In this window for teaching art, we look at artistic creations that lead us to analyse the background of the work. Those that provoke a flurry of emotions inside us when we look at them, that lead to uncertainties and open up questions for us, uncertainties that make us need to stop time to look for answers to that intense desire to know more and to learn something.
Pilar Montaner Maturana was born in Palma de Mallorca in 1876. Daughter of a well-off family, she received a complete education in Madrid, where she lived during her childhood and adolescence. Her father, Jaume de Montaner Vega, war admiral, was based in this city for some time. This is where they suffered a family tragedy: her mother, Elvira Maturana from Uruguay, died when Pilar was fourteen.
During her education in Madrid, Pilar had classes in art, painting, drawing, a learning process that fascinated her, disturbed her, convinced her that she would dedicate her life to it, and that her whole world, and her environment, would revolve around art. This idea was strengthened and consolidated thanks to her marriage to Joan Sureda. Who was Joan Sureda?
Joan Sureda was the son of one of the most important families in the Mallorcan economic world of the 19th century, and heir to the Palace of King Sanç de Valldemossa. His social position allowed him to devote himself, from a young age, to the patronage of Mallorcan writing and art of the time. Therefore, it is not surprising that he supported the artistic development of his wife while he took care of their fourteen children (with the indispensable help of servants). This decision, taken at that time and in that social context (late 19th century, early 20th century), was not understood by circles close to the family, and not so close, since it was a small revolution in terms of the patriarchal traditions of the time.
Questioning, curiosity and the desire to learn constantly were essential characteristics in the life of Pilar Montaner. She assimilated the knowledge she received from the different teachers she had. In the beginning, the Mallorcan masters Antoni Ribas Oliver, a great landscape painter, and Ricard Anckerman, an excellent portraitist, made Pilar a painter who was beginning to stand out in the world of Mallorcan art.
The various stays in Madrid, at the beginning of the 20th century, led the Pilar to continue evolving in her work. Two new figures were influential at this stage: Joaquin Sorolla and Antoni Gelabert. With the Valencian master Sorolla, she learned to improve her brushstrokes and to represent scenes related to a familiar and everyday environment.
The Mallorcan artist, Gelabert, provided a gateway to the world of European artists. With him, she toured many European art museums to observe, immerse herself and experience the talent of artists such as Van Gogh, for example.
Until the 1920s, Pilar Montaner had a prolific artistic stage. Her inspiration and her predisposition to continue improving propelled her forward, as did having. a home that opened its doors to artists such as Rubén Darío, Miguel de Unamuno, Eugeni d’Ors and Sorolla himself, among others, all of them regular guests of the Sureda Montaner family.
Her work is characterised by portraits and landscapes, but she also delved into the specific natural environment of her island. Pilar was known for painting in situ, that is, moving to the exact same place she wanted to represent in her painting; she wanted to be directly connected to the environment she was going to draw. In her paintings, a particular tree was dominant: the Mallorcan olive tree. This olive tree allowed Montaner to express herself, not only in the landscape features that had embodied her work so far, but to show, from within, her feelings in the painting. This is the context for the painting we will analyse in this article.
Making a first observation regarding the painting, Pilar Montaner shows us how four olive trees, three in the foreground and the fourth further away, seem to dance to the rhythm of the wind in this rocky environment, close to the sea, typical of a part of the Tramuntana mountain range in Mallorca. The combination of colours increases this feeling of comfort, even invites us to move like olive trees, to the rhythm of the wind.
What if the artist is representing what life is through a metaphor in this painting? Let’s go into detail:
Embrace. One trunk embraces another leading to a fusion. Now they are one. A hug of love for the couple. Together they form a trunk with almost no cracks, strengthened and unique. The branches celebrate it tumultuously, letting themselves be carried away by the wind that caresses them in a moment of passion. Perhaps it’s a good summary of the author’s youthful phase?
Maternity. A young trunk is born from the intimate union, which grows robust, well rooted and strong, with branches and leaves dancing in the wind. The previous hug has borne fruit, and she expresses the happiness of having created a large family.
Internal turbulence. The brushstrokes of the rocks contrast with the tranquillity of both the sky and the blue sea.
The difficulties of the road. A wide and narrow path, rocky, with ups and downs, a path that leads to the sea. The difficulties, the curves, the obstacles… don’t stop her. In spite of everything, she moves forward. A narrower path perhaps suggests an end?
Loneliness. An old, leafless, dry olive tree with an exhausted trunk, “hanging by a thread,” near the path that leads to the cliff. What’s the message?
From the 1920s onwards, the Pilar began to have financial and family problems. The seizure of the Palace of King Sanç de Valldemossa, until then, her residence, the death of more children, and that of her husband shaped the rest of her life. Still, she never stopped painting.
And it makes us wonder: why has she received so little recognition? Because she was a woman, and an artist? Because she was one of the first women to break the era’s family stereotypes? Could it be that t her family’s ‘fall’ from luck condemned Pilar to oblivion? Or just that a female artist didn’t interest anyone?
We hope that this article has led to questions, uncertainties, and increased your curiosity and interest in knowing more about Pilar Montaner i Maturana, an artist who, like so many others, must be rescued from oblivion.
La pintora sense rostre [The faceless painter] (2012)
Documentary with fiction about the life and work of Pilar Montaner. A production by Cinètica Produccions, directed by Luis Ortas, and made by Jaume Carrió.