The Prado turns the 19th century around: more female presence and greater attention to social art | Culture


The melancholic Spain unfolds from today, with all its air of inevitability and defeat, in room 75, home after the last remodeling of the permanent collection of the Prado Museum of History painting. Those great paintings of shipwrecks, executions and other episodes of a country of disenchantment, breathe at least calmer with the change of location: they have certainly won by going from the previous spaces, smaller and with their burgundy background, to the current gallery, of clear walls and natural light. They are the heart of the museum’s collection of painting and sculpture from the 19th century, which occupies 12 rooms, which have been completely turned around.

The reorganization of the Prado, in images

It is, in a way, the end of a journey to legitimize an era that, perhaps because of that melancholic air, was traditionally treated with a certain disdain. It was a Spain of suicide, depression and defeat. A country that now looks in the mirror and sits on the couch thanks to this rearrangement whose origin dates back to 2007 when the Prado inaugurated its temporary exhibition halls, with the extension of Moneo, with a large exhibition dedicated to a century of individualities that began in Goya and ended in Sorolla. In 2009, that long hundred paintings and sculptures became an essential part of the permanent collection. The then deputy director, Gabriele Finaldi, celebrated it as the revelation of the “best kept secret of the museum”.

Twelve years and a long pandemic later, the art gallery has transformed and enriched the last part of his story, expanding its margins, themes and origin of the authors. On the first floor, 275 pieces (previously there were 170) are exhibited in chronological order, but not as watertight compartments. Part of Goya’s black paintings and goes as far as The bolognese by María Blanchard, one of the latest acquisitions. In the new discourse, the artists increase their presence, 13 among 130 authors, 57 more than there were. Furthermore, the work of the Spanish is contextualized in the perspective of their European colleagues; social painting gains relevance; the portrait occupies a prominence hitherto unknown; With three pieces, attention is paid to the production coming from the Philippines, Spanish territory until 1898; It explores the power of the sketch as a springboard, yes, but also as an autonomous art; and the miniature and the medal are presented with greater honors.

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Javier Barón, head of Conservation of 19th century Painting, has led the transformation of the rooms, together with Leticia Azcue Brea, head of Conservation of Sculpture and Decorative Arts. During a detailed tour, Barón told this Monday that the project to enrich and reorder the 19th century came from afar, but that the closure of the museum due to the epidemic was a unique occasion to move groups of works that stand out for their large format like no other period. He puts as examples The execution of Torrijosby Antonio Gisbert; The lovers of Teruel, by Antonio Muñoz Degrain or Seneca’s death by Manuel Domínguez when we have the information. They are monumental pieces that alone occupy almost the same size as distinguished artists with their own space: an honor reserved for Rosales and Fortuny.

Goya's executions begin the reorganization of the museum's rooms.
Goya’s executions begin the reorganization of the museum’s rooms.Andrea Comas

Of the total, 113 hang in public view for the first time, 26 have been restored in the Prado’s own workshops and others come from recent purchases or deposits from other museums, such as the Reina Sofía, which provides the beautiful full-length self-portrait ( 1912) by María Roësset Mosquera (in exchange they have taken The red committee (1901) by Luis Graner Arrufi). Barón’s proposal is also a hymn to the work of art-loving civil society; legacies from individuals received in recent years abound.

The museum has decided to start with an 18th century artist, Goya, specifically with his black paintings. The Aragonese teacher, the most represented in the museum, thus connects with a century that in many ways took the lead. The painter reappears here and there, as the key to modernity. From the disturbing oil murals that adorned the walls of the Quinta del Sordo, you can enter the gallery of his late works, those made during his exile in Bordeaux, the city where he lived until his death in 1828.

Here is his famous self-portrait of 1815, that of Juan Bautista de Muguiro (1827) o The milkmaid of Bordeaux (1827). It is a remarkable transition to the double room where his most impressive war paintings hang: On May 2 and 3, 1808 in Madrid in the War of Independence against French troops. The two works, of similar size (2.66 mx 3.45 m the first), have been conceived as a diptych in which day and night, the popular uprising and its repression were confronted. The way in which Goya depicted the harshness of war with modern realism looks squarely at The death of Viriato, chief of the Lusitanians by José de Madrazo, along with his sketch, a work marked by a completely different style, the neoclassical. This piece, like so many others, had never been exhibited in this room, and it serves, despite the aesthetic disparity, to establish two ways of representing the struggle of two peoples, which ended up being the same, for their independence; and the visions of two contemporary artists. The iconic paintings are surrounded by portraits of key figures in the war: Fernando VII and General Palafox, the famous defender of Zaragoza.

One of the main galleries is dedicated to historical painting with monumental pieces.
One of the main galleries is dedicated to historical painting with monumental pieces.Andrea Comas

After so much national suffering, the tour looks at those who followed what was happening on international stages, such as José Aparicio and Madrazo, followers of the neoclassicism of the Frenchman Jacques-Louis David. The look abroad is widened with oil paintings by French artists such as Pierre Guérin and Merry-Joseph Blondel; the British George Romney, Thomas Lawrence and Martin Archer Shee; and the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann. In this space also awaits one of the most explosive upgrade cases in memory. The sketch exhibited here of Dido and Aeneas, by Guérin, whose finished version shines with all the honors at the Louvre, was in an institute in La Orotava, in Tenerife, as part of that dispersed Prado that, is an objective of the current direction of Miguel Falomir, it is convenient to study tirelessly .

With stops at the landscape paintings made in the wake of the British masters, one arrives, on the back of a romanticism that was certainly late in Spain, to the prints that seem to reflect contemporary tourist advertising with the best-known monuments of Spain or the mountains of the north of the peninsula that made Carlos de Haes famous, an author who continues to play a leading role.

Sculpture takes on a leading role in the new organization of these museum rooms.
Sculpture takes on a leading role in the new organization of these museum rooms.Andrea Comas

For the first time, the Prado brings together more than 50 portraits and self-portraits in a single room. “It allows to place 54 different effigies of prominent artists such as those who were directors of the museum”, explains Barón in front of the painting by Vicente López. The museum has tried to make the presence of women a constant, but in this space it is accentuated with the work of Roësset Mosquera, Teresa Nicolau and Aurelia Navarro who appears painting herself, among others.

The artists’ painting moves towards realism with the work of the still lifes of María Luisa de la Riva and Fernanda Francés in a room in which Sorolla’s social painting, orientalism, a representation of Filipino painters, is introduced, but without doubt is marked by the great work A workers’ strike in Vizcaya, de Cutanda, who interprets the revolts in the steel industry. This piece, Barón says, was rolled up in a Ministry. The Prado not only recovered and restored it, it also reproduced the original frame, a structure with rivets that imitates iron in keeping with the theme of the painting and that contrasts with the rest of the museum’s frames.

The work of María Blanchard closes the new journey through the 19th century.
María Blanchard’s work closes the new journey through the 19th century.Andrea Comas

The end of this reorganization ends, already in the twentieth century, in The bolognese, by María Blanchard, the painting of the lady of Spanish cubism that last February reopened the debate on the temporary partition of the Prado and Reina Sofía works. The piece could be acquired thanks to legacy of Carmen Sánchez, a member of the Fundación Amigos del Prado, who donated in his will a house in Toledo and 800,000 euros for the purchase of work. This image is mixed with fabrics from Sorolla and Beruete’s Symbolist and Impressionist trends, and strengthens the artist’s presence in the museum’s permanent collection.


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