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Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso's Barcelona.

The intense social and political struggles which have accompanied Barcelona's industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have long interested historians. Temma Kaplan's new book Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso's Barcelona examines civic culture between 1888 and 1939 in an effort to explain how divisions based upon class, politics, and gender were at times subordinated by a broadly based solidarity in opposition to Spain's central government. Kaplan uses methods drawn from the new cultural history to interpret the changing symbolic meanings of municipally-sponsored civic rites, popular culture, street demonstrations, terrorist bombings, and the artistic activities of Picasso and fellow modernistes.

The argument she presents is that religious processions and pageantry in the late nineteenth century served to galvanize popular allegiance to a new sense of civic identity based on the resurgence of Catalan culture. Over the course of the next four decades, Kaplan asserts that the working class, Catalan nationalists, women's groups and the community of artists affiliated with the Quatre Gats care, adapted and re-interpreted many forms of civic and religious pageantry to communicate new visions of the community, protest injustices faced in workplace and neighborhood, and create innovative definitions of aestheticism. Burgeoning class conflict in Barcelona progressively eroded the larger sense of civic solidarity in the first decades of the century until the coming of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in 1923. According to Kaplan, when the citizens of Barcelona were faced with "gratuitously petty repression of Catalan culture by Primo's forces ... Catalanism emerged as a culture of resistance for people from all walks of life, workers and businessmen alike". From there, Kaplan extends her argument to maintain that despite internecine struggles during the Second Republic, the Spanish Civil War, and the Franco dictatorship which followed, the citizens of Barcelona have successfully preserved a sense of solidarity and drawn from a common Catalan pool of cultural forms and symbols in their acts of resistance against oppression from the Spanish government.

The two chapters Kaplan devotes to women constitute an important contribution, especially in their analyses of collective protest movements, although much of this material has appeared in her earlier articles. Kaplan is one of the first historians to include a consideration of gender in an analysis of Barcelona's political culture in the pre-Civil War decades and based upon the evidence she has found, the case for doing so is a very good one. Women played an important role in the Tragic Week of 1909, both as rioters and as victims of violence. Kaplan draws attention to a number of episodes where a unique female political culture manifested itself in collective protests organized, conceived of, and led by women. Women's affiliations tended to be neighborhood, rather than occupationally, based, and the issues around which they organized protest were either highly local in nature (such as food prices and hygienic conditions in the neighborhood) or represented global concerns (definitions of basic human dignity, for example); they seldom fell in between. Kaplan's material on women should be considered by historians of modern Catalonia specifically, and by social historians generally.

Yet this study covers varied ground with varied success. Most of the new cultural history analysis is applied to the first chapters with the later material on Picasso and fellow artists bearing more relation to a traditional intellectual history narrative. Throughout, the anarchosyndicalists receive highly sympathetic treatment while the Republican Left is slighted in attention, especially in the chapter on cultural reaction to the Second Republic. An overview of the cultural policies of the Generalitat de Catalunya and of popular culture generally in the 1930s would have given the study more balance. The Republican Left was widely supported by Barcelona's lower-middle class--a group whose contribution to civic culture was enormous, and whose role is virtually ignored in nearly every study.

A perplexing feature about Kaplan's book is that despite the author's obvious appreciation for and extensive familiarity with Catalan culture, as well as her explicit aim of writing from a Catalan perspective, she has chosen unnecessarily to translate nearly all Catalan place names and festival names into English. Easily pronounceable names (the neighborhood of Poble Sec becomes Dry Town, the Gran Via becomes Main Street, the festival of La Verge de Merce becomes the Virgin of Mercy, etc.) are transformed eerily as if all of Barcelona's landmarks had been sent through Ellis Island. Also surprising is the series of errors that appear in reference to the meat and potatoes of Catalan popular culture. Sardanes have never been danced to "the wistful sound of bassoons, clarinets, and flutes", nor are the gegants (giants) which feature so prominently in the study "men on stilts", to name just a couple of annoying little mistakes. These, coupled with Kaplan's assertion that Picasso's 1917 painting of the monument to Columbus is "against the background of the yellow-and-red Catalan flag", when in fact it is the Spanish flag depicted, are somewhat confounding. Overall, however, Kaplan should be commended for this new effort to explain the nature of the tensions among class, gender, and nationalist identities in Catalonia during the course of the half century before Franco.

Montserrat Marti Miller Carnegie Mellon University
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Miller, Montserrat Marti
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1993
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