Spanish Art between Two Centuries, from Zuloaga to Picasso (1890-1920)

Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, from 7 October 2011 to 9 January 2012.

1. Santiago Rusinol (1861-1931)
Courtyard with Orange Trees or Arabic Gardens in Granada, 1904
Oil on Canvas - 86.5 x 107 cm
Castres, Musée Goya
Photo : Castres, Musée Goya cliché P. Bru

While Spanish paintings of the Golden Age are well represented in our most important museums, the history of art between Goya and Picasso often takes on the appearance of a mysterious ocean, interspersed with a few islands, unfamiliar to a wide audience and whose names are Zuloaga or Sorolla y Bastida. This phenomenon does not of course reflect the actual reality, simply our own ignorance : the prejudice against part of 19th century art which still holds sway over some laggards, was until now compounded by the geographical and historical distances which contributed to making Spain look distant, if not vaguely marginal. The presentation at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in collaboration with the Fundación cultural Mapfre, of about sixty Spanish paintings from 1890 to 1920 provides us with an excellent chance to discover, or rediscover, the diversity and wealth of this art. In a way, we cannot help but rejoice, with benevolent spite, at the diplomatic incident between France and a former Spanish colony, Mexico, which postponed the exhibition highlighting Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo originally planned for these dates. The exhibition catalogue and the press release underscore the historical context of a late 19th century Spain severely disheartened after its loss of Cuba ; an amusing retort to Mexico ! No matter our admiration for muralist art, there is some justice in seeing 19th century Spanish art, rarely seen in France, featured here rather than the frequently seen names of Mexican painting. Let us be perfectly clear however, our intent is above all to congratulate the Franco-Spanish team which succeeded in organizing this delightful exhibition in record time.

2. Santiago Rusinol (1861-1931)
La Glorieta (Aranjuez), 1909
Oil on Canvas - 102.8 x 110 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : RMN/Hervé Lewandowski

In a simple and efficient setting, with a pleasant itinerary and with perfectly suitable colors, the works on display constitute a rather complete panorama of the tendencies and temperament of Spanish painting in these years "between two centuries". The selection of items might have been different, we perhaps regret the absence of certain artists or could suggest the addition of another work, and it seems quite bold to summarize thirty years of a country’s art in a restricted number of paintings, not to mention the lack of graphic art and engraving ; but paradoxically, this concentration presents the advantage of forcing visitors to immediately grasp the idea of an active Spain, bustling and diverse in its pictorial manifestations between 1890 and 1920. Given the density of the visit, the need for a unifying theme (black Spain / white Spain) does not however seem indispensable. While this works well in the catalogue and is more justified, with Pablo Jiménez Burillo’s text which opens a series of in-depth reflections and achieves a highly interesting assessment of the period, this dichotomy does not really come through in the same way when viewing the exhibition itself.

3. Ignacio Zuloaga Y Zabaleta (1870-1945)
Maurice Barrès Contemplating Toledo, 1913
Oil on Canvas - 203 x 240 cm
Nancy, Musée Lorrain
Photo : RMN-Musée d’Orsay / Philippe Migeat

For instance, the difficulty in having this notion (black or white) coincide with both the point of view of the subject and the art is quite obvious. There is some significance in the fact that an artist like Santiago Rusiñol is presented in the texts (including the press release) and the exhibition sections on both of these presumed tendencies : the double catalogue page juxtaposing his Courtyard with Orange Trees from 1904 (ill. 1), with its "Impressionist" clarity and La Glorieta from 1909 (ill. 2) with its mysterious twilight, its cypresses and the dead leaves borrowed from the Symbolist world is, in this regard, eloquent. The same artist, during the same period, can produce two works with a totally opposite inspiration and content. In fact, if we have understood the stated purpose here and its dialectic vision of Spain, one being dark, Catholic and solemn, even dramatic ; the other, a luminous, gay and sunny country for travellers which corresponds to a certain modernist "exoticism", we feel the importance of the exhibition is that it shows very beautiful paintings however, there is no need to explain all of the ensuing implications to the psychology or identity of the country. The wish to develop a problematic study for an exhibition at all costs when it does not serve an actual purpose can end up becoming a trap. Visitors are welcomed by a very large Zuloaga painting, outside the exhibition itself due to its format, representing Maurice Barrès Contemplating Toledo (ill. 3), holding a book on El Greco. The work summarizes everything we should keep in mind before entering : the real Spain, the imaginary Spain, the Spain of myths, history and artistic heritage, etc. However, all of this should not prevent us from looking at the paintings themselves since we cannot contest Parisian egocentrism which ignored a page of European art history and at the same time limit the importance of these works to a nationalistic and historical vision, just as restrictive as the first. This is especially true since most of the artists here either lived in or visited Paris and participated in its salons and universal expositions as explained by Dominique Lobstein, with his customary precision and detail in an interesting essay. The aim is thus to go beyond a "localist" view of Spanish painting, to value its importance not only in relation to the movements which dominated in Paris between 1890 and 1920, however close they may be, but to understand that each of these artists had his uniqueness, aesthetics, talent and that this is after all what matters the most.

