Museo de Bellas Artes, Sevilla. Part 2 The Murillo Exhibition

Murillo Exhibition at Seville

……….when I arrived at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a special exhibition on marking the 400th anniversary of Seville’s great painter Bartolomé Estaban Murillo.  It had opened in November 2018 and was still running. The city of Seville had been celebrating the 400th anniversary of his birth for the last twelve months and this exhibition, which ends in April, was the culmination of the celebrations.

Self-portrait by Murillo

Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children.  His father was both a barber and a surgeon.  His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education.  He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz.  Now Murillo, aged twenty-two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings.  In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft.  He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house.  Murillo stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville.  In 1648, at the age of thirty-one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor.   Murillo died in 1682 aged 64.  He lived a humble and pious life and was a brave man.  On his death he left a son and daughter, his wife having died before him.

The Seville exhibition was a collection of fifty-five paintings by Murillo from museum collections around the world. The exhibition was divided into nine sections each providing a glimpse of the world through Murillo’s eyes. The sections were designated as Holy Childhood, A family of Nazareth, Glory on Earth, The Immaculate Conception, Compassion, Penitence, Storyteller, Genre painting and Portraiture. It was a journey through his religious works to the social realism of 17th century Seville, which has been described as a city of paupers and saints, of rascals and wealthy noblemen and merchants who, through their wealth, were able to have Murillo paint their portraits.

The Good Shepherd by Murillo (1665)

In the first section, there was the Prado-owned painting entitled The Good Shepherd, which Murillo completed in 1665. The scene has a rural setting along with classical allusions in the form of archaeological ruins which we can see in the left background. Jesus is portrayed as the boy who exudes an air of determination as he holds his shepherd’s crook in one hand whilst his left-hand lies across the back of the animal. There is a certain gentleness about the scene and the sheep, seen with the boy, represents the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), which is talked about in the scriptures. The depiction of the lamb as being obedient and submissive is all part of the divine plan.

The Holy Family with the Infant St John by Murillo (c.1670)

One of Murillo’s paintings in the Family of Nazareth section was The Holy Family with Infant Saint John, which Murillo completed around 1670 and was loaned to the Seville gallery by Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. This was a pendant painting forming a pair with his work The Flight into Egypt, which was also on show. In the depiction, we see Saint Joseph, in the background, with his carpentry tools. In the foreground, we see the Christ Child and the young Saint John busily tying two sticks together to form a cross. Mary watches over the children as she busies herself sewing. A sense of depth has been added to the composition by the inclusion of a background of mountains and clouds.

The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, (1675-1682)

In the third section, Glory on Earth we have the Murillo painting The Holy Family (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities) which was loaned to the museum for this exhibition by London’s National Gallery. This work of art encapsulates the religious theory that Jesus is both God and man and thus belongs to both the Heavenly Trilogy of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as well as belonging to the Earthly Trinity – the family from Nazareth as seen in the painting with Jesus’ closeness to his mother, the Virgin Mary and his father, her husband Saint Joseph.

The Annunciation by Murillo (c.1660)

Murillo completed many paintings featuring the Virgin Mary and many were on show at the exhibition. The Annunciation by Murillo, which he completed around 1660 and had been loaned out by the Prado, was a great example of this focus on the Mother of God.

The Virgin and the Rosary by Murillo (c.1680)

The Dulwich Gallery-owned work by Murillo entitled The Virgin and the Rosary was also on view. In this work we see the Virgin seated on a throne of clouds floating in the celestial sphere and unlike other versions of this work by the Seville painter, clouds and angels have now been added to become her throne and footstool.

Mater Dolorosa by Murillo (1670-1675)

One of my favourite pieces of religious art by Murillo, which was at the exhibition, was Mater Dolorosa an artwork, which was part of a private collection belonging to a Dutch family. Mater Dolorosa or Our Lady of Sorrows refers to the sorrows in the life of the Virgin Mary and is a key subject for what is termed Marian art in the Catholic Church. In 1939 when the painting was bought from the Amsterdam art dealership, de Boer, by a private Dutch buyer, there was some doubt as to whether this painting was by Murillo but the German art historian August Lieberman Mayer, who was one of the most prominent art historians of the early 20th century and the era’s leading specialist for 17th century Spanish painting, wrote to the new owner stating his belief that it had been painted by Murillo. In his letter dated July 12th, 1939, he wrote:

“…I deeply regret, that actually I cannot make a new edition of my book in „Klassiker der Kunst“, but I hope to publish another monography of Murillo in Spain“ The picture is, in my opinion, a very fine, well preserved, genuine and most characteristic work by B. Murillo, executed most probably about 1668, the period, I consider the best and most powerful of the master. I reserve me the right of the first publication of this important and impressive work..”

Despite Mayer’s opinion, many art scholars still question his attribution. August Mayer never did publish another work on the Spanish master. As a Jew, he was forced to leave his offices in Munich by the Nazis.   He then fled to Paris in 1936 but was later arrested and was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where he died.

I am not a great lover of religious art, probably not due to the quality of the work but more to do with the subject matter. I was therefore very pleased that after seven rooms of religious painting the final two rooms were devoted to Murillo’s genre paintings and his portraiture.

A Peasant Boy leaning on a sill by Murillo (c.1675)

I especially liked Murillo’s painting A Peasant Boy Leaning on a Sill, which he completed around 1675.  When London’s National Gallery acquired this work in 1826, it was the first Spanish painting to enter the museum’s collection.   The National Gallery of London loaned this to the Museo de Bellas Artes for the Murillo exhibition. This striking depiction of a cheerful boy is related to Murillo’s depictions of street urchins in his larger canvases. We see the boy at a window, the implication being that there is a lot going on that we are not aware of and so we have to be satisfied with what we have before us. So what else is going on? What has been excluded from the depiction? What is the boy looking at?   Some would have us believe that this work had a companion piece painted by Murillo, which was to be hung to the right of this one which would allow us to see what the boy was looking at.

Young Girl Lifting her Veil by Murillo

That suggested pendant piece was Young Girl Lifting Her Veil, (which is privately owned and was not included at the Seville exhibition). However, many art historians cast doubt on the two paintings being pendant pieces but the fact is that they were painted around the same time, they are both half-length depictions and are of similar size.  I have included the Young Girl Lifting her Veil and let you decide whether the two paintings hung side by side on a wall would add to your belief that they were pendant pieces. Was this beautiful girl the subject of the boy’s gaze?  Some think that the boy’s demeanour has an air of mischief about it and his expression was not instilled with innocent sincerity, like that of the girl. I will leave you with one further clue. At the sale of the two works at the Peter Coxe London saleroom on March 20th, 1806 of paintings owned by the Marquess of Lansdowne, the catalogue described them as:

“…No.50. Murillo. A Laughing Boy – delicately treated in every part – one of those performances so rare to be met with, & in his best style of perfection.

No.51. Murillo. Portrait of a girl treated with the same tone of harmonious colouring, as the preceding Lot, to which it is a companion, in the same happy effect of management…” 

The two paintings were sold at the auction to separate buyers.

Four Figures on a Step by Murillo (1655-1660)

The most bizarre painting at the exhibition, and one I particularly like, is Four Figures on a Step, which is owned by the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. At first sight, I thought somebody had defaced the painting by adding a pair of thick black spectacles to the woman on the right.

