José Manaut Viglietti


José Manaut Viglietti was born in Lliria (Valencia) on October 20, 1898, into a family enamoured with art. In 1899, they moved to Valencia, where Manaut spent his childhood and adolescence. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes de San Carlos and, in 1915, began to study the humanities. But his passion for painting was too strong, and, finally, two years later, his father accepted his decision to quit university, especially after a visit to show his works to Joaquín Sorolla, a good friend of the family who at the time was in Valencia to paint a panel for the Hispanic Society of New York.

From a very early age, Manaut visited the orchards surrounding Valencia, and on the sandy beaches close to the city, he drew and painted following his own whims and intuition. After collaborations in several collective exhibitions, his first solo exhibition was held in January 1919 at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Valencia. He showed 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 occupied a central and essential place. After finishing his studies at San Carlos, Manaut moved to Madrid to continue his artistic education at the Escuela Central de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. In Madrid, he reignited his relationship with Sorolla, who taught Landscape, Colour and Composition at the San Fernando School of Arts. Nevertheless, Manaut never became a «sorollista», but he adapted Sorolla’s influences to his own personality. In San Fernando, he had also studied with Cecilio Plá. Manaut won a scholarship to spend the summers of 1921 and 1922 in the residence of landscape painters at El Paular, not far from Madrid. A true delight for Manaut, providing him the opportunity to live close to nature. The work realised by Manaut in those years of training could be ascribed to a naturalism rooted in 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.

José Manaut en París, noviembre de 1923.

The Ministry of Public Education and Fine Arts granted him a one-year scholarship to study Impressionism in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Manaut arrived in Paris on April 15, 1923. He was immediately dazzled by the French capital’s atmosphere: the museums, the exhibitions, the private academies, the monuments. Paris opened a variety of opportunities for personal growth. He received first-hand knowledge of the Impressionist movement, the historical avant-garde of the early 20th century. Manaut quickly found his place in the Parisian art scene. 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 Académie Colarossi, where he had the opportunity to contact other artists from different countries. In October of 1923, Manaut was admitted to the 16th edition of the Salon d’Automne, Paris’ most important artistic event at 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 the Netherlands, following the scholarship’s terms, returning to Valencia in October 1924 to marry his fiancée, Angeles Roca. Some months later, they travelled together to Paris, where Manaut, much in love, painted some delicate 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 sold his pictures on the banks of the Seine. Finally, the lack of money, suitable housing and the imminent birth of his son Ariel pushed them to return to Spain. In 1925, the couple settled in Valencia, although Manaut continued spending time in Paris, struggling to earn a decent living. After the birth of their son, the couple returned to Paris. Manaut collaborated in many art exhibitions, such as the one organised in March 1927: «Exposition de Peintures du Vieux Montmartre.» But the financial problems never stopped and, a few months later, his wife forced a definitive return to Spain.

The paintings created 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 in April 1928. In April 1929, he was admitted as a member of the Círculo de Bellas Artes and returned to exhibitions. Parallel to his exhibiting activity, Manaut gave lectures, taught private drawing lessons, carried out interior design projects and restored paintings and old furniture to supplement his income. In October 1930, he began teaching at the Madrid Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando by assisting teacher Cecilio Plá. In 1932, due to his financial situation, Manaut had to reorient his future to have a remunerated post in civil education. In October 1933, he began to work as a drawing teacher at the Tortosa Institute (Tarragona). In January 1936, at his own request and always looking for new horizons for his landscapes, he asked to be transferred to the Ronda Institute (Málaga). Manaut accepted this professional situation only to earn a living while waiting for the moment he could pass his days painting, writing and investigating the world of art.

At this time, he took part in several exhibitions in Valencia as well as Madrid and Barcelona.