4. Ignacio Zuloaga Y Zabaleta (1870-1945)
Portrait of Anna de Noailles, 1913
Oil on Canvas - 152 x 195.5 cm
Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Photo : Photograph Archive of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

5. Ignacio Zuloaga Y Zabaleta (1870-1945)
The Dwarf Dona Mercedes, 1887
Oil on Canvas - 130 x 97 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : RMN-Musée d’Orsay/Hervé Lewandowski

Some very beautiful landscapes start visitors off with nocturnal scenes which are nonetheless full of light. Night Falling on the Levee by Pinazo Camarlench (Valencia, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern), Night Falling by Urgell (Barcelona, MNAC) and, above all, the sublime Landscape at Night by Eliseu Meifrèn y Roig (Madrid, Museo Thyssen) which we were able to admire recently at the Fondation de l’Hermitage in Lausanne, are an instant reflection of the diversity awaiting us in the rest of the exhibition. We are quickly taken by some of Zuloaga’s masterpieces ; after the image of Barrès quoted above, there is the hypnotic Portrait of Anna de Noailles (ill. 4) striking in its modernness ; we cannot help but think of Velázquez (with his portrait of The Dwarf Dona Mercedes) (ill. 5), Goya (The Portrait of Zuloaga’s Uncle and Cousins [1910, Boston, Fine Arts Museum]) or El Greco (with The Anchoret [1907, Paris, Musée d’Orsay]), yet these tangible influences only help to emphasize the unique character of Zuloaga’s art and, more so than the claim of "realism", his dramatic and abrupt emotional impact, his essential pictorial quality.

6. Ramon Casas (1866-1932)
Idleness, 1898-1900 Oil on Canvas - 64 x 54 cm
Barcelone, MNAC Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Photo : MNAC Photo Calveras/Mérida/Sagristà

Next, we see some works by Ramón Casas, including the very beautiful Idleness (ill. 6), which illustrate a "realist" and intimate vein which we find also in Santiago Rusiñol, one of the most beautiful artists of this period, represented here with six paintings. A seventh, perhaps the most striking one, is unfortunately missing (but is reproduced in the catalogue, Morphine [1894] ; it hangs at the Museu Cau Ferrat in Sitges). As we said earlier, we find both a subtle expression of a certain "fin de siècle" inward look, Symbolist landscapes (of which there are not enough at the Orangerie) and also Parisian views of mostly Montmartre. This restricted number of Symbolist works in fact barely suggests Spain’s presence amid the idealism of the period between 1890-1910. Dew by Adrià Gual (1897, Barcelona, MNAC) with its beautiful communicative frame, and The Hermitics by Miguel Viladrich Vila (Barcelona, MNAC) of pre-Raphaelite influence are nonetheless ample proof to the contrary ; we regret the absence of works by Rogelio de Egusquiza, a Wagnerian painter and remarkable engraver who would have fitted in very well here. Julio Romero de Torres, who produced works close to idealism, is represented with a beautiful canvas, of rather realist inspiration and an austere palette. Also somber are the works here by Isidre Nonell, including his Two Gypsies (1903, Barcelona, MNAC), something which Edvard Munch might have produced after meditating on Van Gogh.

