Josep Palau Oller
Not everyone can boast of a father who made him toys when small and who, even before being born, already had a delicious repertoire prepared, who painted Easter eggs, who taught him spelling with books by Joan Salvat-Papasseit illustrated by Xavier Nogués or, later on, took him into the world of art with the complex theories of Joaquim Torres-García, who spoke to him of Home de l’aristó and other frenchified melodies by Frederic Mompou and who designed for him a beautiful room in art deco, leaning towards rationalist, elegant, clean and polished, to celebrate adolescence.
Having reached the point where the young Josep Palau i Fabre could now decide for himself what he wanted to be and where he wanted to go, it is logical that he entered into conflict with his father, who he loved so much but who began to feel his youthful desires to become gentrified comme il faut in the fine society of the time. An obvious and natural divergence, generalised in the life of the majority of humans. The final reconciliation of Josep Palau i Fabre with his father would come late, certainly years after the death of Josep Palau Oller, but gradually this took on more importance as the poet, settled once again in the family home in Barcelona –the spacious flat in Carrer Bruc on the corner with Carrer València–, inserted his complex and well-defined world –and his delirious order– with the no less plethoric, but infinitely more discrete and almost anonymous, other Palau that would keep him company forever more.
From then on, Josep Palau i Fabre always recognised the cultural and artistic legacy that he owed his father, watched over it to preserve it and spared no expense publishing numerous testimonies when the occasion arose. However, he never made a panegyric but he did know how to observe with a measured and very fine critical sense; his opinions in reference to the production of Josep Palau Oller are totally on the spot, exact and perfectly valid. The fact of deciding that his own foundation bore simply the name Palau, with the clear desire of sharing the bill fifty percent, was the utmost homage.
The charms of Josep Palau Oller are not outrageous but quite the opposite, rather they are hidden and difficult to find at first. Among other reasons because, beside the painting which is the clearest but less interesting facet of all, a large part of the rest of his production –textiles, furnishings, toys and varied tales– has disappeared confusingly amongst the great magma of anonymous objects of the 20th century, and only the figure of Josep Palau i Fabre remains, obviously, as his most outstanding and almost unique work. A second look at the other Palau, just as the poet-alchemist wants you to do, allows us to discover an interesting and alert man, attentive to everything that passed by him artistically –above all during his first fifty years– with an overwhelming capacity for work, and an intelligent and amusing creativity, refined and elegant, desirously discrete through and through, like the reserved music of his friend Mompou.
If it was not for the objects, documents and furnishing that Josep Palau i Fabre conserved in the Barcelona flat in Carrer Bruc, Josep Palau Oller (Barcelona, 1888 – 1961) would have gone down in history as a minor painter, unsuccessful in life and posthumously. A simple manufacturer of paintings who had not even achieved entering the old-fashioned tabernacle of Sala Parés or be considered by any of the artistic circles that made up the vain and anachronistic Catalan painting world, of which Josep Palau Oller yearned to form part of part, because an illustrator of fabrics or a decorator was not considered an artist but a craftsman, a servant or skilled worker of industry or of the bourgeoisie, beyond the nucleus of loyal clients. And it is precisely for these other apparently routine and servile facets that the father of Josep Palau i Fabre became interesting and legitimately became an artist, in his own right, especially from the production that embraces the decades from 1910 to 1930. All together one could add the trade of shopkeeper, understood also as a creative act: in other words, someone who consciously chose what he wanted to sell, and strictly did not do so for the sake of the business but following his personal taste, or an aesthetic that added to his own, proposed a style of living, seeing and feeling. But the objects of a shop are dispersed when they leave the counter. And the furnishings are lost. And the fabrics are destroyed with the passing of time. Moreover, the few items that survive, since they are not signed, become anonymous and often obsolete if they do not have the good fortune to appear in a catalogue or book, or enter into the collection of a museum.
The inventor of the recovery of this other more modern and multi-faceted Josep Palau Oller was in fact Josep Palau i Fabre, and it all began with the toys, thanks to Ciril·lo which, when he rediscovered it, was a revelation and the book by Pepe Corredor-Matheos, La joguina a Catalunya (Barcelona, 1981) appeared. Nine years later the selfsame Palau i Fabre promoted the first retrospective about his father in the Casa Elizalde in Barcelona, with a small format exhibition that showed drawings of toys, fabrics and furnishing, as well as the usual oil paintings. In 1991, Palau i Fabre collaborated on another monographic show, this time dedicated exclusively to the toys his father made, organised by the Toy Museum of Catalonia, in Figueres, an institution that became the new and final home of Ciril·lo. The two exhibitions led to the discovery of the interesting children’s collection from 1917, and this placed Palau Oller as a direct predecessor of Joaquim Torres-García and one of the pioneers of the modern toy in the Spanish state, a halo that enabled him to be included in the big review of the IVAM in Valencia, Infancia y arte moderno (Childhood and Modern Art), in 1998.
Finally, in 2003 the Centre of Documentation and Textile Museum of Terrassa –CDMT– showed exclusively his facet of fabric illustrator. This initiative led to the generous donation to the museum, by Josep Palau i Fabre, of close-on one thousand, five-hundred original drawings by Josep Palau Oller, a good many of which also produced in collaboration or in partnership with Josep Mompou. All these drawings were the ones that the industrialists of the time had not bought, and therefore had never been woven or printed, a latent asset that conserved and still conserves great validity, proven by the fact that, for this review of Josep Palau Oller, the fashion designer Isabel de Pedro has taken an interest in his drawings and has chosen some of them for the dresses of the winter 2011 collection, and that Gratacós, an exquisite fabric shop in Barcelona at the top of Passeig de Gràcia and, at the same time, an important textile company for fashion, has also chosen some others for their summer 2011 haute couture collection: a refined set of organzas and muslins that are currently showing in the fairs of New York, Sao Paulo, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai and Barcelona.
In discovering the work of Josep Palau Oller there is still a long way to go, since the majority of productions are lost, many remain unidentified or, in the worst of cases, have disappeared without trace. There do remain, however, valuable testimonies conserved in the Fundació Palau, with thousands and thousands of projects, drawings, objects and documents that, day by day, are gradually forming a whole. There are also the fabric drawings in the Terrassa museum, and some in the Printing Museum of Premià de Mar which also has samples of patterns similar just like the old Textile and Clothing Museum of Barcelona. Additionally, among other museums and some private collections, there is also a small representation of his work in the Antoni de Montpalau Textile Collection. All together –sketches, furnishings, cuttings and tales– it now places the author in a leading spot in the field of furniture and textile design in the first third of the 20th century. Moreover, the diffusion of these documental archives will undoubtedly help in bring to light many objects lost in anonymity. Thus, little by little, we will be able to recompose this great and discrete kaleidoscope that is Josep Palau Oller.
Josep Casamartina i Parassols.