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Gustavo Bacarisas: Gibraltar was always a safe haven

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Fran Montes

Mural to Gustavo Bacarisas in Castle Steps @Fran Montes

For Gustavo Bacarisas, Gibraltar was always a safe haven; a refuge to return to in difficult times

The president of the Association of Fine Arts, Gino Sanguinetti, who heads the Gustavo Bacarisas Gallery, is bringing to modern day public awareness this renowned Gibraltarian artist around whom there is still much to be explored

“Gibraltar was always a safe haven for Gustavo Bacarisas; a refuge to return to in difficult times,” Gino Sanguinetti explained as he walked us through the gallery named after the renowned Gibraltarian, who was born in Gibraltar in 1872 and died age 98 in Sevilla in 1971.

Gino Sanguinetti – President of the Gibraltar Fine Arts Association

His long life was marked by historical and personal milestones which made him the author of a multitude of works. Although his work was influenced by different artistic styles, he always maintained his own unmistakable stamp, marked only by the legacy of the impressionist movement, which coincided – in space and time – with his initial experiences as an artist.

The president of the Association of Fine Arts laments the fact that Bacarisas – who was an avid traveller and lived in Spain for the best part of his life, but also in Italy, France, Morocco, United States and various South American countries is still relatively unknown, nor have many of his works been catalogued or studied extensively.

During the summer of 2011, the Government of Gibraltar commissioned an exhibition on the “Life and Legacy” of Gustavo Bacarisas in the Casemates Square Gallery. Currently, the Ministry of Culture and the Gibraltar National Museum exhibit just over forty works by Bacarisas, some of which are permanently on display in venues such as the City Hall and the GEMA (Gibraltar Exhibition of Modern Art), among others.

According to Sanguinetti, the rest are scattered all over the world, many of them in unknown, private collections.

“We know that some of Bacarisas’ paintings form part of the collections of the Duchess of Alba and at the Thyssen Museum, for example, and some far-away places such as the Museum of La Habana but, unfortunately, there were also many works which have been lost over time, such as the ones that disappeared when he had to flee Spain during the civil war.”

The outbreak of that war saw him in Madrid, at 64 years of age. Bacarisas had behind him several decades of a successful career: he had lived in Buenos Aires for a while. He had become a friend with artists such as the painter José Cruz Herrera, the composer Manuel de Falla, and the guitarist Andres Segovia.

He was named “the Adopted Son of Sevilla” and received a Gold Medal from the Ateneo de Sevilla; he met the writers of the ’27 Generation, including the famous philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, who signed the prologue of the catalogue of one of Bacarisas’ many exhibitions.

He went on to marry Elsa Jernas, a Swedish painter he met during his travels in 1922, when he was already 50 years old.

In 1940, after having spent more than four years in the safety of Gibraltar, Gustavo and Elsa were among the thousands of Gibraltarians who were evacuated during the Second World War.

They were sent to the Island of Madeira where his brother , Horacio Bacarisas was the British Vice-Consul – and he continued to paint there until 1945, when he was able to return to Gibraltar and, from there, made his way back to Sevilla once again.

“Bacarisas, who never retired, was faced with an unsure future at age 70 and needed to continue painting. It seems as though his relationship to the Catholic Church, which was always good to him, facilitated a return to normality for him, and allowed him to make a living through his paintings” says Sanguinetti who adds that avoiding politics in those difficult times helped Bacarisas to avoid problems. He was nothing if not prudent.”

The Gibraltarian artist, who captured the light and charm of Andalucia’s white villages like no other, who created numerous posters for the Feria de Sevilla and who was visited by Spanish Queen Victoria at his studio in 1915, received important accolades during the sixties, such as Honorary Professor of Sevilla’s School of Fine Arts, the title of “Freeman of the City of Gibraltar”, as well as honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.

In Aracena, a small village in the Sierra de Huelva, where he lived the remaining years of his life, a whitewashed street bears his name.

Street Art in Castle Steps

Mural to Gustavo Bacarisas in Castle Steps @Fran Montes
Mural to Gustavo Bacarisas in Castle Steps @Fran Montes

A number of murals have been painted in Castle Steps. They represent paintings by the renowned Gibraltarian artist Gustavo Bacarisas and follow an initiative by Ronnie Alecio and the artist Jupp, working under the auspices of Gibraltar Cultural Services.

Gustavo Bacarisas lived at Castle Steps as a boy in the 1880’s. The Government intends to work with Alecio and his team to extend this idea to other parts of the Old Town during the next 12 months.

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