencia. Also, he had exposed his Italian paintings in a Naples gallery. The Italian critics underlined his interest for colour and the force of his lines. With the money he obtained from the sale of his works, he realised other of his old dreams: to travel to Greece. Let us reproduce his own words: «Face to face with the supreme truth, the supreme harmony, the supreme reason… After having visited Greece, I can die in peace…» Back to Spain, he began to write an exhaustive biographical and technical book based in Rivera life and works.

Now he is recognised, all around the world, as the great painter and humanist he was.

In December 1966, Manaut retired as a teacher of the Lycée Français with the aim to paint and write. So, he could spend long periods in Valencia, increasing his exhibition activities. But life brought to Manaut small periods of happiness. Always money and political troubles, all kind of works only to survive… We can consider this last period like one of the most sweets of his life. But when he was really happy, full of illusions and with not many economical problems, different health troubles obliged him to return to Madrid. It was Christmas time. We can remember this 5th January 1970 as one of the coldest days in Madrid for years. Nevertheless, he decided to go to his studio to paint. Two days later, his wife found him dead on the flour of his bedroom. In March 2004, a big anthological exhibitions in the Beaux Arts Museum of Valencia began to situated his works in the right level.

Now he is recognised, all around the world, as the great painter and humanist he was.

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