The Biblioteca Museu Víctor Balaguer (Víctor Balaguer Museum & Library) is located in Vilanova i la Geltrú and was founded in 1884 by Víctor Balaguer so as to thank the city for its support during his politician career. Since 2000 the museum is part of the National Art Museum of Catalonia and the library is part of the National Library of Catalonia.
The building was built between 1882 and 1884, it is from the architect Jeroni Granell i Mundet and it is located in the centre of Vilanova i la Geltrú, surrounded by the railway station, the superior engineering’s technical college of Vilanova i la Geltrú of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and the library of this college. It was specifically conceived as a library and museum, which was unusual at that time. The building is temple’s shaped and it has neo-Egyptian and neo-Greek ornamental elements, distinctive details of public architecture in Catalonia at the end of the 19th century, just before the Modernisme arrived.
On the facade of the building we can find the sculptures of the archbishop Francesc Armanyà and the poet Manuel de Cabanyes, who were relevant figures of Vilanova at the 19th century. On top of the main entrance it can be read the headword Surge et Ambula (stand up and walk in Latin).
It is also relevant the 19th century garden that surrounds the building. Here we can find the called Santa Teresa’s House, place where Víctor Balaguer lived during his stays in Vilanova.
Over the years the building has undergone several alterations and changes, but in the last one they choose recovering the original style designed by Granell and therefore recovering the natural light inside the halls.
It was conceived to make known, through objects and documents of all kinds, the entirety of the knowledge. His founder contributed with books, magazines and other documents. The founder’s intention was to open it to any citizen “without any kind of economical or social exclusion” it was the precedent of Catalan public libraries.
The collection’s classification and layout answered to an accurate study of the librarian and printer Joan Oliva i Milà, who studied other European libraries so as to see which the best organization for the new centre was. In that moment, it stressed a big table where the readers had at his disposal journals and magazines from different places that allowed them always being informed.
Nowadays, there are 50.000 books and almost 2.000 daily publications from between 18th and 19th century. Moreover, there also are around 50.000 letters and several literary and political manuscripts from Víctor Balaguer. All of this turns it into one of the richest bibliographic collections of the 19th century in Catalonia.
It also has documents, personal or artistic archives from personalities such as Enric Cristòfor Ricart, Joan Alemany i Moya and Eduard Toldrà, as well as the personal bibliographic found of Joan Rius Vila, José Cruset and the gastronomic figure J.E.Roig Santacana among others.
As the ancient collectors of the 19th century, the collection is divided into several subcollections because of Balaguer’s multidisciplinary interest. Although the collection’s thickness was given by Balaguer, the museum has incorporated and enriched his collections through the years with several donations and acquisitions. Nowadays (2011) the museum’s artistic found consists of 7.000 different objects where it clearly stresses the painting and sculpture collection of the 19th century. Since the foundation’s year, the Museo del Prado has deposited several works that are changed periodically. This deposit is often made up of Castilian, Andalusian and Valencian paintings from between the 16th and the 18th century, there are works from well-known artists such as El Greco, Francisco Goya or Jusepe de Ribera among others. The museum also preserves the municipal Catalan painting collection of the 19th century that until 1996 was shown at Castell de la Geltrú.
In the art’s gallery hall there is one of the best Catalan painting collections of the 19th century, with works from Santiago Rusiñol, Ramon Casas i Carbó, Joaquim Vayreda, Ramon Martí Alsina, Pau Carbonell and Dionisio Baixeras Verdaguer among others. It basically shows the founder’s original collection and paintings donated by the own artists. The works are shown in chronological order so as to evoke Roma’s school about Catalan art in the 19th century. In the hall there also is the Monteleon’s park defense from Joaquín Sorolla, known popularly as the Second of May Prado’s property.
In the Prado hall there is an important collection of baroque painting coming from the Museo del Prado. There are works such as “the Holy Family” from El Greco and other paintings from Luca Giordano, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, etc.
Castilian and Andalusian schools are more represented here than the Flemish and the Italian. The paintings are distributed in four big thematic areas: religious painting, portrait, mythology and nature, including still life.
