Sunday, September 20, 2015

Day 39: A Glimpse of Spanish Art: The Royal Academy and the Sorolla Museum

The only place to get a really good look at the Old Masters of Spanish art is the Prado Museum, but the Prado doesn't allow photography. Therefore, I haven't had the opportunity to do a review of Spanish art history. The collection of the Royal Academy is much smaller, but large enough to illustrate a bare outline of the Spanish branch of painting. For an in-depth look at a single master artist, we have the Sorolla Museum, located in the home of the great post-Impressionist Joaquín Sorolla.

The Royal Academy

Only serious art lovers tour the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, because it does not have a blockbuster collection. It has a mixture of works that matter if art is your passion.

The Academy was established by royal decree in the 1700s, and it is the headquarters of the Madrid Academy of Art as well as an art museum. It is very important in the history of Spanish art because Francisco Goya was once one of its directors, and it was attended by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, as well as several other important artists.

Lighting was poor throughout the museum: sometimes there was glare on the paintings, sometimes the light was too dim. My selection of photos doesn't do justice to their collection.

The Academy has a number of Old Master paintings from around Europe, especially from the centuries before painting became important in Spain in the 1600s. But its real strength is in Spanish art.

El Greco, 1541-1614, was the first painter working in Spain to achieve major status in the history of art. As his name implies, he was Greek; he trained in art in Italy, where he became a master before moving to Toledo, Spain. He made the rest of his career in Toledo, and did his best work there. The 1500s was a very religious period in Spain, and El Greco painted many saints. Since the people he portrayed were historical, or mythic characters, he had to use his imagination. His portrayals are remarkably sympathetic and naturalistic.

El Greco, 1541-1614
Saint Jerome, c. 1600
Diego Velázquez, 1599-1660, was one of the first Spanish-born painters to impact art history in a big way. The Academy is supposed to have some of his works, but I didn't get any examples. It's impossible to outline the history of Spanish art without mentioning his name. He was the court painter to King Philip IV, but his impact was international. His most famous painting is at the Prado; I grabbed a copy from the internet.

Diego Velázquez, 1599-1660
Las Meninas, 1656

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1618-1682, was a Spanish Baroque painter who had two different themes with different styles. He painted many highly reverential paintings on religious themes, especially sweetly idealized depictions of the Virgin Mary. He also painted gritty depictions of beggars and laborers, and folks at the bottom of the heap. This first example is a typical illustration of a saintly myth.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1618-1682
St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, c. 1646
The next example shows his sympathetic attention to the faces of the downtrodden. The painting depicts a story in which Saint Diego was given the task of feeding the poor. He was said to have kept the stew-pot full through prayer.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1618-1682
San Diego de Alcalá with Beggars, c. 1646
Pedro de Mena, 1628-1688, was a Spanish sculptor contemporary with Murillo. He is not a major figure in art history, but this sculpture is a good example of the intensely religious atmosphere in Spain at that time. It also typifies the emotionalism of Baroque period.  It shows Mary, mother of Christ, grieving over his death.

Pedro de Mena, 1628-1688
Sorrowing Mary
Francisco Goya, 1746-1828, was a Spanish romantic painter who went to work for the royal court in the 1770s. Since he was one of the directors of the Academy, they have some important examples of his work. Though his main job was to depict royalty—many examples hang in the Prado—he excelled at depicting pastimes and popular entertainments. The next sample shows a celebration of death, similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead, on the first day of Lent. The main figures are wearing costumes and masks.

Francisco de Goya, 1746-1828
The Burial of the Sardine, c. 1814
Goya did quite a few self-portraits over the years. For this one, done in his forties, he got himself all decked out in the latest style and posed before a full-length mirror.

Francisco de Goya, 1746-1828
Self-portrait at Easel, 1785-1790
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Painted when he was 69, the diffuse contours and psychological insight of this one remind me of Rembrandt's late self-portraits.

Francisco de Goya, 1746-1828
Self-portrait, 1815
Photo by Dan L. Smith
Antonio Carnicero, 1748–1814, was a Spanish painter of the Neoclassical style. Although he worked for King Charles IV of Spain, he was a minor painter compared to Goya, his contemporary. The lighting effects in this example are brilliant. Mount Vesuvius erupted several times during his lifetime, and aroused a great deal of interest in Europe. Carnicero did not witness this himself, but copied the composition from a friend who had.

Antonio Carnicero, 1748-1814
Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 1771
Santiago Rusiñol, 1861-1931, was a minor artist who wrote poetry and plays in addition to painting. As a painter he is especially known for his landscapes with gardens. I think this example is terrific.

Santiago Rusiñol, 1861-1931
Mountain Garden, 1904
Joaquín Sorolla, 1863-1923, was the next giant of painting after Goya. His style was greatly influenced by Impressionism. One of his favorite themes was children at the beach. With his vivid light effects and loose brushstroke he conveyed the joy of childish exploration.

Joaquín Sorolla, 1863-1923
Bathing at the Beach, 1908
Eduardo Martínez Vázquez, 1886-1971, was a student and a teacher at the Royal Academy, but not a major painter himself. He was especially known for landscapes, and the Sierra de Gredos Mountains were one of his favorite subjects. In this example, his rendition of receding mountains uses refined atmospheric effects.

