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Sagrada Familia's main sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs has died aged 87

Josep Maria Subirachs died in Barcelona after a neurodegenerative illness aged 87. Subirachs had a long career in several artistic disciplines but he will be mostly remembered at international level for the work he created in the Sagrada Familia basilica designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. In 1986, Subirachs was commissioned to create sculpture groups for the church's Passion Façade, picturing Jesus Christ's Via Crucis. He devoted 18 years of his life to creating a unique and controversial composition; he did not follow Gaudí's style but used his own. Instead of picturing rounded ornaments inspired by nature, Subirachs designed straight stone figures with a solid and sharp aspect, inspired by geometry and with a wrinkled texture. Caixa Penedès intended to create an exhibition centre devoted to his work near Barcelona Picasso Museum, but the financial crisis stopped the project.

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09 April 2014 07:08 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- Josep Maria Subirachs died in Barcelona after a neurodegenerative illness aged 87. Subirachs had a long career in several artistic disciplines but he will be mostly remembered at international level for the sculpture he created in the Sagrada Familia basilica designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. In 1986, Subirachs was commissioned to create the sculpture groups for the church's Passion Façade, depicting Jesus Christ's Via Crucis and death. He devoted 18 years of his life to creating a unique and controversial composition; he did not followed Gaudí's style but used his own artistic language. Instead of picturing rounded and soft ornaments inspired by nature elements, Subirachs designed straight figures carved into stone with a solid and sharp aspect, inspired by geometry and with a wrinkled texture due to the grattage technique. In fact, Subirachs managed to develop his own style in all his sculpture work, mostly influenced by artists such as Antoni Tàpies and Henry Moore. Since the 1960s he started to obtain international recognition, with exhibitions in many European cities, as well as in the US, Japan and China, among other countries. His work was prolific, with many sculptures in numerous buildings and public spaces spread throughout Catalonia, although a large amount of them are in Barcelona. Caixa Penedès intended to create an exhibition centre devoted to his sculpture, painting and engraving work near Barcelona Picasso Museum, but the financial crisis put the project on hold and its completion is currently uncertain. The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, highlighted that Subirachs has been "a key figure" in the history of Catalan sculpture, making "an authentic revolution" in the second half of the 20th century. The Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, referred to Subirachs as "one of the greatest and most international sculptors of our country". "He represents the change from the ‘Noucentisme’ movement to Abstraction. He breaks with the most normal, ordinary and conventional traditions in sculpture and puts Catalan sculpture through an extraordinarily important process of change", stated Mascarell.


Josep Maria Subirachs was born in Barcelona in 1927, the year after Antoni Gaudí's death. Although he did not have any connection to Gaudí at the beginning of his life, Subirachs will always be remembered in association with the famous architect. After more than 20 years of international recognition, in 1986 Subirachs was commissioned with the task of his life: decorating the Sagrada Familia's Passion Façade, which pictures the last days of Jesus Christ. During the 18 years between 1987 and 2005 he focused on this project, which is considered his masterwork. It is comprised of more than a hundred sculpted figures and four wide, oblique columns that form a portico. In addition, he also designed 4 doors made of bronze.

Subirachs' unique style

Subirachs style is unique, mostly inspired by geometry. His work depicts solid, heavy-looking figures with a wrinkled or granular texture. The Catalan artist mastered the grattage technique, which created this particular texture to emphasise the expression of the materials used, mostly stone and rustic metals. When he designed the Sagrada Familia, his work became controversial since he broke with Gaudí's rounded and soft elements inspired by nature and instead offered telluric and straight-lined figures.

Subirachs started his career as a sculptor between 1942 and 1947, as a trainee of Enric Monjo, where he learned the main techniques. However, he reached his proficiency working next to the master Enric Casanovas until 1948, who was one of the Catalan 'Noucentisme' movement artists. In 1950 Subirachs was one of the founders of the group Postectura, together with fellow artists Francesc Torres Monsó and Martí Sabé, and painters such as Esther Boix, Ricard Creus and Joaquim Datzira. The next year, the Cercle Maillol of the Institut Français awarded him a scholarship to expand his studies in Paris, where he came into contact with European avant-garde movements and the sculptor Henry Moore. In those years, Belgian painter Luc Peire discovered Subirachs' work in the Sallon Octobre and asked him to move to Belgium, where he lived between 1954 and 1956.

His first work in Barcelona's public space

A year after this, his work 'Forma 212' was erected in Barcelona, the first abstract sculpture ever installed in a public space in the Catalan capital. Furthermore, in 1958, he placed a sculpture in the façade of the recently-built Law Faculty of the Universitat de Barcelona called 'Les taules de la llei' (‘The tables of the Law’ in English). In 1960 the sculpture 'Evocació marinera' (‘Sailing evocation’) was unveiled in the Barceloneta, next to the sea.

The Catalan sculptor is the author of more than a hundred works that are set up in cities throughout the world, although a large majority of them are in Barcelona, where he installed up to 70 sculptures, besides those of the Sagrada Família. Some of the most famous ones are the monument to the former Catalan President Francesc Macià, located in Barcelona's Catalunya Square, the homage to submarine engineer Narcís Monturiol, located in the Diagonal Avenue, or the 'Barcelona' frieze in the Catalan capital's Town Hall building.

Subirachs also worked in other artistic disciplines besides sculpture, such as painting, drawing, engraving, poster design, tapestry and jewellery. He received many honours in Catalonia, such as the Sant Jordi Cross – given each year by the Catalan Government to prominent citizens – and Barcelona City Council's Golden Medal of Arts. He also showed his work throughout the world, with numerous exhibitions in his honour: in Chicago (1962), New York (1982), Japan (1990) and Beijing (2006), among many others.

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  • The Sagrada Família's Passion Façade sculpted by Subirachs (by ACN)

  • Josep Maria Subirachs next to one of his sculptures (by Premsa Basilica de la Sagrada Familia)

  • The Sagrada Família's Passion Façade sculpted by Subirachs (by ACN)
  • Josep Maria Subirachs next to one of his sculptures (by Premsa Basilica de la Sagrada Familia)
Sagrada Familia's main sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs has died aged 87