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Fortuny, Mariano

Reus, Tarragona, 11.6.1838 - Rome, 21.11.1874

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal has passed into posterity as one of 19th-century Spain’s greatest masters. The stature of his art is accompanied by the memory of an enormous international success equaled only by Sorolla in his time. Famous in Second-Empire Paris, his work was one of the most coveted of its time by major European and American collectors. Fortuny and his colleague from Madrid, Rosales, both generated a vast circle of disciples, followers and imitators, and remained unforgettable during the second half of the century.
Born to a modest family, Fortuny was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandfather, a sculptor and craftsman. He received his early artistic training at the Lonja School in Barcelona, where the reigning Nazareno precepts led young Mariano to develop an extraordinary fondness of drawing as a means of preparing his works. He soon stood out among his fellow disciples, obtaining a grant to visit Italy in 1857, where he studied that country’s customs while carrying out the required scholarship works. Before his grant period was over, in 1860, the academic prestige he had earned with the works he sent back to Spain led the Regional Government of Barcelona to commission him to paint the military campaigns in North Africa, where both the Catalan militias and the Duke of Prim—a native of Reus like Fortuny—had played a major role. The only work from this project, The Battle of Tetuan (Barcelona, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), remained unfinished, obliging Fortuny to return the economic advances he had received from the Regional Government. In fact, he kept this painting for the rest of his life. He had intended it to offer a panoramic view conceived with dynamic realism, which was quite distant from what was to be expected in this sort of commission. Still, it had allowed him to visit Morocco, and to discover the effect of open light on the African geography. This was to have an exceptional effect on his work, as can be seen in The Battle of Wad-Ras (P4331), which he painted around the same time. Following his stay in Africa, he was briefly in Madrid, where he studied the Museo del Prado’s collection of Spanish painting. This, too, left an important mark on his style. Finally, he traveled around Europe, obtaining first-hand knowledge of the Versailles battle paintings and, even more so, of the Orientalism that Eugène Delacroix (1789-1863) and Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876), had brought into fashion in Paris. While Fortuny’s impressions of North Africa were very present in his work at that time, his trip to Paris and the art he discovered there led him to develop a style much more pleasing to the international market.
In 1864, he accepted a commission to decorate one of the ceilings at the Paris residence of the Duke of Riánsares, whose wife, the exiled Queen Marie Christine of Bourbon, was the mother of Elizabeth II of Spain. The result was Queen Marie Christine Inspecting the Troops (P4332), and this courtly contact was the beginning of Fortuny’s visibility in Parisian high society.
While his lively interest in the Arab world led him to visit Morocco again in 1862, he was already involved by then with compositions reminiscent of the 18th century in response to market demands. Around the middle of that decade he met art dealer Adolphe Goupil and became one his star artists. The obligations generated by that commercial relationship led him to produce genre paintings that reflected international tastes: depictions of purely anecdotal events set in earlier times. An outstanding example is “The Vicarage” (1870, Barcelona, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), which Gautier considered a vivid expression of his aesthetic theory of “art for art’s sake.” From that moment on, Fortuny’s fame and the price of his paintings reached levels inconceivable for any other Spanish painter of his time.
Soon after this success, which insured his future economic wellbeing, Fortuny visited Seville and Granada with friends, including Raimundo de Madrazo and Martín Rico. This visit to Andalusia revived his fascination with the Islamic world and there, in one of European Orientalism’s classic settings, he was able to take a more mature interest in that region’s blinding white and natural light.
During his final years he lived in Rome, where he was able to paint with greater artistic freedom. He thus separated himself from the “tableautin” responsible for his fame and fortune and exercised a greater degree of creative independence. Thus, at the end of his short life, Fortuny expressed himself with a rich, vibrant verism that grew ever closer to a realism based on his understanding of light and focused on everyday events as the best setting for his experimentation. This can be seen in the masterpiece that marks the end of his catalog: Portici Beach (Private collection) (G. Navarro, C. in: El siglo XIX en el Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, pp. 471-472).

The photograph that reproduces Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz’s original portrait of Fortuny (Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya), is listed as HF0847 at the Museo del Prado.

Artworks (101)

The Battle of Wad-Rass
Oil on paper attached to cardboard, 1860 - 1861
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Saint Andrew (copy after Ribera)
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1867
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano (Copy after Ribera, José de)
Queen María Cristina and her Daughter, Isabel II, reviewing the Artillery Batteries defending Madrid in 1837
Oil on canvas, 1865 - 1866
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Fantasy on Faust
Oil on canvas, 1866
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Nude Old Man in the Sun
Oil on canvas, Ca. 1871
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Oil on canvas, 1867
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano (Attributed to)
Oil on canvas, 1867 - 1868
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Chicken Coop
Oil on canvas, 1869
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano
Oil on canvas, 1872 - 1873
Fortuny y Marsal, Mariano


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