Before us, we have four very different characters. In the central background, we have a young woman. Her face is somewhat distorted into a smile, even a knowing wink, as she raises her scarf over her head. What is the significance of the gesture?   Art historians have hypothesised that it is a coquettish gesture whilst others say that that is reading too much into her manner stating that the depiction is a simple scene with a family scrutinising the goings-on in the street outside. However, the scene to many historians is to associate it with one of procurement. Procurement?  They would have us believe that the older women with the thick dark glasses, resembles the character of a Celestina, an aged prostitute, madam, and procuress, of Spanish literature. The old procuress,  Celestinacomes from the 1499 book La Celestina, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of all Spanish literature, a timeless story of love, morality, and tragedy by Fernando de Rojas. The Celestina is often represented as a crone wearing enormous glasses and a headscarf hence the belief that Murillo’s painting includes a procuress!   So, if she is procuring, is she offering the man the pleasures of the young woman? More conservative historians point to the fact that on the contrary to the Celestina idea, the mature woman also resembles the bespectacled characters in Dutch and Flemish genre paintings, which Murillo would have seen.

The possible “procuress” is seen cradling the head of a young boy whose bottom is exposed by his torn breeches. In less liberal times Murillo’s depiction of the bare bottom had offended the public and had been over-painted for reasons of regaining a modicum of modesty but the painting now, after restoration, is seen as Murillo intended.

So the question I leave you with is this depiction simply a portrayal of the colourful characters to be found in the streets of Seville, or does the painting carry a reproachful, message, urging the viewers to avoid enticements of worldly decadences?

Portrait of Juan de Saavedra by Murillo (1650)

In the final room of the exhibition, we have Murillo’s portraiture.  Murillo’s earliest dated portrait is a newly discovered canvas, which depicts Juan Arias de Saavedra y Ramírez de Arellano an aristocrat from Seville and one of Murillo’s patrons. The subject of the painting was a knight in the Order of Santiago as indicated by both the red cross on his left shoulder and the pendant with a scallop shell.  The portrait is shown as being in a stone frame, which includes the sitter’s coat of arms. Murillo often used this stone-frame device in his bust-length portraiture. Also in the painting are two putti each holding a tablet. The one held by the putti on the left records the age of the sitter as twenty-nine while the one on the right has the date on which the portrait was painted – 1650. Below the portrait, there is a lengthy Latin inscription which is about Saavedra. Saavedra, it states, was a senior minister of the Holy Inquisition and is described in the inscription as a “profound connoisseur of the liberal arts, and of painting in particular”. The inscription also includes a passage by Murillo, which offers convincing proof of the connection between the artist and the nobleman with Murillo admitting his gratitude and sincere regard for Saavedra.

Portrait of Josua van Belle by Murillo (1670)

My last offering for this blog is another work of portraiture by Murillo, which was loaned to the Seville museum by the National Gallery of Ireland.   The sitter is Josua van Belle. He was born in Rotterdam and became a Dutch shipping merchant who lived for a period in Cadiz and Seville, where this portrait was painted in 1670. Van Belle was a celebrated art collector and amongst his collection of paintings, was Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid, which also resides in the National Gallery of Ireland. This portrait is looked upon as one of Murillo’s finest.

The Museo de Bellas Artes’ exhibition was excellent, full of beautiful masterpieces by Murillo and you have until the last day of March to visit this Sevilla exhibition.

Two Mallorcan artists – Coll Bardolet and Miró.

During the last seven days I have been soaking up the sun and heat of Mallorca and now, whilst sheltering from the continual rain, I thought I would look at two artists who had an attachment to this Balearic Island.  Their work could not have been more different.  The artwork of the first artist was bright and beautiful whilst the work of the second artist, who is, by far, more famous, left me unmoved but I will try not to judge and simply accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Josep Coll Bardolet at work
Josep Coll Bardolet at work

The first artist I am featuring is the Catalan painter Josep Coll Bardolet, whose work I came across at a gallery in the quaint Mallorcan town of Valldemossa.  He was born in November 1912 on mainland Spain, in Campdevànol, a village in the province of Girona.  When he was fifteen years old the family moved to the city of Vic, a small town twenty miles south of where he was born and where Coll Bardolet began his education at the Escola Municipal de Dibuix and worked as a painter and decorator. It is in that year in Vic that he held his first exhibition of his paintings. Having developed a love of landscape painting he then enrolled at the Landscape Painting School in Olot, which is now known as Escola d’Art i Superior de Disseny d’Olot .  The town of Olot, which lay twenty miles east of Campdevànol, is known for its natural landscape, including four volcanoes which are scattered around the city centre.  The town was also famous for its cultural activity, with its various art movements such as the Olot School of landscape painting.  The Olot School was a group of painters that created an artistic style in the second half of the 19th century, similar to the French Barbizon School.

Cala Deiá by Josep Coll Bardolet
Cala Deiá by Josep Coll Bardolet

In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out and Bardolet, being a pacifist, decided to leave his homeland and cross the border to France.  He travelled to Tours and here he studied at the town’s Academy of Fine Arts.  The following year he moved to Brussels where he was appointed professor at the city’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts.

Majorcan Landscape (Oil on tablex) by Josep Coll Bardolet
Majorcan Landscape (Oil on tablex) by Josep Coll Bardolet

In 1939 he returned to Spain and his beloved Catalonia and it is whilst here that he makes a number of journeys to Mallorca, each time staying longer and longer on the island.  He was fascinated by the island’s light, landscape and its folk dances and it is these themes which play a major part of his art.  His paintings were exhibited both on the mainland at Barcelona and on the island at Palma.  His love of the island grew over the years and finally in 1944 he settled permanently in Valdemossa.    He bought a house with a studio and a garden next to the Charterhouse of Valldemossa, a former Carthusian monastery, which is now a museum.  Here he lived with a small dog, a cook and a housekeeper.  Over the next twenty years he worked tirelessly completing paintings which are exhibited in galleries throughout Europe as well as Boston, USA.

Collidores by Josep Coll Bardolet
Collidores by Josep Coll Bardolet

In 1987 he was declared an honorary citizen of Valldemossa, the town he had made his home for over forty years.  In 1988, in recognition of his achievements the Coll Bardolet  Art Gallery was opened in Campdevànol, the village where he was born seventy-six years before.

Spanische Tänzer by Josep Coll Bardolet
Spanische Tänzer by Josep Coll Bardolet

Thirty miles north-east of where Bardolet used to live in Valldemossa is the town of Escorca and there is the Santuari de Lluc, a monastery and pilgrimage site.  In 1984, with the celebration of the centenary of the Coronation of the Virgin the museum expanded with the addition of a considerable acquisition of modern art and sculpture, which was further extended to include rooms dedicated to the work of Josep Coll Bardolet who made two donations totalling 236 works of art in 1989 and 1995.  The new and definitive collection was opened on 10th September, 1995 and is made up of the Coll Bardolet Collection of portraits, drawings, gouache and water-colours.

The Coll Bardolet Cultural Fundation
The Coll Bardolet Cultural Fundation

In 1990 Bardolet was awarded the Saint George Cross by the Autonomous Government of Catalonia and the Gold medal of the Community of the Balearics Islands.  The Coll Bardolet Cultural Foundation was established in 2005 with the works donated by him to the town of Valdemossa.  The Foundation has two main objectives. The first is to preserve, exhibit and publicise the pictorial work of Josep Coll Bardolet and the Foundation’s private collection of his work, and the second is to promote the fine arts in all of their facets and forms.  The Foundation, which I visited last week, is in a three storey building in the centre of Valldemossa.  The first floor of the building features a permanent exhibition of Coll Bardolet’s paintings, which primarily consist of landscapes of Mallorca, though they also include still lifes, flower compositions and his well-known renderings of traditional Mallorcan folkdance scenes. The second floor houses temporary exhibitions, and the ground-level floor accommodates different cultural activities, such as conferences and concerts.  The building was restored under the auspices of the Balearic Islands Government and the Valdemossa Town Council.  The works in this permanent collection captivate the beautiful Mallorcan scenery.

Josep Coll Bardolet (1912 - 2007)
Josep Coll Bardolet
(1912 – 2007)

Josep Coll Bardolet died in Valdemossa in July 2007, aged ninety-four.


