Segismundo Moret y Quintana1855. Oil on canvas, 118 x 90 cm.
This portrait provides exceptional testimony to Federico de Madrazo´s fully mature style, which made him the greatest Spanish portrait artist of the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Painted at the pinnacle of his career, Madrazo has combined the technical refinement of the French academic portrait -inspired by the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a friend of his father´s- with the aristocratic elegance and remoteness characteristic of British portraiture, along with, above all, his profound and intense assimilation of the pictorial tradition that was becoming recognised as the Spanish school. This is evident in the restrained palette and in the solemn, contained calm of his sitters´ poses. Segismundo Moret is presented here in a threequarter portrait wearing a heavy, satin-collared frock coat, which was worn at home, with vest and black tie. His face is young, his hair combed back from his forehead and his thick beard is closely trimmed. He looks directly at the viewer while resting one hand on his hip, letting the other hang alongside his torso. Both his posture and the detail of the open vest that allows for a glimpse of the thick chain to his pocket watch, convey a relaxed and informal feeling in the portrait, which in no way distracts from the figure´s exquisite elegance. Moret´s presence is imposing and subtly distant, underscored by the slightly lowered point of view from which he is represented, thus stylising his good looks. The natural elegance of his pose, strengthened by the domestic character of his clothes, is emphasised further by the position of his hands. The depiction of hands has often proved a technical challenge for artists, but Madrazo´s indisputable mastery of the portrait genre was partly due to his special skill in the naturalistic representation of hands, both in terms of their modelling as well as their expressiveness, for he knew how to depict gestures with extraordinary refinement. Indeed, despite its extreme simplicity -or perhaps precisely because of it- this work is one of the most appealing male portraits from among the many that Madrazo painted throughout his prolific career. The austere colour palette, with the sitter placed before a neutral background, and the intense black of his clothes, whose folds and shadows are splendidly described with a full command of the range of tones necessary to produce these effects, inevitably evoke the tradition of Velázquez´s portraits. The work of Velázquez had always been present in Madrazo´s training; he had the privilege of studying the halls of the Prado more closely than any other artist of his generation, for his father, painter José de Madrazo (1781–1859), was the director of the Museum. The marked intensity of the sitter´s gaze -an expression that Madrazo was always able to nuance with a subtle smile communicating a certain tired melancholy- together with the sheen of the man´s tie and his satin collar are details truly characteristic of his male portraits. The work also displays great cleanness of line and a soft illumination that still falls within the purist academic tradition of romantic art, while also corresponding to the artist´s most refined, individual style. In the man´s face we can perceive the timid traces of an incipient realism, to which Madrazo would turn beginning in the next decade. The painting has a pendant, a portrait of the subject´s wife, Concepción Remisa de Moret 1856 (P473). Both works are magnificent examples of a marriage portrait, a relatively common genre in Madrazo´s enormous output. In the most exquisite specimens, such as this pair, he commissioned the creation of splendid gilt frames with rounded corners that serve to highlight the elegant presence of his models (Díez, J. L.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado. Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 255).