A Little Empordà Village

A Little Empordà Village by Francesc Gimeno
Torroella de MontgríOil on Canvas, 42.3 in by 48.2 in, 1918
At the MNAC (The National Museum of Catalonian Art) in Barcelona


I saw this beautiful piece in the Spring of 2010. I was in Barcelona for Spring Break, or Semana Santa in the local parlance, with a friend who was studying in Madrid at the time. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or MNAC sits atop a hill that rises up south of Plaça d’Espanya. Sitting on the steps just off the MNAC’s façade, you are treated to a panorama view of the city. If you’re there when the sun is setting, at least in late March, the panorama turns glorious. The distant sky above is still warm. Purple shaded hills frame the scene, while the western walls of the hundreds of geometric buildings in the city’s lowland light up with this orange golden light. The buildings also cast rich shadows that, with the light, create a countlessly textured scene. A readymade cubist painting, is what i thought at the time. No wonder Picasso kept coming back here.

As for A Little Empordà Village, it’s just one of several paintings by Gimeno in the MNAC, but it was my favorite. I don’t think there’s a single pure color on the canvas, but the different hues coming together just work so well, and the color light is continued perfectly into the shadows that the painting just glows. Lovely glowing colors. Warm yellow and greens intermingle with neutral reds and oranges in the light. The loveliness continues in the darks with the same reds and with purpley blues. Thick coats of paint layered on top of each other again and again make a rich, yet relatively even, surface. No muddle. No fuss. Just a beautiful portrait of a city who’s roots go back over a thousand years.

All that color is held together in a composition which mixes classic two-point perspective and foreshortening with an expert hand. It’s both a triangle coming at you and a series of flat planes coming together. And all broken up by nature’s nature—the shadow in the foreground, the clouds in the sky and the mountain between.

I wrote in my journal at the time ‘Good gracious he could paint.’ It’s too bad (yet understandable) that art history has to focus so much on the major canonical pieces. There is much awesomeness off the main road.