Joan Miro at work
Joan Miro at work

The second artist I am featuring today is the Barcelona-born painter who also had a connection with Mallorca.  He is Joan Miró.  I visited the museum dedicated to his art work, the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró (Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation) museum whilst visiting Cala Major just a little way west of Palma.  Although born in Catalonia, both his mother and wife came from the Balearic Island of Mallorca.  The museum is comprised of a main building which houses his works which he donated, a library, a sculpture garden, Miró’s Sert studio, a building designed by his friend of twenty-five years, the Spanish architect and city planner, Josep Sert.

Inside the Gallery at the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró, Palma Mallorca
Inside the Gallery at the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró, Palma Mallorca

In 1937, Josep Sert designed the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic for the Paris Exposition Universelle, for which Miró painted a large format oil painting, The Reaper, also known as El campesino catalán en rebeldía (Catalan peasant in revolt).

Joan Miró working on The Reaper
Joan Miró working on The Reaper

It was an enormous mural, 5.5metres tall.  Sadly it was destroyed or lost in 1938 and only a few black and white photographs survive, including one showing Miró working on the mural.

Inside Miró's Sert Studio
Inside Miró’s Sert Studio

The Sert studio is the one he used from the time he arrived on the island in 1956 until his death in 1983.  Almost twenty years earlier, in May 1938, whilst living in exile in Paris, he wrote about how owning his own spacious atelier would give him so much pleasure:

“My dream, when I can set somewhere, is to have a large workshop, not so much for lighting, north light, etc., that I find indifferent as to have more space, many fabrics, because the more I have work, the more you come to me to do “.

In 1956 his Sert atelier was ready for him and Miró remembered the time well, saying:

“…In the new study, I had enough space for the first time. I could unpack boxes containing works long ago […] When I took everything in Mallorca, I started myself […] I was ruthless with myself. I destroyed many fabrics, especially a lot of drawings and gouaches… “

Finca Son Boter
Finca Son Boter

Also on the land, there is the Finca Son Boter which he often used as a studio.  The structure is of a typical eighteenth century Mallorcan manor house and its name derives from the surname of the owner of the land in the fourteenth century, the merchant Llorenc Boter.  The closeness of Son Boter to his Sert studio was commented upon in Miró’s letter to Josep Sert.  In October 1959, he wrote:

“…I just bought Son Boter, the magnificent house located behind ours. What, besides being a good investment, puts us safe from possible fastidious neighbors. I also serve to make fabrics and monumental sculptures, as well as to decongest the workshop…”

Sculpture outside Miro's studio
Sculpture outside Miro’s studio

The cost of the building was probably offset thanks to the funding which came with the Guggenheim prize, which he had won in 1958 for the creation of two ceramic murals he did for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

View of Cala Major, Palma, from the Joan Miro Museum
View of Cala Major, Palma, from the Joan Miro Museum

Joan Miró maintained a close relationship with Mallorca throughout his life. Although he was born in Barcelona on April 20, 1893, his mother, Dolores Ferrà, and his maternal grandparents were from Mallorca and from 1900, when he was only seven years, he began to spend part of the summer with his maternal grandmother in Mallorca.

Joan Miro and Pilar Juncosa (1929)
Joan Miro and Pilar Juncosa (1929)

In 1920 Miró made his first trip to Paris, which would was to prove the turning point in his life.  In October 1929 his ties with Mallorca strengthened when he married Pilar Juncosa Iglesias.  Pilar’s mother, Enriqueta, was cousin of Miró’s grandmother.

 Joan MiroIn 1936 he travelled to Paris with his latest works, which were to be exhibited in New York. When the Spanish civil war broke out, he decided to stay in Paris and his wife and daughter joined him.   He lived and worked in an apartment at 98 Boulevard Auguste Blanqui, Paris and attended life classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he produced a large number of drawings.  In the summer of 1939, with the onset of the Second World War he and his family left Paris and moved to Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy, where he rented a house and where the family remained until 1940.

Z 097At the end of May 1940 the Germans bombed Normandy and Miró decided to return to seek refuge in Spain with his family.  His fame had by now crossed the Atlantic and in 1947 during his first trip to America, he produced a mural painting for the Gourmet Room at the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati.

Initially, Miró and his family had left France for Barcelona, but Miró had been an active sympathiser for the Republican struggle during the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier and this made him unpopular with Franco’s new regime, and so in 1956, he and his family decided to set up home in the relative isolation of Mallorca.  .

Joan_Mir_Espa_a_Catalu_a_El_nacimiento_del_d_aIn 1956 Miró  summed up his love of the Balearic Island:

“…This wonderful country … We are about to buy a house near Palma in a beautiful land. Dividing my time between here [Mallorca] and Paris, and occasionally travelled to New York, would be ideal for work and health… “

Joan Miró died in Palma de Mallorca on Christmas Day 1983, aged 90. He was buried in the Montjuïc cemetery, Barcelona on December 29th.

Oiseau dans La Nuit by Joan Miro (1973)
Oiseau dans La Nuit by Joan Miro (1973)

I have purposely not commented on the paintings as they are not the kind of art that I can understand or appreciate.  I am however mindful of what somebody once told me.  They said I must embrace all types of art and never make the crass comment that a child could have done better !  As I said at the beginning, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe this is your type of art, and if it is, enjoy.


Pere Borrell del Caso and trampantojo

Pere Borrell del Caso
Pere Borrell del Caso

“…Everything that deceives may be said to enchant…

                                                                                                     – Plato

Have you ever heard of the word trampantojo in relationship to art?  Maybe if you are Spanish you will have come across this Spanish word, which means “sleight of hand” or “trick”.  If I had asked you whether you knew what trompe-l’œil meant then maybe there would have been more hands up as this is a more common artistic term but similar in meaning to trampantojoTrompe-l’œil is a French phrase which literally means “deceives the eye” and, in painting terms, refers to an artistic technique that deliberately has in mind to hoodwink the viewer into thinking that he or she is seeing the depicted object or person in 3-D when of course it is just a two dimensional representation of it.  One looks blearily at the work desperately trying to fathom out the boundaries between the real and the imaginary.

Still Life  by Pieter-Claesz
Still Life with Oysters by Pieter-Claesz (c.1633)

The English artistic term often used for this technique is illusionism, something which creates an illusion of reality in a work of art.  We often see such an illusion in still-life works, such as the Still Life with Oysters by the 17th century Dutch Golden Age painter, Pieter Claesz, in which we see the rind from a peeled lemon lying over the edge of a silver salver which itself overlaps the table, giving the painting a sense of depth as if it was a 3-D image.

This artistic trickery is not a new phenomenon as it is said to go back to around 5th century BC.  Pliny the Elder in his AD 79 book, Naturalis Historia wrote about a myth involving an artistic contest, which happened around that time between the two greatest Greek painters of that era, Parrhasius and Zeuxis.  Zeuxis was born in Heraclea sometime around 464 BCE and was said to be the student of Apollodorus, a painter who lived at the end of the 5th century BC and introduced great improvements in perspective and chiaroscuro.  Parrhasius of Ephesus was a contemporary of Zeuxis. Both artists produced works on both wooden panels and frescoes on walls.  Each of the painters believed that they were the greatest artist of the time and so they decided that once and for all to settle the matter with a painting contest, a kind of painting duel!    They assigned themselves two areas of a wall, each invisible from the other, so that they might work in private. Each artist was then set the task of painting a mural.   They also arranged for a set of knowledgeable people to become judges for the competition.  The contest was all about producing a realistic depiction and the one thing they had in common they were both skilled in the technique we now refer to trompe-l’œil.

The competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius
The competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius

The artists completed their works, each of which was covered by a curtain.  Zeuxis work was to be viewed first and he drew back the curtain.  On the wall he had painted a simple bowl of mixed fruit.  It was a beautifully painted still life work. Sunlight shone down on the pale green surface of the pears and made them seem moist and firm. The pomegranates Zeuxis had depicted were so well painted that the judges and onlookers could almost taste them.  The audience was stunned by Zeuxis’ artistic mastery and whilst they stood before his work a bird, which had been perched on the wall above, flew down straight into the painted bowl of fruit, from which it had hoped to fly off with one of the succulent-looking grapes.  The bird hit his head on the wall and fell to the ground, a victim of illusion.  His work was the height of realism and Zeuxis was sure he had won, notwithstanding what his fellow artist, Parrhasius had conjured up.

The judges and the crowd, now led by Zeuxis, moved towards the curtained wall on which Parrahasius had painted his work.  The people stared at the curtain, behind which they believed hid Parrahasius’ work.  Zeuxis asked his rival to pull the curtain aside and so all could see the work behind it.  Parrahasius told him and the crowd that it was not possible.  His words baffled the onlookers.  He then turned to them to say the curtain was actually the work he had completed.  Although the work by Zeuxis fooled the bird by its realism, Parrahasius’ curtain had been so real that it had fooled Zeuxis, the judges and the crowd.  Parrahasius won the day.

My blog today looks at a Spanish artist who used the trampantojo technique in a number of his works.  He is the nineteenth century painter Pere Borrell del Caso.   He was born in 1835 in the Catalonian village of Puigcerdà, which lies close to the Spanish-French border and some twenty kilometres south east of Andorra.  His father was a carpenter and he taught his son the art of working with wood.  He eventually left home and went to Barcelona where he attended art classes at the Escola de la Llotja, the prestigious School of Fine Arts in BarcelonaTo earn some money for food, lodgings and to pay for his education he worked part time as a carpenter making wooden chests.

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso
Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso (1874)

Although he was a portraitist as well as an accomplished painter of religious scenes, many of which are housed in the Museu Nacional d’ Art de Catalunya in Barcelona, he is probably best known for his trompe-l’œil works.  Borrell was a great believer in realism in art and felt that the Romanticism genre of art, which was the cornerstone of art education at the Llotja in Barcelona, was not the way art should be taught.  He set up his own academy of drawing and painting, the Sociedad de Bellas Artes, in which he sort to introduce his students to the world of realism in art and sought to influence his students with the works of the contemporary Catalan painters such as Romà Ribera, Ricard Canals and the muralist, Josep Maria Sert.  He encouraged his students to leave the confines of the school and paint en plein air.  Pere Borrell fervently believed in his teaching methods so much so that he turned down offers to become a professor of at the Llotja.   It is thought that his rejection of the chair at the Llotja with its rigid academic stance to art tuition and its ruthless critique of the work of its students was foremost in his mind when he created one of his most famous paintings, the oil on canvas work, Fugint de la critica (Escaping Criticism) which he completed in 1874 and which is now part of a collection owned by the Bank of Spain.

Cropped image
Cropped image

This painting is a classic example of trampantojo.   So how has the artist “converted” this work into a 3-D image?  It is simply the way in which he has positioned the boy’s hands, feet, and head outside the painted canvas area and continued the depiction on the surrounding frame and it is that which makes it look like the boy is climbing out of the painting in a desperate attempt to escape.  It is that which heightens the illusion.   I have cropped the image (above) so that only the depiction on the canvas is shown and one can now see it becomes more of a normal two-dimensional image rather than a 3-D one.  The depiction of the poorly dressed, bare-footed boy with his dishevelled hair, and terrified expression desperately trying to escape out of the picture is so realistic and the effect is further heightened by the trampantojo technique.   Many believe that Borrell’s depiction  mirrored his own desperate attempt to free himself from the confines of official academic training methods of art and the art critics of his day who championed the Romantic art of the time, with all its heroic figures and who were highly critical of art which depicted the not so pleasant “real” world.  The title of the work is Escape from Criticism and this probably indicative of the struggle young artists had to go through with the constant bombardment of criticism from so-called knowledgeable art critics.

Two Laughing Girls by Pere Borrell del Caso
Two Laughing Girls by Pere Borrell del Caso (1880)

The second work of Pere Borrell I wanted to feature is one he completed in 1880 entitled Two Laughing Girls which can be found at the Museu del Modernisme Català (Museum for Catalan Modernism)In this painting, Borrell has ingeniously depicted the two girls partly entering our space.

Two Laughing Girls by Pere Borrell del Caso (detail)
Two Laughing Girls by Pere Borrell del Caso (detail)

He has achieved this effect by depicting the girl in the green dress leaning her elbow on the ornamental picture frame.   The girl with a blue ribbon in her hair, in the background, extends her hand right hand towards us and her index finger almost seems as if it is coming out of the painting.

Supper at Erasmus by Caravaggio
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

The elbow of the girl which seems to be extending out of the painting reminds me of Caravaggio’s work Supper at Emmaus in which the elbow of the man in the left foreground, with his back to us, seems to “come out’ of the picture.  The effect is enhanced by the small splash of white on his green coat sleeve in way of his elbow.   The 3-D effect is also enhanced by the positioning of the basket of fruit overhanging the edge of the table.

People are fascinated by the trompe-l’œil technique and there have been many exhibitions of works of art featuring works that have incorporated this method.  Borrell’s Escaping Criticism featured in many exhibitions such as the Deceptions and Illusions, Five Centuries of Trompe l’ Oeil Painting, exhibition in 2002 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  Again it was shown at the 2008 exhibition Lura Ogat at the National Museum of Stockholm.    The following year the painting was exhibited in Japan at the Visual Deception exhibition in the Nagoya City Art Museum and at The Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo. In 2010 the painting was displayed in the exhibition Täuschend  Echt. Illusion und Wirklichkeit in der Kunst, held in the Bucherius Kunst Forum, a private art gallery in Hamburg.

Pere Borrell del Caso is probably not a household name outside of Catalonia but there is no doubt his trompe-l’œil paintings have, for many years, fascinated many observers.

Elderly Nude in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny

Mariano Fortuny
Mariano Fortuny

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. 

Battle of Teutan by Mariano Fortuny
Battle of Teutan by Mariano Fortuny

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.  

Elderly Man in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny (1871)
Elderly Man in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny (1871)

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.

The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europa by Carlos de Haes (1876)

The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europe by Carlos de Haes (1876)
The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de Europe by Carlos de Haes (1876)

My Daily Art Display blog today incorporates the two things I enjoy most in art; landscape paintings and discovering a painter I had, up till now, never heard of.   Today I am featuring the nineteenth century Belgian born Spanish landscape painter Carlos de Haes.

Carlos de Haes was born in Brussels in January 1826.  He was born into a dynasty of merchants and financiers and was the eldest of seven children.  When he was nine years old his family moved to Malaga where he grew up and went to school. His initial artistic training was under the tutelage of Luis de la Cruz y Ríos, the Spanish miniaturist painter, who had once been the court painter of King Ferdinand VII.    In 1850, at the age of twenty-four, he returned to Belgium and studied for five years under the Belgian landscape painter Joseph Quineaux.  It was the influence of Quineaux which drew de Haes into the world of landscape painting and sketching and painting en plein air.  During his five year stay in Brussels he managed to travel to France, Holland and Germany constantly sketching the varied landscapes he came across.  It was also around this time that he became interested in the works of the contemporary Realist artists.    In 1855 after completing his art course he returned to Spain and went to live in Madrid and became a naturalised Spaniard.   In 1856 he put forward a number of his landscape works for exhibition in Madrid’s Exposición Nacional, where they were very well received.   The following year, 1857, at the age of thirty-one, Carlos de Haes won the competition for the chair of landscape painting at theReal Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academyof Fine Arts of San Fernando), with his work entitled Royal Palace from the Casa de Campo.  The Academy was an establishment which would half a century later be home to the likes of Dalí and Picasso.   In 1861 de Haes was made Académico de mérito. 

