Sunday, December 2, 2012

Five Spanish Masterpieces, Goya, El Greco, Dali, Picasso

The Detroit Institute of Arts exhibited Five Spanish Masterpieces, on view June 21–August 19 2012, The exhibition comprised Portrait of the Matador Pedro Romero, by Francisco de Goya, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; The Holy Family with St. Anne and the Infant St. John the Baptist, by El Greco, Museo del Prado, Madrid; Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, by Salvador Dalí, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portrait of a Man, by Diego Velázquez, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Melancholy Woman, by Pablo Picasso, Detroit Institute of Arts.

Portrait of the Matador Pedro Romero, Francisco de Goya, ca. 1795–98, oil on canvas. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Goya produced many paintings representing bullfighters in action, and Pedro Romero is the most famous matador in the history of bullfighting. His technique and style demonstrated that bullfighting could be seen as an elegant ballet of controlled movements, in which the bull and matador confront each other on equal grounds.

Goya portrays Romero at age 45 when he was about to retire. His hair is tied in a ponytail and kept in a black net on the back of his head. The ponytail is the foremost symbol of the professional bullfighter. When a bullfighter decides to retire, he cuts off his ponytail in the bullring at the end of his last bullfight to a standing ovation. In this portrait Romero is still an active bullfighter.

Romero is dressed in a white shirt, silver vest and a short black jacket. On his left shoulder is a red cape. Goya portrays Romero in a wonderfully elegant pose, with his bullfighter attributes, and shows an unusual calmness for a man who faces life and death in his daily profession.

The Holy Family with St. Anne and the Infant St. John the Baptist, El Greco, ca. 1600, oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid

El Greco is regarded as one of Spain’s foremost artists and renowned in his lifetime for the original way he used vibrant colors, dynamic and open brushstrokes and elongated figures planted in a narrow space. The Holy Family is a perfect example of El Greco’s mature style. He represents the figures with elongated and distorted proportions, evident through the figures’ small heads, long hands, arms and legs, and uses thick layers of vibrant color to model his figures. The contours and profiles of this holy family are not sharp and well defined; El Greco defines their volumes with white powerful, loose brushstrokes. The figures are compressed in the painting’s foreground, creating a tense and uneasy environment.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, Salvador Dalí, 1936, oil on canvas. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Salvador Dalí was a painter, draftsman, illustrator, sculptor, writer and filmmaker. One of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, his fantastic imagery and flamboyant personality also made him one of the best known. He is famous for his surrealist works, a style characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, also titled Premonition of Civil War, is an iconic surrealist work. In 1935 Spain was on the brink of civil war, and Dalí began work on the painting, which reflected Spain’s fear before the imminent war. He completed the painting six months before the war started and described it as a “Dalínean Prophecy.” Dalí includes several beans, traditionally used in Spain to appease bad spirits, in the painting’s foreground. He explained that “it is unthinkable to swallow all that unconscious meat without the (however unattractive) presence of some floury and melancholy vegetable.”

With Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Colossus, this painting has become the universal icon of protest against the atrocities of war.

Portrait of a Man, Diego Velázquez, 1630, oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Diego Velázquez is regarded as the most important painter of the Spanish Golden Age of art (1600s). Velázquez represented his portrait subjects with directness and physical presence, and communicated a sense of character and individualism. With the help of a friend at King Philip IV’s court, Velázquez showed his work to the king, who was an outstanding connoisseur of the arts. He immediately recognized Velázquez’s talents and hired him as his personal painter.

Portrait of a Man represents a man dressed in the Spanish fashion with a black doublet and white Spanish ruff. In 17th-century Spain, the king and his ministers strictly regulated attire for men, and as a result of difficult economic times, black attire and simple white ruffs were required as a sign of austerity. The length of the sitter’s hair and moustache was fashionable in Spain during the kingdom of Philip IV. Spanish men grew their hair longer, even down to their shoulders, later in the 1600s.

Melancholy Woman, Pablo Picasso, 1902, oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts

Pablo Picasso began creating art at age seven, and by age 13 was so accomplished that his father, who was an artist, is said to have given his art supplies to his son and declared he would never paint again. When he was 19, after studying art in Spain, Picasso and artist Carlos Casagemas went to Paris, where Casagemas killed himself a few months later. Moved by the tragedy, Picasso painted Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas), which recalled El Greco’s Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

Shortly afterwards, Picasso began painting subjects that dealt with poverty and depression, including prostitutes, beggars, vagabonds and drunks. These were done in a monochromatic blue-green palette and were referred to as Picasso’s Blue Period paintings. During this time he sketched women in the prison at St. Lazare, France, and it is thought that the subject of Melancholy Woman, the DIA’s Blue Period painting, was a prisoner there. It portrays a young woman seated with her arms folded and her legs crossed, staring in front of herself in a cell-like setting.