7. Dario de Regoyos (1857-1913)
Viernes Santo en Castilla, 1904
Oil on Canvas - 81 x 65.5 cm
Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao
Photo : Photograph Archive of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

8. Hermen Anglada Camarassa (1871-1959)
The White Peacock, 1904
Oil on Canvas - 78.5 x 99.5 cm
Collection particulière
Photo : MNAC Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya, Barcelona

Moving on, clarity and light predominate when discovering the section featuring the Impressionism of Dario de Regoyos (ill. 7), the heavily painted landscapes of Nicolau Raurich and the electric and violently colored Parisian scenes of Hermen Anglada-Camarasa (ill. 8). But of course, this search for radiance, light and color finds its culminating point in Joaquim Sorolla y Bastida. The large salon painting acquired by the French government in 1895, The Return from Fishing, Hauling in the Boat (ill. 9) already reveals, despite what appears to be a conventional subject and treatment, the clarity, transparency and sense of movement which would soon charaterize the painter’s best work, too easily associated with Impressionism. At the Orangerie, some beautiful paintings illustrate our point : the very Albert Besnard-like Preparing the Raisins (1905, Pau, Musée des Beaux-Arts) with its acidic colors and original viewpoint or the surprising Siesta of 1911 (ill. 10), reduced to moving color blocks, reveal an artist who goes beyond nature, though "seen through a temperament".

9. Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)
The Return from Fishing, Hauling in the Boat, 1894
Oil on Canvas - 265 x 403,5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : RMN-Musée d’Orsay Gérard Blot/Hervé Lewandowski

10. Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)
Siesta, 1911
Oil on Canvas - 200 x 201 cm
Madrid, Museo Sorolla
Photo : Droits réservés

11. Juan de Echevarria (1875-1931)
Nude Mestiza, 1923
Oil on Canvas - 111 x 162 cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Photo : Archivo fotografico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Joachim Mir also captures our attention : more than his post-Impressionist landscapes, the fragments of his decor for the Casa Trinxet (Barcelona, Fundación Francisco Godia) are brilliant in their freedom of expression. Other than the motif, which blends away in a chromatic saturation, the artist achieves a visionary as well as ornamental abstraction. Although the mind attempts to remain blank when viewing these pictures, it is hard not to think "Gauguin" when standing in front of Juan de Echevarria (ill. 11), "Matisse" when admiring Francisco Iturrino and "Cezanne" when looking at Joachim Sunyer, who was marked by the 1907 retrospective devoted to the painter of the Montagne Sainte Victoire. The Nabi character of Daniel Vázquez Diaz is also sure to be picked up by visitors. However, the impact of French art on these painters in no way undermines their singularity and they cannot be considered imitators. There are also three pieces by Julio González whose sculptures often eclipse some remarkable paintings.

12. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Woman Drinking Absinthe, 1901
Oil on Canvas - 65.5 x 51 cm
Private Collection
Photo : Succession Picasso 2011

13. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The Funeral of Casagemas, c.1901
Oil on Canvas - 150.5 x 90.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Photo : RMN / Agence Bulloz

While two early works by Dali and Joan Miró do not really add anything to the visit, the last section featuring Picasso is breathtaking. Only four works true, but what paintings ! Woman Drinking Absinthe (ill. 12) and Le Moulin Rouge, both from 1901 hang next to The Funeral of Casagemas (ill. 13), another tribute to El Greco. What we can add to the already abundant praise of The Embrace, a remarkable pastel of 1903 (Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie) ? The sub-title of the exhibition, for communication purposes, should not mislead us into thinking that this ensemble of groups is a teleological progression "from Zuloaga to Picasso", or "from 1880 to 1920" or even from the 19th century to "modernity". All of these artists worked and produced at the same moment, at times together, in the same places, connected to the same circles : they illustrate the wealth and diversity of Spanish artistic production, in Spain and elsewhere, during a specific period. Their works, of which a limited but representative selection is presented here at the Orangerie, bear witness to a great moment of European art history which we need to integrate into our vision of art. This exhibition is an incentive to continue exploring Spanish museums, which hold many more promising discoveries.

Curators : Marie-Paule Vial and Pablo Jiménez Burillo

Collective work, L’Espagne entre deux siècles : De Zuloaga à Picasso RMN, 2011, 35€, 160 p. ISBN : 9782711859320.

Visitor information : Musée de l’Orangerie, Jardin des Tuileries, 75001 Paris. Tel : +33 (0)1 44 77 80 07. Open every day except Tuesday, from 9 am to 6 pm. Tickets : 7.50€ (reduced : 5€).

Version française

Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, vendredi 9 décembre 2011

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