During his tenure at the Academy, de Haes set about putting together a set of regulations for his students governing landscape painting and rules for future landscape competitions.  He was insistent that his students mastered the art of en plein air sketching and painting instead of just producing historical landscapes which they had conjured up in the studio.  This, he believed prevented the true study of nature, and he asserted that the en plein air aspect was of paramount importance when contemplating a landscape work.   Haes encouraged his students to interpret nature directly and by working out in the open he insisted that they understood how the changing light changed how they viewed the vegetation and the terrain.  He did however countenance using the studio to fine tune the painting and make final adjustments.  Haes’ insistence that his students should produce a truthful depiction of the landscape, captured by painting en plein air, points towards his interest in the new Realism form of art, which claimed that artists should represent the world as it was, even if it meant breaking artistic and social conventions.   

During the next ten years Haes spent most of his time painting landscapes which featured the Spanish Pyrenees and the Guadarama mountains in central Spain.  One of his students who accompanied him on his sketching journeys was Aureliano Berruete who would become one of the foremost Spanish painters.

Carlos de Haes became ill in 1890 and died in Madrid in 1898.  He bequeathed his mostly small-format paintings to his pupils, who gave them to Spanish museums, the majority of which are now housed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, part of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

My featured painting today by Carlos de Haes was one which I saw when I recently visited the Prado in Madrid.  It was completed by him in 1876, although the preparatory sketch for the work was dated in situ in 1874.  It was exhibited at that the 1876 National Exhibition in Madrid and was subsequently purchased by the Spanish state.  Carlos de Haes had been travelling with Aureliano Berruete around the wild and rugged Cantabrian rural area of Liébana when they came across this spectacular view.   The oil on canvas painting, measuring 168cms x 123cms is entitled The Mancorbo Canal in the Picos de EuropeThe Picos de Europa is a range of mountains 20 km inland from the northern coast of Spain and this landscape painting by de Haes depicts the awesome and craggy vista of the mountain range which was one of Carlos de Haes’ favourite type of spectacular and breathtaking views.   At the bottom of the painting, although it somewhat difficult to pick them out, there are three cows and their herder.

I stood before this beautiful painting and was awestruck by its beauty and its realistic quality.  So, if you ever make it to the Prado be sure to find this work.

Joaquín Sorolla (part 3)

In my final look at the Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla I want to show you some of his portraiture work which featured his family and finally take a look at the house in which he and his family lived and which would later become a museum in his honour.

Mother by Joaquin Sorolla (1895)
Mother by Joaquin Sorolla (1895)

One of the most moving family portraits by Sorolla was of his wife Clotilde, laying in bed with their new born baby, their youngest child, Elena.  The painting is simply entitled Mother and was completed in 1895.   His wife looks lovingly towards her daughter who is swaddled in a mass of white bedding contrasted by the artist’s yellow/green tonal shading of the bed clothes. 


My Family by Joaquín Sorolla (1901)
My Family by Joaquín Sorolla (1901)

In 1901 Sorolla completed a portrait of his family entitled My Family, which somehow reminds us of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, where the painter showed in the background a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. They appear to be placed outside the picture space in a position similar to that of the viewer.  In Sorolla’s painting we see his image, palette in hand, in a mirror in the background.  The main figures in the painting were those of his family.  His wife Clotilde stands to the left in a long red dress along with her children.   Elena, the youngest, sits on the chair was five years old at the time. Their nine-year old son Joaquín sits on a stool sketching a picture of his sister whilst their elder daughter, Maria, who would have been eleven when her father completed the work, holds the board which her brother is using to support his sketch.

Maria by Joaquín Sorolla (1900)
Maria by Joaquín Sorolla (1900)

One of Sorolla’s favourite subjects was his eldest child, Maria and over the years he would capture her in many of his portraits.  In 1900 he captures her sitting on a chair dressed in a white tunic with her hands entwined on her lap.  The painting is entitled Maria.  The whiteness of her dress is enhanced by touches of blue.   In the background there is a wall with decorative and colourful tiles 

Maria Sick by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)
Maria Sick by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)

Six years later he completed another two portraits of Maria.  The first, entitled Maria Sick, completed in 1907 depicts his daughter sitting outside, well wrapped up in heavy but warm clothes.  She was recuperating in the mountains outside of Madrid having come down with an illness.   Sorolla himself was supposed to have been in Germany at this time, to be present at the one-man exhibition of his work at Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne organised by the Berlin gallery owner, Eduard Schulte.  However Sorolla refused to leave his daughter at a time when she was so unwell.


Maria painting in El Pardo by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)
Maria painting in El Pardo by Joaquín Sorolla (1907)

That same year, following the recovery from her illness, her father painted another portrait of her, entitled Maria Painting in El Pardo.  The work depicts his daughter seated on a hill top, close to the royal palace, painting en plein air. 

Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)
Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)

However Joaquín Sorolla’s favourite muse was his beloved wife Clotilde whom he had married in 1888.   She featured in a large number of his works.  I particularly like the one he painted in 1910 entitled Clotilde Sitting on the Sofa.  Art historians believe that the painting was influenced by the works of the American painter John Singer Sargent.  His wife leans against the arm of a sofa, dressed in a full length gown.


Clotilde in Evening Dress by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)
Clotilde in Evening Dress by Joaquín Sorolla (1910)

Another beautiful painting of his lovely wife was completed that same year entitled Clotilde in Evening Dress and from it, it is plain to see that Sorolla had married a beautiful and enchanting person.  We see her sitting upright in a plush, well upholstered red chair, dressed in a black evening dress with a blue flower tucked behind her ear.  She is the personification of a Spanish lady.

Sorolla had a one-man exhibition in the Grafton Galleries, London in 1908 and it is whilst in London that he met Archer Milton Huntington, who was the son of Arabella Huntington and the stepson of the American railroad tycoon and industrialist Collis Huntington.   Archer Huntington was a lover of the arts and the founder of the Hispanic Society of America which was based in New York.  The Hispanic Society of America was, and still is, a museum and reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain and Portugal as well as those of Latin America.  Huntington arranges for Sorolla to have a major one-man exhibition at the Society in 1909 and it proved to be a resounding success so much so that the exhibition travelled to many American cities.  Huntington then commissioned Sorolla to paint 14 large scale mural paintings, oil on canvas, depicting the peoples and regions of Spain.  On receiving Huntington’s commission in 1911, Sorolla spent the next eight years travelling  throughout the regions of Spain making hundreds of preparatory sketches before completing what was to become known as Vision of Spain.   Sorolla was clear in his mind what Huntington expected and how he would achieve it, for he said:

“…I want to truthfully capture, clearly and without symbolism or literature, the psychology of the region.   Loyal to the truth of my school I seek to give a representative view of Spain, searching not for philosophies but for the picturesque aspects of the region…”

The fourteen murals were installed on December 1922 in the newly renovated western extension to the Hispanic Society’s Main Building, which is now known as the Sorolla Room. They were not officially inaugurated until January 1926. 

Panels from “Vision of Spain,” Joaquín Sorolla’s panoramic mural, during reinstallation at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.
Panels from “Vision of Spain,” Joaquín Sorolla’s panoramic mural, during reinstallation at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.

The Hispanic Society building had problems with their roof and it got so bad that in 2007 the museum had a full make-over and the picture above shows the re-installation of the fourteen paintings.

His eight years on this project was at the expense and detriment of his other work and sadly nearing the end of this project his health began to deteriorate and in June 1920 he suffered a stroke which ended his painting career.  One can only imagine how devastated Sorolla must have been not being able to paint.   Three years later in August 2010 Sorolla died in Cercedilla, a small town in the Sierra de Guadarrama, north-west of Madrid.  His body was taken and buried in the town of his birth, Valencia.