Manaut was spending a holiday in Valencia when the Civil War broke out. Both he and his wife were intensely involved in Cultura Popular, an institution created by the Republic Ministry of Public Instruction in early 1936 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. In March of 1939, Franco’s troops were closing in on Valencia. Due to the republic’s fall, the city offered little resistance. Manaut’s father and brothers were obliged to go into exile and lived in Mexico for three years.

But Manaut did not make the same decision because he did not consider his cultural involvement with the Spanish Republic dangerous. But, in view of the repressive measures implemented by the new regime in Valencia, he decided to travel to Madrid with his wife and son, living for a few years under the protection of his cousins Camila and Josefa Nebot. The government that 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 he could find to make a living. Spain was stalked by the shadow of a harsh post-war period, full of material and spiritual misery, which was particularly cruel for an artist. In the middle of these disasters, 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 dictatorial government, Manaut was arrested and sent to prison on charges of working for the republic and membership in the Masons. He was captured and imprisoned from 1943 to August 1944.

Despite the terrible living conditions, he never stopped drawing. All those drawings and some small paintings were hidden between the dirty clothes he gave to his wife twice a week. Thirty years after his death, the entire collection (330 drawings) was founded by chance in his own studio. All this interesting material, reflecting the interior of Franco’s prisons, is frequently exhibited to show the way of life endured by so many people during a terrible period of Spanish history. After his release from prison, Manaut suffered one more year in exile in Durango (Vizcaya). Surrounded by nature, his spirit again began to vibrate. In August 1945, he was allowed to change his residence in Madrid. He was gradually recovering from his former life and was reunited with his family and loved ones.

But it is difficult for someone locked away for three intense years to recover the rhythm of living after 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, a certain routine returned to his life. Various solo exhibitions in Madrid, as well as in Valencia, show us the renaissance of the maestro. 1947 was particularly fertile, judging from the amount of work preserved. In addition to the exhibitions, he never neglected his place as an art theorist, giving many lectures and writing 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 experienced in front of the unique and beautiful Spanish landscape. In June 1960, he received a grant from the Fundación Juan March to travel to Italy – one of his fondest dreams. Still very short on money, he was able to stay there for three months, painting and studying Italian art on his own. When returning to Spain, he published two studies concerning the investigations realised on the Hellenistic-Roman paintings that stemmed from Etruscan funerary paintings to move towards studying mural works kept in Roman and Napoli museums. He was also very interested in Caravaggio’s works and his influence on Spanish art. Back in Spain, he presented to the Ministry of Culture a project of a six-volume encyclopaedia titled: «Viaje Artístico por España y Portugal.» This interesting work never arrived at a happy end. 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.

In January 1966, he took a new journey through Italy, following an itinerary parallel to that of José Ribera and ending in Naples to complete the research he had begun in Spain about the Spanish artist born in Valencia. Also, he had shown his Italian paintings in a Naples gallery. Italian critics underlined his interest in colour and the force of his lines. With the money he earned from the sale of his works, he realised another of his old dreams: a trip to Greece. In his own words, he said: «Face to face with the supreme truth, the supreme harmony, the supreme reason… After having visited Greece, I can die in peace.» Back in Spain, he began to write an exhaustive biographical and technical book based on Rivera’s life and works.

In December 1966, Manaut retired as a teacher from the Lycée Français with the aim of painting and writing, spending long periods in Valencia and exhibiting more of his work. But life brought few periods of happiness to Manaut, who was plagued by financial and political troubles and forced to accept all kinds of work just to survive. One can view this last period of his life as one of the sweetest of his life. In this period when he was truly happy, full of passion and facing few financial problems, his declining health obliged him to return to Madrid.

Shortly after Christmas, on January 5, 1971, remembered as one of the coldest days Madrid had seen for years, Manaut went to his studio to paint. Two days later, his wife found him dead on his bedroom floor.

In March 2004, a large anthological exhibition in the Museum of Beaux Arts of Valencia began to situate his works at the level he deserves.

Now, he is recognised worldwide as the great painter and humanist he was.

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