José Benet Espuny

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This work is based on the data obtained by both the works of art and my father. He has been my main source of information and I have crosschecked with him any doubts arisen along the way. Just in a few instances I have resorted to exhibition catalogues or to the bibliography.

To catalogue Benet's work has posed a few problems. In the first place, it is very extensive: Benet belongs to those artists who believe in the importance of working, which has translated in a great quantity of drawings, sketches, paintings, unfinished paintings, notes… On second place, and as a consequence of his travelling character: Rome, Paris, New York, Colombia, Venezuela, Iceland, Mexico, Norway... his work is very disseminated and, for that reason, difficult to access in its totality. My original plan to make an exhaustive cataloguing of his work disappeared in front of these obstacles. He has painted a lot, has sold a lot and his trajectory has been a long one (more than 60 years) enough so to not be able to access the whole of it. Finally, Benet has touched diverse artistic techniques.

To simplify, the actual cataloguing establishes three large groups: drawings, etchings and paintings, where it lays the majority of his works. I have set aside sculptures (just a couple) and photography. This last field, completely unknown to the public and very interesting, would entail such a large task of recuperation, cataloguing and preservation that overwhelms my possibilities.


To set up the chronology of his works of art has been a delicate task. Fortunately, a great part of the drawings have been dated. That has not been the case for the paintings. When in doubt, I have indicated before the date the word circa in front of the year, and the date is then approximate. The prodigious memory of Benet in respect to his work has been of great assistance in some cases; in other instances I have utilized other guidelines.

For the drawings, it has been of great utility to group the pages by formats, and try to reconstruct drawing pads. If one or two drawings are dated in any of those notebooks, then I can guess the year the rest of them were made.

The supports for his paintings have also given me a lot of information. During the years in Barcelona, he used Vicente Piera's canvases. Later in Paris, he employed boards covered with cloth "le Belier" number 6. During his stay in the United States he used Grumbacher cartons. When he returned to Spain he became faithful to prepared board with grey auto primer. In the seventies, he utilized a 5 mm. thick board, of dark color, which substituted later for another one thinner and of a lighter color. From his trip to Iceland in 1988 and until 1993 he used paper sheets, board covered with cloth, cardboard or conglomerate. During the three months he spent in the Andes in 1988 and 1989 he painted on "Bellini's" cartons covered with cloth, made in Venezuela. These supports were alternated with others such as cardboard, unprimed board, canvas… which by themselves they do not give any information. Lastly, we need to consider he made use of supports he had bought in the United States fifteen years earlier and the fact he would paint over a work he did not like. In these cases, the information given by the support had to be complemented with other aspects, as the stylistic ones.

In some instances the theme has also a lot to say about the period when the painting was done. In his years of youth, Benet painted subjects he could easily access on foot from his home in the "Rastre". He also painted in places nearby, where he could leave his tools, to later reach by bicycle his improvised warehouse without having to carry all the material daily. Thus he was able to paint in "Ferreries" and in the town of Bitem.

Several of his still life where painted in the class of Color at the school of Fine Arts in Barcelona, under Miravalls Bové.

Almost all of his drawings with a religious theme were done in the class of drawing, with the sculptor Adsuara as his teacher (school of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, 1946-1947). Adsuara enjoyed having models posse to represent saints, hermits and figures in the cross to give the ability and resources to those who would find in religious art a possible professional future.

The paintings of L'Ampolla's harbour have been painted from the balcony of Manel Canalda's apartment, a long time friend. He worked there from 1972 until the death of Manel in 1984. There are works with this theme dated from 1979 to 1981.

A recurrent theme in his oil paintings is a property in the Delta of the Ebro's river: "Mas Bruguera", also known as "Mas Llambrich" or "Mas de l'Illa". Since its discovery, he continued to go there every year. When he was in the area and did not know where to go, he would end up there. He loved it from all its angles and from every perspective. It consisted of two buildings: a house with a tower and, in front of it, a warehouse with several annexes. The whole of the buildings gave a lot of possibilities and it was balanced from the composition's point of view. However, in 1984 the owner planted oleanders along the entrance path and cypresses to protect his vegetable patch. In paintings dated in 1985 (number 1326) and 1986 (number 413) one can appreciate the bushes getting taller and taller. Finally, a black poplar that has been there was cut down. The balance was broken and Benet did not like the result. From 1987 onward he stopped going back.

He painted in the town of Miravet from 1978 to 1985.

Technique and style

At the beginning, as it is natural, Benet copied his teachers: Baiges, the Cerveto brothers, Arasa… In Barcelona, his ability to draw had acquired solidity and that was translated into his painting. When he went to Madrid, his professor of etching, Esteve Botey, told him: "It frightens me your easiness to draw. I will have to tie a stone to your wrist". To which Benet responded: "Do not worry; this ability is not uncalled for. It is the result of a lot of work. I can go back as far as it is necessary". Esteve Botey recommended him to translate that mature and definite style of his drawing into his etchings. His drawing teacher Adsuara, noticing the predilection of Benet for the chiaroscuro, encouraged him to use it in all his work. Benet says: "when one paints something one is akin to, it is easier to transmit something in one's work". Adsuara suggested him to publish a drawing book addressed to professionals.

To win the "Prize of Rome" gave Benet two opportunities: for one part, to get rid of the influence of Arasa ("to put layer over layer of paint, as it that was the essential!"). For another, to meet the work of the great masters: the landscapers from the Netherlands (Ruysdael, Hobbema); his admired Corot (master of values); the impressionists, to whom he did not care much for until he visited Paris and saw with which sensibility they represented its misty atmosphere. He was looking for elements which were close to him, and with those influences he forged his objectives. In Paris he discovered the varnish which, mixed with oils, proportions watercolor effects. He also found the markers, just invented at that time, which he utilized to draw and to sketch. During the years he lived in Venezuela, his paintings accentuated its color and he experimented by applying paint with a palette knife. His move back to Tortosa in 1971 meant the return to his origins and to take up his brushes and the tablex (on its surface the paint runs smooth and, when fresh, he could mix values and tones in a subtle way).

For my father the style is not an end in itself; it is pure distillation of the work done with a clear objective: to capture the soul of that which is represented with the most possible rigueur. As his teacher Manuel Benedito used to say: "one has to study the model, analyze it, to let it later come out spontaneously through one's heart. Everything else (the style) will come later". Painting, as he understands it, searches to grasp and communicate the vibration that all human being has and that constitutes the substance of any work of art.

Mónica Benet Uzcategui