Room inside Sorolla Museum
Room inside Sorolla Museum

I cannot end this trilogy of blogs about Joaquín Sorolla without mentioning the Sorolla Museum which was the artist’s home from 1911. 

Room inside Sorolla Museum
Room inside Sorolla Museum

It is a five minute walk from the Ruben Dario Metro station and I do urge you to visit it if you are in Madrid.  You will not be disappointed. 

Museum entrance
Museum entrance

There are so many of the artist’s beautiful paintings on show and the gardens are a delight.

Museum Gardens
Museum Gardens

Joaquín Sorolla (part 2)

Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)
Portrait of Joaquín Sorolla by José Jiménez Aranda (1901)

By 1885, Joaquín Sorolla had settled down to life in Rome but during that year he also spent the spring and summer in Paris.  At this time in the French capital, the Impressionists were in the ascendancy after they and their art had been criticised and they had had to survive an initial period of ridicule, commercial failure and outright denunciation.    However, the Impressionists had now managed to establish their status some eleven years after they held their first Impressionist exhibition at Nadar’s studios and whilst Sorolla was in Paris he saw much of thire work but it was not the Impressionist painters who would influence him.   Whilst in the French capital he visited the retrospective exhibitions of two non-Impressionist painters, the French Naturalist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, who had died the previous year, and Adolf von Menzel the German painter who, along with Caspar Davisd Friedrich, was considered one of the two most prominent German artists of the 19th century and was also the most successful artist of his era in Germany.

Sorolla returned to his home town of Valencia on two occasions during the late 1880’s and on the second visit in 1888 he proposed to and married Clotilde Garcia del Castillo the daughter of his mentor, the photographer Antonio Garcia.  Joaquín and Clotilda had first met in 1879 when he had started work in her father’s workshop.   Joaquín finally returned from Italy and in 1890 the couple settled in Madrid.   Sorolla style of painting became more individualistic with him tending towards social realism works. 

Another Marguerite by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)
Another Margarita by Joaquín Sorolla (1892)

For a good example of a social realism work by Sorolla one only has to look at his beautifully executed painting entitled Another Margarita which he completed in 1892.  He exhibited the work at the Madrid National Exhibition that year and was awarded a first-class medal.  This was also Sorolla first major painting to be exhibited in America and it was awarded the first prize at the Chicago International Exhibition, where it was acquired and subsequently donated to the Washington University Museum in St Louis.    The story behind the depiction is of a woman who has been arrested for suffocating her small son and Sorolla actually witnessed the woman being transported to jail.  There is an air of gloom about the manacled woman as she sits slumped on the wooden bench of the train carriage being watched by her two guards who sit behind her.  In contrast to the dark and depressing depiction of the three individuals, the carriage itself is lit up by the warm light which streams through the windows at the rear of the compartment and which bathes the entire space.

The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)
The Return of the Catch by Joaquin Sorolla (1894)

His realist art also embraced what the Spanish termed costumbrismo, which was the pictorial interpretation of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs.   This kind of art depicted particular times and places, rather than of humanity in an abstract form.   In many instances costumbrismo was often satirical and often moralizing, but it was careful not to offer or even imply any particular analysis of the society it depicted, unlike proper realism art.  In less satirical works costumbrismo took on a romantic folklore flavour.  A fine example of this type of work was a painting entitled The Return of the Catch which Sorolla completed in 1894 and which received critical acclaim when it was shown at the 1895 Paris Salon.   It was subsequently acquired by the Musée du Luxembourg.  He painted a number of similar pictures depicting Valencian fisherman at work bathed in the dazzling Mediterranean light such as his 1894 painting entitled Return from Fishing and his 1903 painting, Afternoon Sun.

Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)
Sad Inheritance by Joaquín Sorolla (1899)

By 1895 Joaquín and Clotilda had three children.  Their daughter Maria was born in 1890, their son Joaquín in 1892 and their youngest child Elena in 1895.  In 1899 Sorolla painted what was to become his most famous and most moving picture.  It was entitled Sad Inheritance and I talked about this work in My Daily Art Display of Jan 31st 2011.  It is a poignant work featuring a monk and a group of children, crippled by polio, who are seen bathing in the sea at Valencia.   Sorolla received his greatest official recognition for this work of art, the Grand Prix and a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, and a year later he received the medal of honour at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901.

In my third and final blog about Joaquín Sorolla I will feature some of his family portraits, look at the Sorolla Museum in Madrid and conclude the life story of this wonderful Spanish artist.

Joaquín Sorolla (part 1)

Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)
Self Portrait by Joaquín Sorolla (1909)

I have said on a number of occasions that when one is in a large city which has one or maybe two famous large art museums, and when one is time-limited, one should search around and look for a smaller gallery which may have hidden treasures to offer.  The art on display in smaller museums can be taken in on one visit and there is no feeling of having to rush from room to room, constantly looking at ones watch to try and see as much as one can and ultimately seeing very little.  Madrid is famous for its three large art museums the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Queen Sophie but once again thanks to my daughter, who was my travelling companion on this trip, I discovered a pure gem of a museum – The Sorolla, which was just a few stops on the Metro from the city centre.  In my blogs I want to offer you a taste of what you would get if you visit the museum dedicated to one of Spain’s best loved artists, show you some of the Spanish painters work and look at his life story.

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was born into a humble household in Valencia in February 1863.  His parents were Joaquín Sorolla Gascón and Concepción Bastida who were retailers.  Joaquín and his younger sister Concha were orphaned in 1865 when both their parents died from the cholera epidemic which had swept through and ravaged the Spanish city.  Joaquín and Concha went to live with their maternal aunt, Isabel Bastida and her husband José Piqueres, a locksmith by trade.  Joaquín’s early schooling was not a success with the young boy being inattentive during lessons and was happy to doodle and draw in his exercise books to pass the time away.  His lack of progress at the school came to the attention of his uncle who withdrew him and took him on as an apprentice at his workshop.  However, owing to his love of drawing, when Joaquín was fourteen years old, his uncle arranged for him to attend drawing classes in the evening at the city’s Escuelade Artesanos where his artistic ability astounded his teachers, including the sculptor Cayetano Capuz.   The following year, 1878, he enrolled on a three-year course at Valencia’s prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos.  It was whilst attending the art school that he met and became friends with a fellow student, Juan Antonio Perez.  He was soon introduced to Juan’s family.  Juan’s father, Antonio Garcia Perez was a photographer and was very impressed with Sorolla’s art work, so much so that he gave him a job at his photography studio as an illuminator.  This opportunity allowed Sorolla to leave his uncle’s workshop and concentrate on his artwork and discover the world of photography.  He learnt all about the framing of a subject and the manipulation of light which would prove a boon to him when he started to paint seaside and beach scenes.   This “new world” of photography fascinated many artists of the time and the likes of the French pair of Impressionists, Degas and Caillebotte were accomplished amateur photographers.

The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)
The Shout of the Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla (1881)

 Joaquín won many awards whilst studying at Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Carlos and at the end of his time there, and buoyed by his success, he sent off three seascapes to the Madrid National Exhibition.   He travelled to Madrid on a couple of occasions and visited the Prado where he painted copies of the great Masters.   In 1884, in the hope of attaining a monetary scholarship from the Valencia Provincial Council, he submitted a number of paintings to them, one of which was entitled The Shout of the Palleter, which was a historical painting recording the event in Valencia when one of its inhabitants Vincent Doménech in 1808, incensed by the French occupation of his country stood in the square urging people to rebel against the French tyranny.  He uttered his famous words:

“…Jo, Vicent Doménech, un pobre palleter, li declare la guerra a Napoleó. ¡Vixca Ferran sèptim! ¡Muiguen els traïdors!…”

(I, Vincent Doménech, a poor and simple worker, declare war against Napoleon.  Long live Ferdinand.  Death to the traitors.)

