The stained glass windows of Darius Vilàs (1879-1950)

The main reason to investigate the stained glass work of Daríus Vilàs is its peculiarity and originality as a noucentista artist.
noucentista artist

TraceriaOnly short biographies have been made about his work as an artist, most of them based on the exhibition in his memory and the catalog of the only exhibition of his work in the last 20 years. It was necessary to compile their work in this field in a single document.

In Barcelona the influences of modernism were very important and it was used intensively in civil architecture, therefore the few projects in stained glass that avoid this trend are relevant. After modernism, glass artists took one of two paths in broad terms: a return to the neo-Gothic or the avant-garde. Only for a period of time was there a proposal for modernity that was neither radical nor eclectic: noucentisme.

The beginning of the century was a period of political instability and artistic renewal. The new creators shunned modernism and sought alternatives. In Catalonia this led to a movement called “Noucentisme” a term coined by the essayist and philosopher Eugeni D’Ors, based on the homonymy in Catalan between the subject “nine” and the adjective “new”. This movement is linked to the autonomous government that began in 1906 and ended in 1923.

The turbulence of the early 20th century in Catalonia took a particularly heavy toll on religious heritage. The continuous revolts, the main ones being those of 1909 and 1936, destroyed much religious architecture. Among the works created by this author, many were destroyed or damaged.

Noucentisme shuns any modernist influence, eclecticism, curved lines, natural elements and adopts straight lines, Greek and Roman influences and Mediterraneanism. He returns to the creation of sacred art and values linked to the earth, cohabiting with futurism, Deco and rationalism.

Part of the difficulty of the research is due to his modesty, which is mentioned by his colleagues, and also to the fact that there are no members of his family who preserve his archive or his memory. His brother Joan Vilàs, also an artist, died very young in 1920 during the journey he began to learn Japanese ceramics. His sister, with whom he lived, died as he did without a spouse or children. There are no members of his family who have preserved his legacy or his documents or oral memory to begin an investigation.

Daríus Vilàs was born in Barcelona in 1879, the son of an engraver. He studied at the Llotja school where his teachers were Josep Pascó 1855-1920 and José Garnelo, a painter of great historical and artistic compositions. His teachers did not mark his career as much as he entered the circle of Sant Lluc in 1901 and the friendships he made there.

EvangelistFor reasons that are not entirely clear but that reveal internal tensions, a part of the artistic circle that included those artists who defined themselves as fervent Catholics left the artistic circle to found the Royal Artistic Circle of Sant Lluc. Vilàs always belonged to this association where he even held second-level administrative positions.

In this association he met many of the architects and artists with whom he would later work, such as Gaudí, Pericas, Bernardí Martorell, Rubió i Bellver and artists with whom he would become friends, such as Joan Llimona, Busquets, Iu Pasqual, Torres Garcia, Vidal Gomà, Ràfols, Obiols and Baixeras.

In 1906 he won a scholarship from the Diputación de Barcelona which he used to travel to Italy where he was especially impressed by the painting of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole.

His work was always markedly apologetic for Christian values and he always felt admiration for artists working in this field such as Segantini, Clottet and Millet. The development of his work is linear, with subtle chromatic variations but without major changes in style or content. In the initial stage of his career Vilàs worked sporadically as an illustrator for magazines and books. His collaborations during his youth are particularly difficult to follow. We suspect that he worked on the design of liturgical art and paintings that he did not sign. He used to spend summers in the valley of Camprodón, where he continued to work on project development and returned to Barcelona in winter.

From 1912 until the end of the war most of his professional work was in mural painting. He combined this work with illustration, easel painting and the design of stained glass windows for which he made the project and enlarged the window to life size.

The stained glass windows of Palma de Mallorca (1917), the stained glass windows of the Parroquia del Carme in Barcelona (1925), the stained glass windows of Sant Joan de Reus, the stained glass windows of the Palacio de las Missiones and those of Sant Cugat del Vallés, all belong to this period.

In 1922 he became involved in the promotion of the Friends of Liturgical Art, an association with which he exhibited his works on several occasions.

