La Torre de las Damas in the Alhambra, Granada1871. Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 40 cm.
This work was painted at a very important moment in Rico’s career, a period spent in direct contact with Fortuny in Granada in 1871 and 1872. He move there towards the end of 1870, but he was already familiar with that city from a stay in 1857 while painting in Sierra Nevada. On November 18 of that year, Fortuny wrote a letter inviting Rico to join him and his brother-in-law, Ricardo de Madrazo. As Rico recalls, the three artists worked separately, each painting outdoors. They were lodged in four adjoining rooms at the Fonda de los Siete Suelos in the Alhambra’s poplar grove, where they often painted.
Thus, different aspects of Granada naturally became the subject of oils and watercolors in which Rico developed a new sense of light that closely resembles Fortuny’s. As a specialist in landscape, he knew the locations very well and had carefully weighed the merits of the city’s different views. So, when his friend, Alsatian painter Jules Worms, arrived for a six-week stay, he immediately provided him with a list of places he should visit and paint. The Alhambra was on that list, but seen from outside, as that allowed him to capture the harmonious relation of its architecture with the surrounding vegetation. Here, he focused on the ancient tower of Las Damas, which is near the early 14th-century Partal (portico) in the Alhambra’s outer wall. In the first third of the 19th century, this building ceased being a part of the royal heritage after a private owner purchased it very inexpensively and made it his home.
Rico prepared this work with various pencil studies of the buildings’ main lines that reveal his characteristic agility. In the final work, he moved the viewpoint to the north in order to represent the façades of the buildings alongside the tower. He also lowered the viewpoint, so that the architecture appears in its wooded setting, with vegetation that even climbs the walls. The two tall, green-leafed poplar trees are cut off by the upper edge of the canvas, increasing their slender appearance. They thus serve as a sort of portico or prelude to the buildings’ considerable elegance, which is, in turn, echoed by the Generalife in the background. The composition is subtly enlivened by small figures of three children around a large cage, and a cat. Various similar studies by Rico from that period reveal his interest in this motif, and other works he painted in Granada also show children playing in front of buildings. Moreover, some of Fortuny’s paintings also show children whose scale with relation to the overall composition is very similar.
The refinement with which Rico renders the different qualities of the wall and its distinct texture and relief reveals a spirit similar to Fortuny’s in the search for material qualities. However, the serene composition, smooth atmosphere and cool colors are characteristic of landscapes from this period in Rico’s career and they were praised by critics at the Universal Exposition of 1878 as the finest, earning him a third-class medal there. Landscapes like the present one transmit a sense of tranquility not found in Fortuny’s paintings. The balanced composition and the presentation of the light as if it were suspended in time bring a certain feeling of peaceful duration to this landscape painted directly from nature at a specific hour (Text drawn from Barón, J.: El siglo XIX en el Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 318-321).