Sorolla painted the picture in the bullring of Valencia which he transformed into a huge studio and which was bathed in brilliant sunlight.  The stage-managed scene was a triumph and the Valencia Provincial Council awarded him a three-year scholarship to study art at the Spanish Academy in Rome. 

Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)
Father Jofré Protecting a Madman by JoachínSorolla (1887)

One of the conditions attached to the scholarship was that he regularly sent back work to the Council to prove that he was making good use of his time.   One of the paintings he duly sent back to Valencia was his 1887 work entitled Father Jofré Protecting a Madman.  This historical painting was based on the story of Father Joan-Gilabert Jofré, a friar of the Valencian Mercedarian Order, who, on  February 24, 1409, was on his way from the convent of the Plaza de la Merced to the Cathedral of Valencia.   On his way there he passed along the street of Martín Mengod,  the ancient street of the silver workers, next to the church of Santa Catalina.  On entering the street he was greeted with a great commotion.   Before him, he saw a group of children who were hitting and making fun of a mentally ill man who lay on the ground before them.   In those days it was believed by many that somebody who was mentally ill was possessed by the devil.  Father Jofré immediately berated the children and took the helpless man with him to the convent of the Order of Mercy, where he was given shelter and cure for his wounds.  Father Jofré would go on to found the world’s first lunatic asylum.

After his three year scholarship came to an end, Joaquín Sorolla continued to live in Rome and for a time in Assisi but on two occasions between 1885 and 1889 he returns to his home city of Valencia.


…….to be continued.

The Clothed Maja and The Nude Maja by Goya

La Maja Desnuda (The Naked Maja) by Goya (c.1797-1800)

I ended my last blog with the tantalising statement:

“…I will offer you a work by another famous Spanish artist, Francisco Goya, and tell you about the connection it has with myself, as a naughty schoolboy, and my first sighting of erotica !!!!…”

I suppose I will be accused of cynically employing cheap tactics in order to get people to read my blog but there is a connection between the two Goya paintings I am featuring in this blog with the dubious habits of a young school boy.   My early school days were back in the late 50’s and the first sight of what I loosely termed as “early erotica” came in the form of a pen.  It was not just any pen.  It was a pen which had a picture of a beautiful and fully clothed young woman.  However the titillating aspect about the pen was that if you  turned the pen upside-down the clothed lady slowly shed all her clothes !!!

La Maja Vestida (The Clothed Maja) by Goya (c.1800)

Today I am looking at, not one painting by Francisco Goya, but two, albeit as you will realise, they are almost the same except for one major exception.  His two paintings are entitled La maja vestida (The Clothed Maja) and La maja desnuda (The Nude Maja) were painted around 1800 and 1803 and the only difference between the two is that in one the woman is fully clothed whilst in the other she is naked.  I suppose the first question that comes to one’s mind is who is this lady and how come Goya painted her reclining portrait.  The question has never really been answered but the names of two ladies are often bandied about by historians as being this sultry temptress.  The two candidates are the 13th Duchess of Alba and Pepita Tudó.

The Duchess of Alba or to give her, her full title, Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva-Álvarez de Toledo y Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba de Tormes was a Spanish aristocrat who featured in a number of Goya’s paintings.  Francisco de Goya profited from wealthy patronage probably more than any other artist. He was without doubt the darling of the Spanish monarchy.  His first appointment as court painter came from King Charles IV of Spain. The King and his wife, Queen Maria Luisa, sat for the artist themselves many times.   For their portraits they would dress in the most colourful and showy costumes adorned with the royal regalia.  Besides the royal portraits Goya received many lucrative commissions from other high-ranking government officials as well as requests for altarpieces for churches and cathedrals.  However without doubt and notwithstanding his many prominent sitters, one stands out above all the others – the 13th Duchess of Alba.

The Duchess of Alba was not just any royal courtier.  She was a very wealthy and powerful woman in her own right.  She was a  member of Spanish nobility and held the title of 13th Duchess of Alba.  She married José María Alvarez de Toledo y Gonzaga, who was the 15th Duke of Medina-Sidonia, and she became the wealthiest woman in Spain. She was quite a character.  Besides her natural beauty, she was the height of eccentricity, and very strong-willed.  Goya was besotted by her and rumours had it that, at one time, the two were lovers.  He recounted the time she came to his studio and asked him to apply her make-up:

“…the Alba woman, who yesterday came to the studio to make me paint her face, and she got her way; I certainly enjoy it more than painting on canvas, and I still have to do a full-length portrait of her…”

It has been suggested that the two paintings were originally owned by the Duchess of Alba and later acquired by Manuel de Godoy after her death. Goya’s close and intimate relationship with the Duchess of Alba has made her the most popular candidate as a model for the Majas, or at least as a source of inspiration.  Another persuasive argument in favour of this candidate is the many drawings of herself and members of her household Goya made during his visits to the Duchess’s country estate. However the face of the Majas does not show a close resemblance to the facial qualities of the drawings of her but this could be put down to the need to conceal her identity.

The second candidate for the model in Goya’s two paintings was Pepita Tudó, whose full name was Josefa de Tudó, 1st Countess of Castillo Fiel.  Pepita being the diminutive of Josefa.    She was born in Cadiz.  When she was just sixteen years of age, she along with her mother and two sisters, were living in the household of Manuel de Godoy.  Five years later, aged twenty-one, she became the mistress of Godoy who was then Spanish Prime Minister and because of the influence he had with King Charles IV and his wife Queen Maria-Louisa he became one of the most powerful men in Spain.  In 1797, Queen Maria Luisa arranged a marriage for Godoy toMaría Teresa de Borbón y Vallabriga, 15th Countess of Chinchón, the granddaughter of Philip V of Spain, despite him still having Pepita as his mistress.  This was an arranged marriage, set up by the queen as the bride and groom had never met.  The Queen ensured that the partnership was financially advantageous to both bride and groom.  So what was in it for the Queen?  Historians would have us believe that the queen’s ulterior motive was two-fold.  Firstly she had hoped that the marriage was a way of ending Godoy’s dalliance with Pepita and secondly the marriage would act as a cover for her own relationship with Godoy. Godoy was pleased with the arrangement as it boosted his finances and despite what the queen had hoped for, he continued his liaison with his mistress Pepita,  who bizarrely lived in the same house as his wife.  In 1805, Godoy’s wife gave birth to a son, Manuel, and in 1807, she gave birth to another son, Luis.  His wife died in 1828 and Godoy married Pepita although rumour had it that they had married years earlier.  Godoy was a very amorous and amoral man and had many lovers but who was his one true love –the Duchess of Alba or Pepita?  According to the ninety-year old Pepita who died in 1869, Godoy had one, and only one true love, and that was Queen Maria Luisa.

The paintings I am featuring today were possibly first owned by Manuel de Godoy.   The Clothed Maja was hung in a room in his house and placed on top of The Naked Maja.  He had arranged a pulley mechanism to be attached to The Clothed Maja so that it could be raised, revealing the naked version which was behind it !!!

In 1807 Godoy was at the height of his power and as prime minister had negotiated the Treaty of Fontainebleau with Napoleon and the French, which in essence carved up Portugal and Godoy was awarded the “Principality of the Algarves”, under the protectorate of the King of Spain. However as is the case of most powerful men he had made a number of enemies, one of whom was the heir to the Spanish throne, Ferdinand VII.   Unfortunately for Godoy France did not keep to their non-aggression treaty with Spain and Godoy, along with King Charles IV and Queen Maria Louisa went into exile in Bayonne.  Charles IV was forced to abdicate and Ferdinand VII, Godoy’s enemy, became king of Spain.

