The Spanish sculptor Julio González (1876-1942) pioneered welded iron constructions and gave the medium an unprecedented expressiveness and range.
Julio González was born on Sept. 21, 1876, in Barcelona. He learned his craft from his father, a goldsmith and sculptor. González exhibited sculpture in metal at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1892 and at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He studied painting as an evening student at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts.
In 1900 González moved to Paris, where he renewed his acquaintance with Pablo Picasso. At this time González devoted himself to painting. His brother Joan, also a painter, died in 1908. González, grief-stricken, abandoned all artistic activity for many months. When he recovered, he returned to his first love, sculpture, but his work was intermittent and dispirited. Anguish over his brother's death had abated, but González was haunted by it, and he also suffered from a sense of personal inadequacy.
In 1926, when he was approaching 50, González acquired sufficient confidence to begin working full time. His sculpture of the next 4 years was cubistic, modest in scale, and reminiscent of the so-called transparencies of Jacques Lipchitz. In 1930 González began to instruct Picasso in welding. The collaboration of González with perhaps the most powerful innovator in modern art led, as one would expect, to a vitalization of his own artistic conceptions. González's Head (1934) and Standing Figure (1932) show Picasso's influence. These works are linear in conception, with forms and attitudes as agile and intense as a grass-hopper's body, and yet they are totally expressive of welded iron.
González became a member of the constructivist group Cercle et Carré at this time, and in 1934 he exhibited with the Abstraction-Création group. Some of his last works, such as Woman Combing Her Hair (1936) and Monserrat (1936-1937), have expressionist characteristics and a monumentality unlike anything he had done before. Monserrat, which represents the starkly simple figure of a woman with a scarf on her head, is essentially naturalistic in terms of proportion and sense of bulk despite the meagerness of descriptive detail. In a sense, this sculpture, thought by many to be his finest, is uncharacteristic, for González combined abstraction and surrealism in his two versions of Cactus Man, spiky, gesturing, anthropomorphic vegetations.
During World War II, because of war shortages, González was forced to abandon welding and instead model in plaster. He executed a number of sketches for Monserrat II, but he finished only the head: it is that of a woman, her hair covered by a bandana. She appears to be crying out as if confronted by an unspeakable atrocity. This piece was his last work. He died in Paris on March 27, 1942. Though his output was small, his influence on such sculptors as David Smith, Theodore Roszak, Reg Butler, and Lynn Chadwick is testimony to the eloquence of his art.
Further Reading on Julio González
There are few studies of González's art in English. There are two exhibition catalogs, one by Hilton Kramer for the Galerie Chalette in New York (1961) and another by Andrew Ritchie for the Museum of Modern Art (1956). The latter received wider distribution; it provides a basic text and adequate plates. Vincente Aguilera Cerni, Julio González (1962), includes a text in Italian and English. The Galerie de France of Paris published Joan González 1868-1908, Julio González 1876-1942, Roberta González, Peintures et dessins inédits (1965), with a text in French, English, and German.
Additional Biography Sources
Withers, Josephine, Julio Gonzalez: sculpture in iron, New York: New York University Press, 1978.