Francisco Pérez Mateo (Barcelona, 1903 - Madrid, 1936) is the only sculptor, known until now, whose work you can attach to the new realism or the new objectivity and one of the few who develops a sporting-themed sculpture. These features together with the fact that most of his work is missing and that his artistic career was cut short by an early death, fighting at the Carabanchel Bajo front on the 6th or 7th of November 1936, make Pérez Mateo a unique sculptor.
The Catalan Renaixença and Noucentisme are part of the environment he spent his adolescence in and that led him to become interested in the work of sculptor Aristide Maillol, creator of the sculpture rule "mediterraneísta". Barcelona in 1916 had a privileged artistic and cultural situation in Spain. An important group of artists and intellectuals went to Catalonia seeking refuge from World War I, taking with them the avant-garde.
Pérez Mateo contacts the famed Catalan sculptor Miguel Blay, who advises him to start his training at the School of Fine Arts of San Fernando which he himself directs. The artist moves to Madrid in 1919 with his father, an authentic mentor and fundamental figure in the development of the sculptor’s artistic career. From the beginning of his career, he was certain that he would focus on sculpture. Pérez Mateo was one of the young artists who chose moulds over models, that is, Miguel Angel before Auguste Rodin. In this exhibition, two small, carved pieces from his beginnings are exhibited, an ivory ring and a boxwood bracelet from 1920, which shows some Art Deco influence.
One of his sculptures, Desnudo masculino, wins the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes award which allows him to make a trip to Paris where he is inspired by the work of Antoine Bourdelle and the Etruscan, Mesopotamian and Egyptian art he sees at the Louvre museum. Thus his work is heavily influenced upon his return to Madrid. Exhibited from this period is the Retrato de Josep Rigol (1925), a friend of the artist as well as Cabeza Doliente (1925-1926). On his second trip to Paris in 1927 he would personally meet Bourdelle and delve deeper into the avant-garde. That same year he publishes in the Revista de Occidente magazine a translation of Franz Roh’s magic realism. Postexpressionism, a text which marks Pérez Mateo’s career path, leading him to fully assume the ideas of new objectivity facing the spirituality of expressionism. Reflection from this period is exhibited with Retrato de Daniel Vázquez Díaz (1928), Cabeza de muchacha (1928-1929), Retrato de Francisco González (1929) and Retrato del escultor Cristino Mallo (1928-1929).
His interest in sport, an activity that is present in the social and cultural life of the time and which Pérez Mateo had practiced since he was young, results in a series of reliefs and sculptures made from 1930. Most of these pieces are missing and can only been appreciated through photographs. However present in this exhibition is Lanzador de martillo, a bas-relief from 1930 that reflects this line of Pérez Mateo’s work. Also exhibited is the cast Bañista (1935), a piece that was part of -as well as Oso polar (1931) also present in this exhibition- the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition of 1937 which the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía devoted a thematic exhibition to in 1987 and which was curated by Josefina Alix, the curator of this exhibition.
To finish, the bronze sculpture Cabeza cubista (1931-1932) will be exhibited, a piece which reveals Pérez Mateo’s interest in the study of the geometry of space. It is accompanied by a series of drawings entitled Espigadora de frente con cabeza ladeada, Espigadora de frente con gavilla en el delantal, Espigadora con gavilla en la cabeza drawn on a sheet of paper with the Hotel de Paris in Madrid letterhead, Espigadora de perfil and Espigadora de espaldas.