Collecting ceramics was a very important part of Manuel González Martí’s life, and eventually resulted in the establishment of the National Museum of Ceramics. In 1895, inspired by his teacher, Mariano García Mas, a sculptor, artist and antiques collector, Martí began to purchase glazed ceramic tiles.
His first purchase was the cross from the floor of the Church of the Dominicos de Llutxent, which had been left to deteriorate after the disestablishment. To further develop his collection, he then found a master craftsman in Manises who became his main supplier of ceramics and tiles. In 1909, González Martí’s collection was already fairly considerable, as shown by the number of works he lent to the Valencia Regional Exposition and to the National Exposition the following year in the Retrospective Art section.
González Martí and his wife Amelia received so many requests to visit their collection that it almost turned their ‘private museum’ into a public space. The couple were incredibly generous and loved to share their collection, so much so that during the 1920s and 1930s it became the unofficial Valencian Museum of Ceramics. From various pictures we can gather how the collection gradually increased within the expanding amenities of their Barberá Mansion. However, the Civil War cut short this development, as their house, library and collection were seized, resulting in the permanent loss of some of the couple’s most admired pieces. In the 1940s, all of their efforts were now focused on making the Museum of Ceramics in Valencia a reality, and they spent all their time achieving this goal.
Having no descendants, González Martí and Amelia Cuñat had already decided some time before to donate their entire collection of ceramics, paintings, furniture, engravings and fans, on the condition that their possessions would never leave Valencia.
On the 7th of February 1947, the National Museum of Ceramics was created by order of decree, and its founder, González Martí, was appointed Director for life. According to media coverage at the time, the collection contained 6.000 pieces, including an important array of tiling and medieval ceramics, as well as a large collection of lusterware from the 17th and 18th centuries, tiling from the 18th century and popular china from the 19th century.
González Martí was keen to significantly extend its collections, with donations and private gifts from interested individuals and institutions. Martí himself donated personal objects, as well as mementos from his long relationship with the School of Ceramics, furniture, fans and a large collection of paintings and engravings, alongside his extensive library.
From this point onwards González Martí dedicated his life to ensuring the future of the Museum of Ceramics and the Museum of Fine Arts, constantly developing new plans to improve the museum’s facilities.
González Martí eventually managed to persuade the Ministry of National Education to purchase the Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas as the future location of the Museum of Ceramics, where it was established in 1954.
From then on, González Martí made the museum the centre of his life, pressing year after year for continuous building renovations and expansions, along with development of the facilities. He received hundreds of donations and also published countless works on his collections, the donors, the new rooms and about his memories of his twenty-five years there.
In 1952, the Ministry of National Education formally bought the Palace of Dos Aguas, and in 1954, once the renovation works had been completed, the collections were transferred to their new home.
With the purchase of the Palace by the state to house the National Museum of Ceramics, a Museum of Ceramics was created in Valencia and the Palace of Dos Aguas was saved, and both could now be enjoyed by the people of Valencia and visitors alike.
One of the greatest sources of pride for the National Museum of Ceramics is its roots within Valencian society, which has prompted numerous donations. Not only did the centre always try its best to supplement any collections in which there were gaps, it also aimed to display ceramics from other areas of Spain, not just from Valencia.
The main focus of the museum is its ceramics collection, but it also includes important furniture and other donations from the founder. Over the years in which Manuel González Martí presided over the museum, he set up an ample framework of collections through donations and bequests. However, he did not confine himself to ceramics only, but also collected items such as clothing, painting, books, graphic arts, wood carvings, furniture, etc. For this reason, on 9th October 1969, following the 2.517/1969 Decree, the name “National Museum of Ceramics and of the Decorative Arts” was adopted.
The most significant medieval pieces of ceramics are those originating from Paterna or Manises, which are green and black, blue or of lusterware style. The majority originate from the collection of Valencia’s town hall and from the collection of Manuel González Martí, who discovered the medieval ruins of Los Alfares in Paterna in 1907. Also worth noting is the collection of medieval Valencian tiles, and of “socarrats” (decorated roof tiles) most of which are taken from previous collections.
The collection of tiles consists of seven complete paved sections, in addition to those belonging to the palace, a large assortment of Valencian panels from the 18th and 19th century and Don Francisco Aguar’s tile collection. Furthermore, financial backing from the founder and the donation of heirlooms belonging to Juan Stingo Carbonell allowed the creation of another large-scale collection, in the form of lustreware from the 16th to the 18th century. This was complemented by a bequest of oriental ceramics (from the Dutch couple Timothy Knecht and Helen Drenth), and also by small bequests such as the plaques from Alcora. These were acquired for the museum by the Caja de Ahorros de Valencia, and dedicated to the museum by Picasso in 1954.
Even though it is not an art museum, the museum has for different reasons built up an invaluable collection of art works, thanks in some cases to the inclination of the founder, and in others to bequests of different artists or private collectors. González Martí used many of these paintings to create atmosphere in the rooms, where hundreds of pieces are also on display, whereas in other cases spaces are dedicated exclusively to certain painters. These include Benlliure, Pascual Capuz, Ricardo Verde and Antonio Esteve, and most importantly the collection of artwork by Pinazo Camarlench, which was started by González Martí and consists of 4 large-scale paintings.
As a result of numerous donations, the museum also houses a collection of costumes. The collection of feminine clothing was the central theme of a publication which catalogued all the museum’s female garments. Silk waistcoats and jackets from the 18th century, along with ceremonial and military clothing, and bullfighting or other outfits are the most prominent pieces of the male collection.
In the past, many of these garments were displayed on mannequins, with accessories such as fans and parasols. However, these displays deteriorated over time due to being mounted inappropriately, and of environmental factors such as light or dust which noticeably damaged the fabrics. Temporary exhibitions were then used to exhibit the costume holdings.
Jewellery is also linked with the clothing theme ranging from traditional Valencian trousseau items to international styles, as well as other (especially religious) works of gold and silver.
There is a wide range of other miscellaneous collections, such as the historic carriages of the Marquis of Dos Aguas and the Marquis of Llanera, both bequests and part of the Palace’s original furniture (Ballroom, Little Porcelain room, Oriental room and the room of the Virgin). The family heirlooms of the Benlliure family, Carmelo Vicent, and Salvador Giner and items belonging to husband and wife Lauri Volpi and María Ros are also kept, in addition to sketches for posters and prints by Luís García Falgás, Luís García Oliver, Salvador Capuz and Pascual Capuz, works by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and Agustín Arrojo Muñoz’s collection of bookplates.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the library which holds the archive and book collection of Manuel González Martí as well as Mario Blasco’s collection, which was a bequest from his widow Elena Morote.