Ramon Martí i Alsina (1826–1894) was a key figure in Spanish Realism and a passionate man imbued with a torrent of Catalonian spirit. His seascapes grab you by the collar and drag you deep into the ocean while his portraits overflow with Courbet-esque grit.
Martí i Alsina was born into a humble family and faced tragedy early in life when he was orphaned at the age of eight. As a result, he was raised by his godfather who encouraged him to study and work hard towards a career.
His creative talents were already beginning to emerge but he was discouraged from pursuing his artistic interests in favour of a philosophy course.
But despite this, Martí i Alsina retained his determination to become a painter and began attending night classes at the Escola de la Llotja.
The decision to swim against the current was an early sign of things to come and a move that underpinned his life as an artist.
During the 1840s, painters such as Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) were creating grounded depictions of real life - exactly as they saw it. They rallied against the Romantics who they believed were overly emotional and often avoiding the true fractured nature of French life.
It’s clear that Martí i Alsina was inspired by the Realists as he adopted a similar style when he began making a living from his art. He often painted ‘en plein air’ (or outside) and captured the landscape in an honest and naturalistic manner.
Painting in this style was certainly far from the easiest way to make money as the Realists were still considered to be controversial. But an unswerving desire to paint the truth was an important tenet of this young man’s character.
In 1852, Martí i Alsina became a professor of drawing at La Llotja where he introduced the concept of plein-air painting to his students. Without question, he was an influential leader during this period and contributed to the abandonment of out-dated academic methods. He encouraged his students to feel liberated and unbound from the shackles of the past.
Throughout this busy period of his life, he sketched in the morning, worked in the studio during the afternoon, and taught in the evening.
In 1872, he was touched by tragedy once again when his son and daughter both died within a few days of each other. And then six years on, his wife also passed away.
At around this time, many of his works seem to take a darker turn and feature the unbridled power of the natural world. Gushing seas that wreck ships and powerful rivers cutting through mountainous terrain.
These heartbreaking events were compounded by a backdrop of financial problems that forced him to increase his output. While undoubtedly still grieving, he had to work like never before and at one point had seven separate workshops.
Martí i Alsina is regarded as one of the forerunners of Spanish Realism and a true Catalan giant. In his final years, he was working passionately on a huge history painting depicting the ‘Third Siege of Girona’ from the France-Spain Peninsular War (1807–1814).
Throughout his lifetime, despite various tragedies and adversity, he retained his undying commitment to paint from the heart. This enthusiasm, coupled with his Catalan fire, inspired a new generation of painters to feel liberated and free to explore.
At Brave, we’re fortunate to have a powerful original seascape by Martí i Alsina in the collection, so do take a look.