Sunday, 26 February 2017


“Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.” - David Bowie

Romà Ribera i Cirera (13 December 1848, Barcelona - 29 May 1935, Barcelona) was a Catalonian genre painter. He specialised in contemporary scenes from upper-class social events, rendered in meticulous detail, but also did numerous scenes from life in the 17th and 18th centuries.

He studied at the Escola de la Llotja and at the private school operated by Pere Borrell del Caso. In 1873, he went to Rome to complete his studies. While there, he met Marià Fortuny, who works would influence his style. After leaving Italy, he visited London to exhibit. Once he had established himself, he settled in Paris. At a time when most artists were attracted to impressionism, he found inspiration in the works of James Tissot and Alfred Stevens.

In 1878, he enjoyed great success at the Exposition Universelle. This enabled to him retain Adolphe Goupil as his agent. To maximise his income, he chose to solicit clients from the upper classes; portraying their activities and possessions. He had a major showing at the exhibition at the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition, where he presented a series of watercolours. He returned to Barcelona in 1889, exhibiting at the Sala Parés. He pursued the same upper class client strategy there that he had in Paris. Occasionally, he travelled to exhibit in Madrid.

In 1902, he became a member of the Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi and was chosen to sit on the Catalonian Museum Board. In Catalonia his works can be found exhibited in various public institutions, including the National Museum (MNAC), the Museum of Montserrat, the Girona Art Museum and the Library Museum Víctor Balaguer of Vilanova.

Ribera was skilled and well-trained, which was true of most of the artists of his generation. He was able to paint interesting scenes in a visually pleasing way, making for highly decorative paintings suitable for middle class tastes. His highly representational and studiously “painterly” style was helpful early in his career, but seems to have hindered his claim to international success and fame. The rapidly changing modern painting revolutions made his work increasingly passé, even in comparatively artistically conservative Spain.

The painting above is representative of his work and is titled: “De Soirée” (In the Evening) - 1894. The painting is faultless in its execution, the colours harmonious, the composition pleasing, the subject matter agreeable and yet if one compares it to the similarly themed Degas work “Woman Combing her Hair” of 1894, one immediately sees why Romà Ribera is relatively obscure while Degas retains his place as a trendsetter in late 19th century painting.

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