At the second floor halls there are paintings and sculptures of the main artists of the first half of the 20th century such as Santiago Rusiñol, Ramon Casas i Carbó, Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa, Joaquim Mir, Isidre Nonell, Francesc Domingo or Xavier Nogués among others. Most of these paintings are small and they were donated to the Institution in 1956. The year gives the name to the whole collection as Legate of the 56.
Related with the local history there is a hall with paintings of the old Cafè Foment and a little space with works from the Vilanova’s School.
At this floor there is also a contemporary art’s collection from de 50’s and the 60’s with paintings from Albert Ràfols Casamada, Hernández Pijuan, Joan-Josep Tharrats, Josep Guinovart i Bertran, Antonio Saura... and sculptures from Àngel Ferrant and Andreu Alfaro among others. The majority of this collection works come from the first Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art founded in 1963 so as to prevent the dispersion of this important collection, considered as the most complete informalist art’s collection in Catalonia.
There is a temporary show hall too.
There is an Egyptian hall where there can be found authentic objects from the Ancient Egypt. It stresses for its singularity the little mummy of a five years old kid called Nesi, one of the five unique mummies that are nowadays preserved in Catalan museums. The Museum’s Egyptian collection was the first one in Catalonia and was donated in 1886 by Eduard Toda i Güell a diplomatic figure, writer and a close collaborator with Víctor Balaguer with Renaixença’s movement.
Some of the pieces of the collection come from Sennedjem’s tomb in Deir el-Medina (west Thebes) where Eduard Toda collaborated.
The pre Columbian collection groups objects from the most significant zones of Mesoamerica especially from the Mexico’s plateau, Central America and South America. Most of the pieces of the collection were donated by diplomatic figures and distinguished personalities who travelled to the zone and sometimes took part of archaeological excavations. One of the people that contributed to enlarge these founds was Wilson’s Baroness Emilia Serrano (1834-1922). The pre Columbian objects in Catalonia appeared in the 19th century when sailors and dealers, known as indianos, came back home bringing curiosities from the Americas.
The collection is made up of objects from daily life, war and religious coming from international expositions such as the Anthropological Sciences Contest of Paris in 1878 or the Philippine General Exposition of the Palacio de Cristal del Retiro of Madrid in 1887.
The Oriental collection is made of three big donations from Eduard Toda, Francesc Abellá and Juan Mencarini. All of them had a good relationship with Víctor Balaguer. This collection stresses the numismatic collection donated by Juan Mencarini. It is made up of his direct purchase in China and they are represented almost all de dynasties of the Chinese imperial past. It was donated in 1888.
The archaeological collection is made of two big blocks: the foundational donations coming from different parts of the world; and the ones coming from local excavations especially from Garraf, Alt Penedès and Baix Penedès. The main sites represented are Darró, Solicrup, Masia Nova, Cova Verda and Cova de Can Sadurní.
In the foundational donations block there are two groups: 1) donations when Víctor Balaguer was alive, 2) donations after his death until 1939. In the excavations block there are 3 groups: 1) foundational excavations until 1939, 2) excavations carried out by the Studies Centre of the Library Víctor Balaguer (1951-1982) and 3) excavations deposited at the Museum Balaguer until now.
This collection is made up of other smaller collections (glass, ceramics and metal) that give a full image of Víctor Balaguer’s collecting passion. Little but splendid samples that have exceptional objects such as a Mozarabic mortar from the 12th century.
In December 2010 the Children’s corner was inaugurated. It is a new permanent space in the museum addressed to children, here they can draw and express in an artistic level.
The Museum also has a multisensorial module called “Tactile look” it is a tactile interpretation space addressed to everybody but especially adapted and designed for those visitors that have visual difficulties, blindness or to disabled people.
The Victor Balaguer Library Museum’s bulletin (ISSN 0212-6168) is an annual informative publication edited by the Library Museum Víctor Balaguer’s Friends’ Association. It collects information related with the bibliographic and artistic collection from Balaguer’s Institution. It talks about the Library’s search and the activities carried out during the previous year at the Institution. It is available on the website raco.cat.
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