After the war his artistic activity focused on easel painting. His favorite subjects were the landscapes of the Girona Pyrenees and some views of the port of Barcelona. The decoration of temples and the creation of stained glass windows seems to be a secondary activity in his career, of which there is little news in the press. The magazine “Il-lustració Catalana” made a special note about its stained glass ” There is a lesser known activity of D. Vilàs which is the creator of stained glass. In this field his work is as important, if not more important, than his frescoes or his painting although he is not as prolific. He works with leaded glass, without painting, making splendid stained glass windows of very transparent, unalterable colors, consecrating him as one of the best glass artists”. He worked on the stained glass windows of the Sagrada Familia in 1940, the stained glass windows of Santa Maria de Camprodón in 1940, the private chapel of the Marques de Muller and Messrs. Majem and for the Pension Fund for Old Age and Savings.

While his mural painting is regularly reviewed by critics and there are several reports in the press of the time, his stained glass windows remain in the background. However, it is in the stained glass window that he finds a new path between the stereotypical representation of saintly figures of the neo-Gothic and the avant-garde; a path uniquely his own.

His works clearly belong to the noucentista current, both for their deep religious sentiment and for the stylistic properties of his work, which show a clear influence of renaissance and classicism. This is expressed in his consideration for proportions and in his restricted color palette. However, the judgment of some critics says that his lines do not escape from a certain “modernist” cadence.

One of his most notable works is undoubtedly the stained glass window dedicated to Sant Bernat de Claravall, executed by the Rigalt workshop and installed in December 1916 in the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. The direction of the commission was entrusted to the architect Rubió i Bellver. The stained glass depicts scenes from the life of the saint, his admission to the order, his prayer and glorification. He participated in the design and enlarged the project to full size. It seems that there was an initial project by Gaudí for the same space although it is not known if it influenced Vilàs. The distribution of the buttresses of the church makes the stained glass appear very distorted due to the shadows cast by these elements. The original project is preserved and was exhibited in the “La Pinacoteca” room. The stained glass windows have a protective glazing built in leaded glass using transparent printed glass, this is very unusual in Catalonia and is probably justified by the proximity to the sea of the temple.

In 1925 Vilàs designed the stained glass windows for the parish of Carmen in Barcelona, an architect designed by the architect José María Pericas in 1910. The project was executed in the Bonet workshop and consists of 155 windows representing saints, angels and plant elements. The stained glass windows were badly damaged during the civil war and some of the panels disappeared completely. The damage caused during this period is still visible.

san_joan_2The stained glass windows of the crypt of the Sagrada Familia were made in different phases and show notable differences. Some are modeled and dark while others show only traces of grisaille on their faces.

The stained glass windows in the central chapel, of a total of seven, were installed in 1883 using photographs of orphaned children as models for the musician angels that appear in the composition.

In 1915 Vilàs drew a cover for the temple’s magazine. In 1940 he drew the stained glass windows for the crypt in line with the existing one. The chapel was not completely finished until 2005 and Vilàs’s stained glass windows were reproduced in two of the remaining empty chapels.

St. GeorgeThe stained glass windows of Sant Joan de Reus were made in 1930. One of them represents Sant Jordi, patron saint of Catalonia, and the other a crucifixion. The first is particularly remarkable, as it shows a figure riding a horse across the mullion division and arranged diagonally. These stained glass windows were made in the Bonet workshop in close collaboration with the artist. The cartons and enlargements of these have been preserved until now. Also in 1930 he made a stained glass window for the monastery of Sant Cugat with the same motif of more modest dimensions, which however does not exhibit the same strength and harmony as that of Reus.

Other stained glass windows are those of the chapel of the Santisimo de Santa Maria de Camprodón, those of Llanars, Tragurà and Rocabruna. Others were destroyed during the civil war, such as those of the “Casa de la Vejez y el ahorro”, those of the church of Esperanza and those of the Palacio de las misiones built for the universal exposition.

Technically, its stained glass windows are very characteristic. There is an abundance of printed glass, bent glass for more intense colors and the widespread use of cold patina on the interior side.

MartyrThe preserved pieces present very identifiable characteristics, especially in the application of the paint. Grisalla and enamel are rarely used; practically only on faces and feet. The artist himself remarks in his correspondence “in these stained glass windows nothing is painted but enameled” the stained glass is resolved with plate glass, textures and different colored glass.

