Celso Lagar (Ciudad Rodrigo, 4.2.1891-Sevilla, 6.9.1966) entered the history of art of the 19th century as a painter of circus, though his life and work was much more that this. First of all and above all, Lagar represents well a social consideration of a contemporary artist, that is, someone who, after initial studying in historical vanguards of Paris, looks for an authentic way of expressing himself with a series of personal themes, easily identifiable among his contemporaries. But besides, Celso Lagar is an introverted Bohemian, a depressive person and absolutely dependent on his companion, Hortense Begué, a sculpturer with whom he will share his life since he knew her, in 1912, until her death in 1956. In case of Lagar we meet an "execrated painter" (with no great public success, tormented, poor…) and that precisely gives him all the requirements for the triumph in a period like the current, marked by the "revival". Thus, the public opinion about Lagar has improved considerably in the last years, that coincided with the centenary of his birth, when he has been rediscovered by the public in a number of anthological exhibitions.
Life and work of Celso Lagar can be divided in four stages distinctly separated by the historical events (the two World Wide Wars). Both wars had a powerful influence on Lagar’s life but not on his obvious artistic approaches, regarding his artistic consolidation after the First World War, on his own thematic (landscapes, taverns and, especially, the circus scenes) and a series of constant influences (Goya, Cezanne ...).
The first of his stages was that of apprenticeship, that lasted until he left Paris when the First World War started. Perhaps influenced by his father’s work (Gumersindo Lagar was a cabinetmaker) he began his education in the field of sculpture. From his natal Ciudad Rodrigo, he went to Madrid to join a workshop of one of the best sculptors of the time, Michael Blay. Blay himself advised Lagar to go to Paris to continue his learning, just when the French capital was the centre of the artistic world. As a good disciple, Lagar will go to Paris though before, during 1910 and 1911, he visited Barcelona, where, he began a series of contacts that will become very helpful later.
In March of 1911, Lagar arrived to Paris where he made a number of sculptures most of which are nowadays lost. Throughout these years he will get to know Hortense Begué, his companion for the rest of his life, and the distinguished sculptor Joseph Bernard and Amedio Modigliani with whom he established a brief but intense friendship that influenced him strongly during that period. This will be the time when, gradually, he left sculpture in favour of painting as it was stated on his return from Paris after the First World War.
The outbreak of the First World War meant the beginning of the second stage in Celso Lagar's life and work. He will go to Barcelona where he will remain during the war and, taking advantage of the contacts of his previous stay. He organized a number of exhibitions that already had a clear pre-eminence of his work as a painter and that were useful for achieving certain recognition in Cataluña and, finally, a presentation letter for his return to Paris.
Celso Lagar will return to France in 1919 to settle there definitively. Until the beginning of the Second World War we observe the prime of his career of an artist. During this period, Lagar exposes his works in the best Parisian galleries, his work is constant and abundant, his style becomes peculiar and he entirely devotes himself to the painting. During his residence in Paris as well as during his stays in Normandy, from 1928, he will create works on very specific themes: taverns, Spanish reminiscences, landscapes and his eulogized scenes of the circus. Having already passed the period of ultramodern influences of all kinds (cubism, fauvism, etc.), Celso Lagar will find his own way marked mainly by the inspiration provided by works of Goya and Picasso. Gradually his palette becomes colder but the themes stay the same. The recognition of the critics and the public increases.
The outbreak of the Second World War will be the beginning of the end of the Lagar’s golden epoch. He was obliged to emigrate from Paris due to the Nazi occupation. Lagar and Hortense sheltered in the French Pyrenees in very rough conditions that could affect the psychological balance of the artist. Their return after the liberation of Paris, though was not a failure, did not have as many repercussions as the author believed. His time had passed. Lagar will continue his artistic path using the same topics and the same technique but the collectors were already looking for new contents and manners. Though the exhibitions continue, they are not in the best galleries now and the sales decrease. Little by little, the success fades away and the economic penuries affect the couple that is obliged to borrow money from their friends.This was the time when the last period in Celso Lagar's life began. When on 30 January, 1956 Hortense got into the hospital Broca, Lagar fell down in a deep depression that later brought him to the Sainte Anne's psychiatric asylum and put an end to his work as an artist. Those were difficult years, years of deep depression, that he will not overcome until the end of his days despite the work on recovery of his creations initiated by a gallery owner, Crane Kalman, a true rediscoverer of Celso Lagar's art in the second half of the 19th century. Though he did not paint anymore, there were organized, by judicial order, two auctions of the works that remained in his workshop to pay his stay in the asylum until October, 1964, when he returned to Spain to live in Seville with his sister until his death on 6 September, 1966.