Eduardo Martínez Vázquez, 1886-1971
Spring in Gredos, 1931
José Vela Zanetti, 1913-1999, was a Spanish artist who was a prolific painter of murals in the Dominican Republic and the United States as well as in Spain. He worked in the Spanish tradition of depicting laborers and poor people. The Academy had this gritty but riveting sketch.

José Vela Zanetti, b. 1923
Portrait of Fideladelfo, Milagros’ Blacksmith, 1984
Gustavo Torner, born 1925, is an abstract painter and sculptor of advanced age who was a member of the Royal Academy. This type of sculpture really appeals to me.

Gustavo Torner, born 1925
The Complementaries VI, 1992

El Greco, Velázquez, and Murillo were the stars of the 1600s. The late 1700s and early 1800s were dominated by Goya. The big star of the late 1900s was Sorolla. Minor artists have produced many wonderful works, especially landscapes. These are the lessons of the Royal Academy.

Sorolla Museum

Touring the Sorolla Museum is a potent art experience because Joaquín Sorolla was a brilliant artist, and easy to like.

Sorolla was born in the 1860s, the generation of the post-Impressionists in France. His style, with its loose brushstrokes, its devotion to rendering light and shadow, and its harmonious colors, shows the strong influence of Impressionism, while his bold compositions and vigorous expressiveness reflect post-Impressionism. He was a contemporary of John Singer Sargent, and their styles had much in common. Much of his work depicts social conditions, but the walls of his private home and studio have mostly portraits and scenes related to his family and family outings, and they are full of light and joy.

When he was 25, Sorolla married a woman from his home town, Valencia, named Clotilde. They had three children, and his family life inspired many buoyant paintings.

In the early 1900s, when he was in his 40s, Sorolla, was an international star, with major exhibitions in Paris, Germany, and London. While he was in London, he met American philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington, who later hosted a big Sorolla exhibit at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City. Over half the works sold, and Huntington later commissioned him to paint 14 murals depicting life in the various regions of Spain for a meeting room at the Hispanic Society. These murals are still in place, and they were restored a few years ago. They are beautiful: vigorous, richly colored, imaginative, and folkloric. He also did some individual paintings on regional themes. Here's an example.

Regional study
It seems fair to assume that this big influx of income enabled Sorolla to build his ideal studio-mansion in the years of 1910 and 1911.

The ante-rooms are well-lighted and beautifully appointed galleries for the display of his work.

His studio is spacious, with a lofty beamed ceiling, and it is flooded with light.

The family's private sitting room is tastefully decorated.

The mansion was converted into a museum in 1932, after the deaths of Sorolla and his widow, Clotilde. Except that the upstairs rooms have been converted to galleries for a rotating display of the artist's work, the home has been preserved just the way they left it. The canvas Sorolla was working on just before he died remains in place, with his brushes next to the unfinished painting.

Being fond of a nap myself, I was interested that his studio had a secluded daybed in one corner, with an antique chair nearby.

It pleased me to see that he had such a gracious and comfortable place to spend his final years.

Here's a small sample from an exuberant abundance of his paintings.

The White Boat, Jávea, 1905
Bathtime, Valencia, 1909
The Queen's Bath, 1907
The Bath at La Granja, 1907
Skipping Rope around the Pool, 1907
Clotilde in the Garden, 1920
The Patio of Comares, La Alhambra de Granada, 1917

The Sorolla Museum used to be an undiscovered treasure, but the painter is well known now and the museum was packed on a free Sunday afternoon. Our tour was a highlight of our stay in Madrid.

Beautiful Madrid

When the museum closed at 4 p.m., we were hungry, having skipped lunch. We decided to walk toward our hotel, as guided by my iPad mapper, and watch for a restaurant that was open on the way. The museum was located in a lovely residential area, but after a few blocks we came to an attractive avenue with a cluster of restaurants that had outdoor seating. There wasn't much traffic, and the temperature was balmy, so we chose a table that was well-shaded by a white canopy.

This was an all-Spanish occasion: the menu, the waiter, and the other customers. The restaurant wasn't a tourist trap, but relied on local patronage. The menu seemed to consist of gourmet small plates, such as a few delicate pieces of fish or a small filet of beef. We managed to put together a tasty meal that strongly featured beer for me and wine for Dan.

In our inebriated state, it seemed like a good idea to walk the rest of the way back to the hotel. It was only a little over a mile, and we had the mapper to keep us on track. Walking down tree-shaded streets, for several blocks we passed very attractive 6-story apartment buildings with traditional architecture.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
We came to a traffic circle with beautiful traditional architecture on all sides and a fountain in the middle.

Photo by Dan L. Smith
Nearby was a park-like plaza with a large cluster of outdoor eateries of different types. As we headed downhill toward the center of town, the architecture of the apartment buildings descended the scale, as did the businesses and restaurants at the ground level. The pedestrians grew scruffy and numerous. The streets became narrow and deeply shaded. We checked the zippers on our bags and kept a business-like pace.

Then we came to the same alley where the taxi had let us off when we first arrived, and shortly we emerged on Gran Via, the beautiful boulevard where our beautiful hotel was located. We had a latte at Dan's favorite bar, a very low-end hole-in-the wall, then called it a day. A very fine day.