Manuel Cano de Castro Biography

Manuel Cano de Castro

Costa Rican/Spanish



Painter, printmaker, and art writer Manuel Cano de Castro was born in San José, Costa Rica, in 1891, to Spanish parents and was raised in Barcelona, Spain from the age of seven. He studied fresco painting in the workshops of Uruguayan-Catalan artist Joaquín Torres Garcia and Francisco Galli, as well as architecture-related sciences at l'Escola de Decoració. His formative years were spent among members of the pro-Noucentisme (a Catalan cultural movement emerging from Spanish anti-modernist ideologies), and his earliest work was classical in nature, often figurative and highlighting the everyday live of Catalan people. However, his adjacence to modernism continued to inspire him, and he was drawn to the work of Matisse and other Fauvists in particular, as well as Cubism.

Castro exhibited frequently in Barcelona between 1913 and 1919, and his rising reputation landed him on the cover of Nova Magazine, June 27, 1914. In 1916 he traveled to Paris for the first time, where he exhibited at the famous Berheim-Jeune Gallery, and in 1918 he participated in the American exhibition of independent artists in New York, winning second prize for a fresco triptych. There he met the artist J. Pascin, who would become a major source of inspiration to Castro, and exhibited with him at artist Walt Kuhn's invitational art collective, the Penguin Club.

In 1920 he settled in Paris. Arguably the main international hub of the art world, Castro's work became more and more influenced by the avandt garde and surrealism that emerged from the pioneering artists and intellectuals of Europe. In 1936, he married model Marie Thérèse (Treize) Mauve and they traveled to Barcelona to visit family. However, fallout from the Spanish Civil War forced them to flee briefly to Costa Rica. In 1938 they returned to Paris, only to find themselves at the threshold of World War II. Before long much of Castro's work was confiscated by the Nazi's and deemed "degenerate", and was subsequently lost or destroyed. In 1942, not long after Costa Rica declared war on Germany in solidarity with the U.S., Castro was taken as a political prisoner by the Nazis and sent to the Frontstalag 122 internment and deportation camp at
Royallieu-Compiègne in northern France.

In January of 1944 his family located a Costa Rican law student at the Sorbonne; after negotiations with the Costa Rican government, he was able to execute a prisoner exchange for a German ex-pat held at Costa Rica's lone internment camp, erected in downtown San Jose to imprison Germans and Italians for the duration of the war at the request of the United States.

Three years of documentation, including interviews, ephemera, and the work itself, show that Castro executed several bodies of work while living with relatives in Costa Rica. Among these were the first lithographs to be recorded in the country's history; as well, the first by a Costa Rican national. Three portfolios of lithographs were published by La Casa Grafica, including Front-Stalag 122, which recorded from memory his time in the only all-Nazi operated internment camp in France. The harrowing images from this set were powerful but became somewhat isolating for the artist in the land of his birth, where the concepts of these kinds of prisons, the details of the Holocaust, and the effects of World War in general had not reached its shores. Tragically, much of Castro's life and work went unheralded for the rest of his life. He returned to Paris in 1947 where he remained until his death on April 3, 1959. He was buried in the Thiais cemetery.

In March of 2022 a retrospective of his work was inagurated in Costa Rica at the Museo de Arte Costarricense, titled Manuel Cano de Castro: Rediscovering a Master of Lithography. Painstakingly researched by curators Maria Enriqueta Guardia Yglesias and Eugenio Garcia Chinchilla, it was held in concert with exhibitions at the Museum of Art of Cerdanyola, Catalonia, Spain and at the Royallieu-Compiègne memorial museum in France.