La Carga, 1903. Painting by Ramón Casas y Carbó
It is curious that this striking painting, with its strange composition, has long been seen by many as an iconic image of the European left, when in fact it was painted by a bourgeois, something that has an explanation.
Originally, Ramón Casas’s La Carga (The Charge) did not refer to any real event; the landscape in the background is also unreal, but it is supposed to be set in Barcelona, as some of the buildings depicted are real, such as the Pla Palau and the three chimneys of Poble Sec.
Although the painting is dated 1903, Ramón Casas completed it in 1899 and submitted it to the Universal Exhibition in Paris, but the Spanish jury did not select it, so he decided to shelve it.
When the popular uprisings, the repression of the working class and the general strike took place in 1900, Casas returned to the work and retouched it with the intention of presenting it in Paris in 1903, knowing that the painting would attract attention and could win a prize as it dealt with a topical theme of social denunciation, uncomfortable for some and necessary for others. And so it was, although Casas had no intention of denouncing anything, that painting “with a message” was simply a fashion of the moment.
“The Charge” evokes one of the many charges against the proletariat carried out by the Civil Guard in Barcelona during the general strike that paralysed the city on 17 February 1902, and its composition is said to be inspired by Goya’s painting “The Second of May 1808 in Madrid: The Fight with the Mamelukes”.
Breaking down “La Carga”
Now, an exhibition opening on 23 March at the Garrotxa Museum in Olot (Girona) will commemorate the painting’s arrival. A century ago, the Spanish government issued a royal order authorising the transfer of the painting to the former Museum-Library in Olot.
The exhibition aims to explain what Ramon Casas’s “The Charge” represented and what it represents today by deconstructing the painting so that it can be understood in every detail. The exercise will also allow us to analyse the repression that states have exercised against people throughout history.
At the end of the Ancien Régime, in the 18th century, mass society appeared and, with it, organised street protest. The states organised police forces to replace the military in the task of repressing the people. The exhibition will show a variety of graphic material illustrating its evolution.
Among these images will be some related vignettes that I was asked for, together with a photograph by @julioelpoeta that also has its own little story.
The photo was taken on Saturday 28 May 2011 during the 29-S demonstration in Amsterdam and will be exhibited next to the original cartoon on the banner, which was published on the same day.
“From a grey past To a black present”
More curiosities and details about “La Carga”, and other works by Ramón Casas, in this interesting 28-minute programme.
Exhibition “La Càrrega” or the violence of the State against the people, Museum of La Garrotxa. From 23 March to 18 August 2019.