A 19th century Allegory for the Spanish Romantics Museum

Spanish School of the 19th Century
Allegory of Industrial Progress, 1852
Oil on Canvas - 194.5 x 133 cm
Madrid, Museo del Romanticismo
Photo : Museo del Romanticismo

5/9/12 - Acquisition - Madrid, Museo del Romanticismo - Last 24 May the Spanish government pre-empted an Allegory of Industrial Progress (ill.), produced in Paris in 1852 by a Spanish artist who left only his initials : "MMA pintó en Paris en 1852". Sold for 6,000€, the canvas will join the collections of the Museo nacional del Romanticismo where we contacted the director, Ms. Asunción Cardona, who pointed out that the painting was being studied and that for the moment there was no further information concerning the artist [1].
Strangely, Industrial Progress takes on the appearance of a very classical allegorical figure, seen standing, in a contrapposto which is emphasized by colored draperies, in a meditative pose, the left hand holding an olive branch and a palm leaf, against a landscaped background dominated by nature. At first glance, she could just as well symbolize Peace or be in fact a martyr, but the attributes around her are in stark contrast with the general style, illustrating major inventions of the industrial revolution : the thoughtful young woman is leaning on a furnace spewing out black smoke on which we see the names of those who developed the steam engine over the centuries : Blasco de Garay (1500-1522) was a Spanish navigator who became popular in the 19th century thanks to a Spanish researcher who stated that Garay had experimented a steamship in 1543 ; there are also Denis Papin (1647-1712), Robert Fulton (1765-1815) and James Watt (1736-1819).
At the foot of the furnace, a globe evokes the explorers who sailed the oceans without the help of Progress : Christopher Columbus and Favio Gioja ; the latter is said to have invented the compass in the early 14th century. Finally, we see publications with the names of philosophers and scientists, Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz...
On the right, another major invention is suggested : electricity, with Volta who in 1799 developed the electric battery. The painter also alludes to the printing world and its evolution since Gutenberg, with the mechanization of composition processes, such as Linotype, and printing methods using a steam or rotary press ; these revolutionary devices changed the printing of texts and images, which became known more quickly also due to the many innovations in communications and transportation.

This work was painted in Paris three years before the Universal Exhibition of 1855 - for which the Palais de l’Industrie was built, dominated by France Placing a Gold Crown on Art and Industry, a group sculpted by Elias Robert [2], and a few years after executing the ceiling in the Salle des Pas Perdus (or Salon de la Paix) at the Palais Bourbon, painted by Horace Vernet in 1838. He represented Peace in the center, surrounded by the inventors of steam engines for land or water. Some critics reproached the artist for "the unpleasant coupling of certain allegorical myths with very material and tangible aspects of modern science and industry, for instance, Peace in a classical and sacramental costume, dominating a horizon of chimneys, factories and foundries" [3], a confrontation of two worlds found in this canvas from Madrid.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 7 septembre 2012


[1] We invite The Art Tribune readers to contact us if they can identify this painter.

[2] 6/9/12 : Hervé Joubeaux pointed out to us that this sculptor also produced an allegory of Industry for the Austerlitz train station, still there today, with a similar iconography : a woman with antique draping is leaning on a locomotive.

[3] Clément de Ris, L’Artiste, 9 January 1848.

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