Hoy más que nunca, VICTORIA
[Today more than ever, VICTORY]. Signed: Renau, 1938. SubPro. Graf. Ultra, SA, Córcega, 220, Barna. Lithograph, 7 colors; 99 x 138 cm.
This poster was issued by the Subsecretaría de Propaganda (Undersecretariat of Propaganda), an office of the central government which was headed by the renowned architect Manuel Sánchez Arcas. It was printed in Barcelona, where the government of the Republic had moved after leaving Valencia on October 31, 1937. The poster is an homage to the Republican Air Force, which remained loyal to the government to a larger degree than other sections of the military after the rebellion of July 1936. In the image, the planes in the “V” formation display the flag of the Republic on their wings. This is different from the red-yellow-red flag of the Spanish monarchy, which was used before and after the Republic and remains the flag of Spain to this day. Because of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, which supplied it with planes and provided training throughout the war, the Republican Air Force had strong communist sympathies. The poster may reflect the need to boost morale in Barcelona, which was heavily bombarded by the Nationalist airforces in the latter stages of the war.
Born in Valencia in 1907, Josep Renau was one of the artists most heavily involved in the Civil War. In 1931 he became a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), and in 1934 he was arrested for taking part in a revolutionary strike. On September 7, 1936, he was named Director General of Fine Arts by a fellow communist, Jesús Hernández, who was Minister of Public Instruction in the government of Largo Caballero. Renau remained in that post until April 1938 and continued to be involved in the propaganda effort until he left Spain for exile early in 1939. As Director General of Fine Arts, Renau’s duties included the safeguarding of the artistic heritage of Spain. He was in charge of evacuating from Madrid to Valencia the paintings in the Prado Museum, which were threatened by the bombings. He was also one of the organizers of the Spanish Pavilion in the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1937, where he was instrumental in securing Picasso’s commission to paint a mural for the pavilion, which resulted in Guernica. Renau was also an important force behind the conferring upon Picasso of the largely symbolic appointment as director of the Prado Museum. During the war, Renau designed numerous posters; as an artist, he specialized in painting and graphic design, and gradually became interested in photography. He was successful as a poster artist in the 1920s, winning numerous prizes and working on the design of billboards for the film industry.
The gleaming image of the pilot in this poster may be a reflection of this aspect of Renau’s career. In 1929, he was one of the first artists to use the technique of photomontage in Spain. He studied the work of John Heartfield, who became his favorite artist because of his active political stance and also because he favored photography over the more traditional medium of painting. On one occasion Renau said, “Yesterday Goya, today John Heartfield.” In 1933, Renau participated in the first Exhibition of Revolutionary Art held in Madrid (which included works by other artists present in this exhibition: Monleón, Rodríguez Luna and PÉrez Mateo). That year he also founded an important organization of left-wing writers and artists, the Unión de Escritores y Artistas Proletarios (Union of Proletarian Writers and Artists). In 1935 he founded and directed the magazine Nueva Cultura, where in 1936 he published an important theoretical manifesto entitled The Social Function of the Advertising Poster. After the war, he was exiled to Mexico and became a Mexican citizen. He worked with the mural painter Siqueiros, whom he had met during the war in Madrid, on a mural for the new building of the Union of Electricians in Mexico City. In 1958 he moved from Mexico to East Germany. After Franco’s death in 1975, Renau visited Spain periodically. He died in East Berlin in 1982.
From our Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection and our online exhibit The Visual Front.