In the case of Sant Joan de Reus, the fact that all the documents have been preserved throughout its history represents a challenge for the conservator regarding certain decisions thatthe person responsible for the conservation of the object has to make.

J.M.Bonet-Jujol (2)The stained glass window was damaged by bombing during the civil war. In 1970 it was severely damaged in an unfortunate accident. One of the parishioners was locked in the church and forced his way out through the stained glass window, smashing two panels.

The project, the full-size enlargement and the references of the glass used have been preserved. If we consider the obligations of the curator, his or her limitations and the value of the work, not as much can be done as one might at first think. Preserving the drawing is a tremendous advantage if you need to reintegrate any of the parts, the same lines drawn by the artist and the workshop have been preserved on paper.

Glass references would seem useful if there were large gaps to be reintegrated. Could the lost glass be reconstructed knowing what glass was once used? In practice, it is not so simple. The Bonet workshop uses its own reference system, one that is different from the manufacturers’ commercial numbering. These references have maintained a certain consistency since their foundation but have been adapted according to the criteria of each master glassmaker. In order to achieve the original colors of the stained glass windows, sets of old glass samples were sought and compared with the current ones. Without knowing the colors of the original references, it would not be possible to reproduce the stained glass window.

Thermal vainThe extended project does not yet contain all the information needed to make the stained glass window. The two bottom panels are completely folded, each piece is cut twice and placed on the same lead rebate. There is no clear reason for this decision. The desire to make a stronger panel? Get darker colors? The first decision seems unlikely since the soffit is much heavier and the lead is weaker. The second is contradicted by the fact that the rest of the window is constructed with darker glass.

Not all bent glass or cold patinas are indicated in the project. Was its use a decision of the artist or the craftsman? If known, would the restaurateur’s decisions change?

What do we have to do to preserve the weak cold patinas? Should we reinstate them? What can the restorer do with so much information? If we stick to the originality of the work, can we undo unsigned changes to the artist’s project?

It is necessary to evaluate whether the information available to us is “complete” or whether in the construction process some things went beyond the paper. So are they reintegrations or are they originals? Are all undocumented parts additions and to be removed? Or should we respect the object as it is?

Beyond the graphic documentation, we can contact the people who knew the artist, the artisans and the clients who were involved in the project. Some of the clients who had a relationship with Vilàs are still alive but have no relevant information about the ins and outs of the realization. One of the craftsmen who worked with him maintains clear memories. The illustrator and workshop manager of the workshop between 1942 and 1997 was able to describe the why and how of the two cases. In the first half of the 20th century, access to stained glass was limited. This explains the bending of glass that seems to be incorporated into the glass sporadically since not everything is located on the same side of the window. Some are on the same lead and others are overlapping on the inner and outer side.

The bending glass is relatively simple to treat, some have accumulated dirt while others are in perfect condition.

The second theme, cold painting or cold patina, was common in the production of stained glass as a way of adding richness to its appearance. It can be seen in the stained glass windows made in those years. The paint was applied when the stained glass was in place, forming an emulsion of linseed oil and grisaille. Its general purpose was to make the stained glass darker and to give nuances to the shadows. There was an artistic intent in some applications.

Their use resulted in considerable savings in energy and cooking. Not all stained glass workshops had a kiln so it was common to subcontract or rent a kiln.

The artisan work made collectively has traces of collective authorship that may not be seen by the artist. These characteristics should also be preserved, as they are typical of their time and the way their craftsmen worked, although they are not reflected in the documentation.

In spite of this, the treatment of cold paint is always complicated for any conservator. It is easy to detect because not only is the glass painted but also the lead is obscured. When altered, it tends to flake and when mixed with dirt, it is practically impossible to separate one layer from the other. Some parts of the stained glass construction process were not written down. All documents should be evaluated and understood while leaving room for interpretation that considers the methods of construction and the time in which they were built.

Recent history research has its own problems. The opportunity to write this essay has raised many challenges that will have to be solved from various points of view. Interesting topics such as the collectivization of workshops during the civil war and the reconstruction campaigns of “DevastatedRegions” remain to be investigated.

The restoration and conservation of stained glass windows of this period is still in time to collect the testimony of the methods used by the craftsmen. Something sometimes excluded from more academic teaching.

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