The prince of the black market

Book: Muñoz Ramonet, Manuel Risques (ed.)

Julio Muñoz Ramonet, the invisible prince of the black market, left his palace on Carrer de Muntaner to the city of Barcelona, along with the extraordinary collection of art that hung from its walls. A bourgeois commitment to the city and to culture? Not exactly. Above all, he was a quick-thinking gangster, a megalomaniac and, in the end, a nouveau riche who publicly ended up getting replaced by a black legend.

Of Julio Muñoz Ramonet (1916-1991) it is remembered that he loved to be a big tipper. A display of generosity from a millionaire who bought the car of Alfonso XIII? Not quite. Xavier Muñoz, who really thought it through (he dedicated a book to him to be censored to avoid any further fuss), believes that Muñoz Ramonet mainly tipped as a way to humiliate his fellow man and receive veneration and acknowledgment in return. In his will, as if it were the final tip dictated from the final and fiscal paradise of Switzerland, Julio Muñoz Ramonet, the invisible prince of the black market, left his palace on Carrer de Muntaner, where he lived when he married the daughter of a great banker in 1946, to the city of Barcelona, along with the extraordinary collection of art that hung from its walls. A bourgeois commitment to the city and to culture? Not exactly either.

“With this gesture”, Joan Miquel Grau explains, “the Francoist businessman tried to link himself forever to generosity”. But not even that. For years, his inheritance was the subject of discord between the Muñoz Villalonga daughters and various town councils, so that the whitewashing attempt only ended up smearing the name of a lineage that has been completely faithful to its paternal DNA. This is detailed by journalist José Ángel Montañés, who has been following the case for years. Now, with a copy of litigation regarding the art that he possessed, we have stopped talking about who this blessed child was. Because it was not that he was a collector with taste, as Cambó was. Not by a long shot. Without him leaving much of a trace in newspaper archives and without graphic documentation of him in his condition, what he was above all was a quick-thinking gangster, increasingly megalomaniac and, in the end, a nouveau riche who publicly ended up getting replaced by legend of his reputation blacker than the Palau Robert.

In quick summary: Muñoz Ramonet is one of the murkiest and most enigmatic figures of the victory in Barcelona, of the Francoist Barcelona delimited here by Xavier Theros. There are countless anecdotes about him (including the rumour of the murder of his lover, the high-class prostitute Carmen Broto) and endless side events linked to the messy plot of land that he owned (from embezzlement to arrest and even the harassment of Judge Garzón). The book Muñoz Ramonet. Retrat d’un home sense imatge [Muñoz Ramonet: Portrait of a Man without an Image] rules out many threads of this history with archive documents and reproductions of some of the works of art with which he swayed the guest at his palace. The book was coordinated by Professor Manuel Risques, whose initial article documents the magnate’s relationship with an increasingly suspicious Swiss bank. Rather than a slippery fellow, the portrait that emerges focuses on an entrepreneurial act that, as detailed by Montserrat Llonch, characterises him as the epitome of a time of moral and economic ignominy.

With family connections to the textile industry and thanks to his mother’s relations with the local power elite, after the war he began speculating using quotas to gather more cotton than anyone, which he accessed anomalously in times of autarky. From there, he unleashed a corrupt machinery that would not only enable him to wiggle out of the tax crimes that he could commit, but also to take advantage of any opportunity to grow a dizzying legacy. He bought companies and large department stores. And among attorneys, litigation and company name changes, merging over and over again, a balloon inflated that would only begin to deflate, as José Martí Gómez explains, when the Spanish economy began to apply some measures of rationalisation to prevent bankruptcy in the late 1950s. Next stop? Switzerland. At the time, Muñoz had already become the owner of the impressive Bosch Catarineu art collection through one of his shady deals. Years before it had been pawned to the Republican Government of Catalonia by a textile company to settle a debt. Esther Alsina explains this very well. When Muñoz acquired that company at low cost, he argued that he was not required to return the loaned collection: the entity that had granted it (the Government of Catalonia) no longer existed and in fact he would still charge for the many works that had been exhibited or deposited in municipal museums. And then, with a princely sum, he began to profit without any hassle. From there, the works travelled back and forth until they came to rest here, where they are found today.

Muñoz Ramonet. Retrat d’un home sense imatge

[Muñoz Ramonet: Portrait of a Man without an Image],

Manuel Risques (ed.)

Coedition: Ajuntament de Barcelona - Comanegra

260 pages

Barcelona, 2019

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