Fortuny and the Splendour of Spanish Watercolours. A group of watercolours by Fortuny and his followers on temporary display at the Prado

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874), <em>Menippus, copy of Velázquez</em>,  1866. Watercolour on paper, 620 x 470 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7416]

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874), Menippus, copy of Velázquez, 1866. Watercolour on paper, 620 x 470 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7416]

    A new temporary display at the Prado offers a selection of works from the Museum’s 19th-century collections, shown in the “collections presentation room”. This space has been designed to allow for changing displays of 19th-century works that are not normally exhibited to the public and which have been selected for their exceptional quality and interest. Taking advantage of this new gallery, which is located at the end of the 19th-century section, the Museum is now presenting a particularly fine group of watercolours by the great Catalan master Mariano Fortuny and his pupils and followers. Entitled Fortuny and the Splendour of Spanish Watercolours in the Prado, it features thirteen works by the best Spanish watercolourists of the 19th century, revealing the peak of technical perfection that they attained in this technique. The display offers an exceptional opportunity to see these works, given that they are not on permanent display due to the delicate materials of which they are made.

    Wednesday 02 March 2011

    While watercolour was a medium of artistic expression used throughout the 19th century, the highpoint of this technique was reached in Spain with the work of Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874), whose prominence in the international art world of his day led other Spanish artists to emulate all the aspects of his work that had brought him fame. Like many of his contemporaries, Fortuny used watercolour to capture his impressions and explore ideas. Above all, however, he used it for finished works of a highly pictorial nature that reveal the same remarkable quality and virtuoso technique as his best paintings in oil. As a result, collectors and art dealers of the day esteemed these works as much as his most exquisitely painted and highly-prized oils.

    After Fortuny’s premature death many of his Spanish followers continued to produce watercolours of a notably painterly type, although by the end of the century they had increasingly evolved towards an emergent naturalism. Together with some of Fortuny’s most exquisite watercolours, the Prado has outstanding examples in this technique by his followers, reflecting their wide-ranging interests, from Orientalist figures to landscape.

    Watercolour was one of the most characteristic modes of artistic expression in the 19th century. Although it was already used by Spanish painters of earlier generations, it reached its high point in Spain with the work of Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874). Fortuny’s prominent position in the international art world of his day resulted in widespread imitation within Spain of all the aspects of this Catalan artist that had brought him fame, particularly his interest in technical experimentation. While Fortuny used watercolour in the same way as many of his contemporaries, with the aim of capturing his impressions of landscapes and of deftly and rapidly conveying his ideas in an immediate manner, he is most noted for his richly pictorial works on paper in this technique, which reveal close parallels with his finest work on canvas. As a result, collectors and art dealers of the day considered Fortuny’s watercolours as important as his most exquisitely painted and highly prized paintings. After Fortuny’s premature death many of his Spanish pupils and followers continued to produce watercolours of a notably pictorial type, revealing themselves as the heirs of an artist who would continue to exercise a wide-ranging influence on Spanish art until the end of the century. Some of Fortuny’s closest friends, such as Martín Rico (1833-1908), learned the secrets of his technique from him and Rico would continue to produce exquisite landscapes and views for the rest of his career. In the last decades of the century the highly refined and virtuoso watercolour landscapes of another of Fortuny’s admirers, José Jiménez Aranda (1837-1903), would become one of the most fully developed expressions of naturalism within Spanish art. Another of the artist’s most devoted pupils, José Tapiró (1836-1913), continued to pursue his master’s interests through the depiction of Orientalist motifs, which he had discovered alongside Fortuny. Tapiró’s principal theme was North Africa, depicted in watercolours with an anthropological focus that links them to realism, in addition to a powerful aesthetic appeal. A later follower of the artist was Antonio Fabrés (1854-1936) who produced watercolours of a dazzling technical brilliance executed on large-format sheets of paper with a crisp, precise technique and a greater emphasis on narrative in comparison to Tapiró. An artist particularly alert to Fortuny’s innovations was José Villegas (1844-1921) who focused on popular types and customs from rural Spain, depicted in carefully-executed, large-format watercolours.

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