The following year, in 1808, all Godoy’s fate was sealed.  His property was seized by the Spanish monarch and in 1813 the Spanish Inquisition confiscated both of the La Maja works considering them to be obscene.  In 1815 Goya was denounced to the Inquisition as being the artist who painted the two “obscene” works.  In May of that year he was summoned to appear before the Inquisition and pressure was brought to bear on him to reveal who had commissioned the works, who were the women and what were his intentions for such paintings.  Alas, it is not known what Goya told his inquisitors.

Las Majas at the Prado Museum, Madrid

The two paintings were eventually returned in 1836 and housed in the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando.   We will probably never be one hundred per cent sure as to who modelled for the two paintings.  Since 1901, both The Clothed Maja and  The Nude Maja have been exhibited side by side in the same room at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Thankfully there was no Inquisition around when, as a pre-teenager, I giggled as I watched the woman’s clothes disappear with just a flick of my prized pen !!!!

I send this blog from a very hot Spain and I am reluctant to return to the cold and wet place I call my home.

The Waterseller of Seville by Velazquez

The Watersellerof Seville by Velazquez (1623)
Apsley House, London

At the end of this week we are off on a five-day jaunt to Spain to sample the delights of the Spanish Paradores and so I thought it would be fitting to have my next few blogs focus on Spanish painters.   Today I want to start by looking look at the connection between a famous Spanish painter and an English fighting hero.  I want to explore the connection between the talented Spanish artist Velazquez and the great British general, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

My Daily Art Display today features not just one work but three very similar works, which were completed by the young aspiring Spanish artist in the early 1620’s and who was to become one of the greatest painters of all time.  His name was Diego Rodriguez da Silva Velazquez.  The works I want to look at today were all painted when he was in his early twenties. The paintings in which Velazquez specialised during his early career were known as “bodegones“.  The word derives from the Spanish word, bodegón which lierally means taven or public eating place.   In Spanish art, a bodegón is a still life painting depicting the preparation or eating of food, pantry items, such as victuals, game, and drink, often arranged on a simple stone slab, and also a painting with one or more figures, but significant still life elements, typically set in a kitchen or tavern. These works often depicted scenes of lowlife in earthy tones, and with a sense of sombre pathos, which were unlike similar works by the contemporary the highly-colourful Dutch and Flemish genre scenes by the likes of Jan Steen and Pieter Aertsen with their depictions of the happy, but poor, peasants.

The title of Velazquez’s  three painting is The Waterseller of Seville.   Hecompleted these works during the period from 1618-1622.    Art historians would have us believe that these works were the greatest of all his Seville paintings.   Velazquez painted three versions of the work.  The one shown above can be seen in the Apsley House in London.  Another version of the painting, which was completed three years earlier, can be found in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.  The third version of the work hangs in the Walters Art Museum  in Baltimore.

Let us take a look at the paintings in detail.  Before us Velazquez has portrayed a waterseller in the city of Seville. During the scorching heat of a Spanish day, to come across a waterseller would be a godsend.   The role of a waterseller in Spain in those days was a common trade for the lower classes in Seville.  The aguador was often mentioned in popular satirical Spanish literature, plays and popular imagery.  The aquador or waterseller was frequently portrayed as a scoundrel or pathetic peddler, who operated on the fringes of urban society and hawked his often dubious wares to an unsuspecting public.  This street water-seller was nicknamed the Corsican of Seville and who, according to accounts from the end of the 17th century, wore a smock with holes in it to show his scabs and sores to potential customers so as to eke out some sympathy whilst at the same time, boost trade.     In Velazquez’s painting we can see that the vendor of water has two customers.  One is a young boy and it is thought that the artist has used the same model for this work that he used in his earlier works, entitled The Lunch and Old Woman Cooking Eggs, a painting I will look at in my next blog.  In the background and somewhat harder to discern is another young man who has also purchased a small jug of water from the seller.

In the foreground of the painting we have very large jugs of water.  Rivulets and glistening water drops slowly run down the ridges of this massive jug.   Observe how Velazquez has cleverly depicted this main jug.  It appears so close to us.  It almost seems to bulge out of the painting.   The chalice-like goblet, held by the young boy, holds centre stage as the light falls on it.  Look carefully at the glass.  It is not just a simple glass of pure water but in it floats a fig.  This addition of the fruit was to act as a kind of perfumer with the intention of making the water taste fresher.

The Waterseller of Seville by Velazquez, (1618)
The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The most striking aspect of this painting is how Velazquez has portrayed the water seller.   This is not a rich man.  This is a man who has had to eke out every peseta the hard way.    His facial expression is downcast. He has a look of resignation as he hands the boy the glass of water.  The man behind, who is shown full face, can be seen quaffing water from a lifted jar.  He has almost faded into the darkness of the background.   The features of the water seller, due to his days on end of standing out in the harsh sunlight, have taken its toll.  His face is rather haggard with age and ravaged and wrinkled by its exposure to the sun.  He has been plying his trade for many years, never able to accrue enough to retire.   The Apsley House version of the painting shows the seller bare-headed and in this version we can observe his short shaved hair.   Velazquez’s aged aguador stands in profile in the company of two of his clients.   He is dressed in coarse, monk-like robes.  Look at his eyes.  There is little or no eye contact between him and the boy.  He gazes blankly.  He seems to be lost in thought and has little or no regards to what is happening around him.   The offering of water seems to be just a mechanical movement.   The boy whose downcast, three-quarter glance is highlighted by a stream of light, hesitantly grasps the proffered goblet of water.  He does not make eye contact with the waterseller.  Is he too embarrassed by the plight of the old man?  Velazquez in his depiction of the man and the boy has highlighted the sharp contrast in their lives.  The battered and scarred face of the water seller contrasts greatly with the smooth white facial features of the young boy.

The Waterseller of Seville by Velazquez,(1620)
Walters Art Museum Baltimore

Velázquez’s portrayal of the waterseller is very profound.  One can see that he sympathises with the man and his terrible “lot in life”, by the way he has portrayed the man.  We can see that he shows consideration for  the poverty and age of the street-seller, and has, in some ways, given him an air of quiet dignity .  Velazquez by his depiction has represented a true-to life depiction of the waterseller and his trade.  His carefully crafted work encapsulates the imperfections of the seller’s pots, the saturations of dampness on their sides, the glistening of the light on the small drops of water and the glass, and the realistic expressions of the characters.

So what about the connection I mentioned in my introduction that this painting, the one which presently resides in Apsley House,  had a connection with Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington?   Apsley House, also known as ‘Number One, London’ stands on the north side of Hyde Park Corner. It is the magnificent former home of the Duke of Wellington and was granted to him by a grateful nation.

The “Waterseller” painting originally was a prized part of the Spanish royal collection.   In 1700 it figured in the inventory of the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid.   By the late 18th century it hung in the Royal Palace in Madrid. There it struck the fancy of Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, who was the commander of French forces in Spain during the Peninsular War and, who for a short time was the usurper of the Spanish throne.  When the French realized they were about to be driven from Spain by the Duke of Wellington, Joseph Bonaparte decided to leave Madrid but he was not going to leave the city empty-handed as he plundered numerous royal treasures before quickly retreating northward with his troops.  However Joseph Bonaparte was not able to reach the sanctuary of France as he was caught by Wellington and his troops just as he was about to cross the Pyrenees.  Wellington defeated Bonaparte at Vitoria and recovered from Bonaparte’s baggage train a number of Spanish paintings that had been cut from their frames, including the “Waterseller”.   Wellington wanted to return the artistic treasures to the Spanish nation but the restored Spanish monarch Ferdinand VII gave them all to Wellington as a gift from a grateful Spanish nation. In the dining room of Wellington’s magnificent London mansion, Apsley House, the Waterseller of Seville hangs today as a fitting tribute to its liberator.