My featured painting today is a reminder to me of the glorious and unexpected summer weather we have been having these last five weeks and the rejuvenation of my battered and old body from basking in the sunlight. The painting is entitled Elderly Nude in the Sun and was painted in 1871 by the Catalan painter Mariano Fortuny. Fortuny is looked upon as one of the most esteemed and internationally renowned of the nineteenth century Spanish painters.
Mariano José María Bernardo Fortuny y Marsal was born in the Spanish coastal town of Reus in June 1838. He came from an impoverished background and attended the local school where, among other subjects he was taught, he was given his first rudimentary lessons in drawing. He was orphaned at the age of twelve when both his parents died and he went to live with his paternal grandfather, Maria Fortuny i Baró, who was a cabinet maker and amateur artist. His grandfather continued to look after his grandson’s education sending him to watercolour classes run by a local artist, Domingo Soberano. He also had him work in the studio of the silversmith and miniaturist, Antonio Bassa.
As well as being a joiner his grandfather built up a collection of wax figurines which he had made and travelled the country selling them. He spent much of his time teaching his grandson the art of making these wax figures. On one of Mariano and his grandfather’s sales trips in September 1852 they visited the nearby city of Barcelona. It was during this visit that Mariano met the sculptor Domingo Talarn who was so impressed with Mariano’s handiwork that he arranged for him to be paid a small monthly stipend which enabled him to attend the Escuela de Bellas Artes where he started on a four-year art course. It was here that he studied under the Spanish artist, Claudio Lorenzale y Sugrañes.
In 1857, aged 19 Mariano won an art scholarship which allowed him to travel to Rome the following year and, for the next two years he studied the art of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods. At the end of his Italian stay he received a commission from the regional Catalan government to travel to Morocco and record the conflict between the Spanish and Moroccan armies which had broken out at the end of 1859. In the Catalan and Basque regions of Spain thousands of young men with a burning sense of patriotism rushed to the army recruiting centres to sign up for the Spanish army to help their country defeat the Moroccans and the Catalan government wanted to have recorded pictorially their brave fight for their country. Fortuny travelled to Morocco in 1860 and completed numerous pencil sketches, highly colourful watercolours and small oil paintings of the Moroccan landscape and its people as well as the battle skirmishes. When he returned home to Catalonia these sketches were shown at exhibitions in Madrid and Barcelona.
Fortuny used a number of his battlefield sketches to build up a monumental history painting, measuring 300 x 972cms, entitled Battle of Teután which recorded the Spanish and Moroccan armies large scale clash in January 1860 which culminated in the fall of the Moroccan town of Teután to the Spaniards. Fortuny began work on this painting in 1862 but never fully completed it, adding and altering it constantly over the next twelve years. On his death in Rome in 1874 the painting was found in his studio. The Catalan government purchased the work and it can now be seen in the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña, in Barcelona.
In 1867 whilst in Madrid, Mariano Fortuny married Cecilia de Madrazo. She came from a long line of painters. She was the daughter of the great painter Federico de Madrazo, a one-time director of the Prado Museum. Cecilia’s brother was the realist painter Raimundo de Madrazo who became a highly successful portraitist and genre painter in a Salon style. In May 1871, Cecilia gave birth to a son, named Mariano after his father. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo went on to become one of the foremost Spanish fashion and tapestry designers.
Fortuny was based in Rome until about 1870 after which he made a number of trips. He then went to live in Paris but when the Spanish-French governmental relations began to break down, he decided to move his family back to Spain and for a two year period, he and his family lived in Granada. He made a return trip to Morocco in 1872 and later to Rome. By this time, Fortuny was disturbed and somewhat depressed with the necessity of churning out paintings which were saleable as he wanted the freedom to paint what he liked rather than what was popular and easy to sell. In a letter to his friend, the prolific French art collector, Baron Davillier, he wrote of his dilemma:
“…I want to have the pleasure of painting for myself. In this lies true painting…”
In the summer of 1874 he headed back to Italy and his studio in Rome but stopped off at Portici, a coastal town on the Bay of Naples, where he spent time painting scenes of the Bay and the town. Sadly, it was here that he contracted malaria which led to his death in Rome in November 1874, at the young age of 36.
My featured work today by Mariano Fortuny is entitled Elderly Nude in the Sun which he completed in 1871 whilst living in Granada. Fortuny was, at this time, at the height of his fame and his works were in great demand. This painting was one of many life studies he completed at the time. It is a painting which can be attributed to classical realism. Note the marked difference to the finish Fortuny has afforded the painting. The lower part of the torso is just roughly sketched whilst the detail of the man’s upper body and face are finished in such exquisite detail to make the work come to life. It is an amazing work and reminded me so much of the pained expression and emaciated figure one associates with the crucified Christ. Before us we have an old man with an old body which is well past its prime. There is a contemplative expression on the man’s face as he faces the sun with his eyes tightly closed. I have to admit that my initial and somewhat fleeting glance at the man’s facial expression made me believe it was one of anguish. However if one looks more closely I think it is more a look of quiet acceptance and even a look of pleasure as the sun’s rays warm up his frail body. Although it is a somewhat emaciated body we have before us, there is something truly beautiful about Mariano Fortuny’s depiction.