The Artwork of Josep Tapiró i Baró
Born in February of 1836 in the Catalonian city of Reus, Josep Tapiró i Baró was a Spanish painter and one of the leading representatives of international Orientalism. He was the first painter from the Iberian Peninsula to settle in Tangier. Through his thirty-seven years in Tangier, Tapiró was a direct witness to North Africa’s urban and cultural transformation under European colonialism. He is best known for his series of half-length portraits of traditional characters and religious scenes.
The son of hardware retailers, Josep Tapiró i Baró displayed an affinity for drawing in his early years. He began his formal art training in 1849 under Domènec Soberano, a prosperous wine merchant and self-taught artist who had founded a drawing school in Reus. At the age of thirteen, Tapiró met fellow student Marià Josep Maria Bernat Fortuny i Marsal. These young men, both exceptionally talented painters, established a friendship that lasted their whole lives. In 1853, Tapiró and Fortuny were given the opportunity to exhibit their work at a show held by the cultural and recreational association Casino de Reussense.
In the latter part of 1853, Tapiró and Fortuny enrolled at Barcelona’s Escola de la Llotja where they studied under Claudi Lorenzale i Sugrañes, a Spanish painter associated with the German Nazarene movement for the revival of spirituality in art. Tapiró produced mainly historical and religious scenes during his time in Barcelona. In 1857, a group of four students, among whom were Tapiró and Fortuny, were given the opportunity to compete for a Rome study grant. The test was a portrait of Barcelona’s eleventh-century military hero Ramon Berenguer III. Marià Fortuny unanimously won the competition and left for Rome in 1858.
Josep Tapiró i Baró traveled to Madrid in 1858 and enrolled at the School of Painting and Engraving which was a branch of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Ferdinand. He studied under portrait and historical painter Federico de Madrazo until his return to Barcelona in 1860. Tapiró assisted with the decoration of the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, one of the few medieval buildings in Europe still functioning as a seat of government.
At his arrival in Rome in 1862, Tapiró joined his friend Fortuny and was introduced to Fortuny’s circle of artists who regularly frequented the Antico Caffè Greco. This café, the oldest in Rome, was a historic meeting place for such figures as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, George Gordon Byron, Franz Liszt, and John Keats. While in Italy, Tapiró visited Naples and Florence with Fortuny, took watercolor classes and painted works that focused more on genre themes. In 1871, he and Fortuny traveled to Tangier in Morocco where they spent most of a year. While Fortuny painted scenes of courtyards and Moroccan landscapes, Tapiró painted detailed watercolors of common people and beggars. Their trip ended in 1872 with his return to Rome and Fortuny’s return to his wife and son in Granada. In 1873, Tapiró exhibited his Orientalist works at the International Art Circle in Rome.
In November of 1874, Josep Tapiró i Baró was shocked to learn of Fortuny’s sudden death in Rome from malaria he had contracted painting in the open air in Naples. Rather than remain in Rome or Spain, Tapiró decided in 1876 to join a diplomatic mission to meet Sultan of Morocco Hassan bi Mohammed. He moved into a house near the historical district of Tangier and acquired an old theater as a studio. Although he traveled as far as New York and Saint Petersburg to exhibit his work, Tapiró lived in Tangier for the rest of his life. Returning to the medium of watercolor, he painted a series of detailed, brooding portraits that, instead of his previous dramatic Orientalist style, documented the humanity of the Moroccan people.
In 1886, Tapiró married a Tangier native of Italian ancestry, twenty-year old Maria Manuela Veleraga Cano. Shortly after the marriage, they adopted the orphaned son of Maria’s friend who had recently died. In 1903, Tapiró contracted a lung infection which caused respiratory and cardiovascular problems that led to lack of energy and, by 1905, a decline in his career. The decline was compounded by the decrease in foreign visitors to Tangier due to a kidnapping of two British nationals and a rebellion led by Bou Hmara, a pretender to the throne of Morocco.
In 1907, Josep Tapiró i Baró and his wife relocated to Madrid in order to promote his work at an exhibition held at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, a major cultural center. After their return to Tangier, Tapiró’s health problems worsened over time and led to his death, at the age of seventy-seven, in October of 1913. He initially was buried in Tangier; however, the government of Reus demanded in 1921 that he be recognized in his home town. Tapiró’s remains were moved to Reus in 1947 and reinterred near the burial space of his friend Marià Fotruny. The city of Reus placed a commemoration plaque on the house in which Tapiró was born.
Notes: The Catalan-speaking territories abide by the Spanish naming customs; however, the discrete surnames are usually joined with the word “i”, meaning and, instead of the Spanish “y”, a practice very common in formal contexts. Thus, Josep Tapiró i Baró’s first or paternal surname is Tapiró and the second or maternal family name is Baró.
For those interested in a deeper study of Spanish Orientalism, particularly in regard to the works of José Tapiró y Baró and Mariano Bertuchi Nieto, I recommend University of Edinburgh researcher Claudia Hopkins’s 2017 “The Politics of Spanish Orientalism: Distance and Proximity in Tapiró and Bertuchi”. The published version can be found online at: https://www.pure.ed.ac.uk/ws/files/41514515/Hopkins_Tapiro_Bertuchi_final_clean_copy.pdf
Top Insert Image: Marià Fortuny, “Portrait of Josep Tapiró i Baró, Tangier”, 1874, Ink Sketch on Paper, Private Collection
Second Insert Image: Josep Tapiró i Baró, “An Oriental Atrium”, Date Unknown, Pencil, Watercolor and Bodycolor on Paper, 67.8 x 47.9 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Josep Tapiró i Baró, “Homme en Blanc”, Date Unknown, Watercolor on Paper, 64 x 47 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, ” Josep Tapiró i Baró”, circa 1865-70, Vintage Print, Provenance Unknown