Fantasy on Faust1866. Oil on canvas, 40 x 69 cm.
In this work, Fortuny establishes an eloquent link between painting and music and a clear exposition of what his friend, the Baron Davillier, called his very lively and very pure taste in music. Fortuny depicts one of the musical evenings that he attended in Madrid during the summer of 1866 at his friend and former classmate, Catalan painter Francisco Sans y Cabot’s studio at no. 13, calle Flor Baja in Madrid. Their mutual friend, musician Juan Bautista Pujol (1835-1898) plays the Gran fantasía sobre Fausto that he had composed in 1863 on the basis of different passages from the eponymous opera that Charles Gounaud had premiered in Paris in 1859. In 1864, that opera was presented to great acclaim in Barcelona, and the following year, it was performed in Madrid. Pujol first played his Fantasía in public in Madrid on March 17, 1866, the same year that he registered it.
This pianist was famous for the evocative quality of his interpretations, and as the inscription on this canvas indicates, it was that musical evening that inspired Fortuny to paint it. Moreover, the two figures who appear to be listening very attentively are painters Agapito Francés (1840-1869) and Lorenzo Casanova (1845-1900). Francés¡ painted a Faust and Marguerite whose composition closely resembles Fortuny’s, but in reverse, with the pianist in the center and the view evoked from the right, while Casanova painted Mephistopheles accompanying Faust to the Saturday Coven lit by a Will-o’-the-Wisp. All three works are sketches, which suggests that Pujol’s brilliant performance that night inspired all of the artists.
The scores scattered across the floor around Pujol evoke his wild performance, and his capacity to recreate the garden scene in his listeners’ minds. There, Mephistopheles holds Martha’s arm and turns vivaciously in the center of the composition, dressed as Goethe described him on his second encounter with Faust: like a young nobleman in a purple suit embroidered with gold, a silk cape at his shoulder, a rooster feather in his hat and a long, sharp sword at his side. His theatrical gesture is accentuated by the movement of his cape and the instantaneity of his presence is emphasized by the low flight of a white owl. This animal associated with the devil’s own Fatuitas in Alciato’s book of emblems and with death and evil omens in Ripa’s Iconography, also appears in the episode of Walpurgisnacht in the Harz in Goethe’s own Faust. The figure of Mephistopheles interested the artist, who made a pen-and-ink drawing and a pencil sketch. In the background, Faust and Marguerite’s kiss appears in a painting airily executed in light, luminous tones that recall Tiepolo’s touch.
The artist’s brushstrokes are not meticulous, but instead rapid and energetic, as can be seen in the free strokes that make up the cloth, amplifying the movements of the fictional characters. The rich colors contrast warm tones with highlights on the lower part and cool ones above, clearly differentiating the real and imaginary parts of the composition (Text drawn from Barón, J.: El siglo XIX en el Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 298-300).