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Fortuny and the Splendour of Spanish Watercolours. A group of watercolours by Fortuny and his followers on temporary display at the Prado Thursday, March 3, 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.

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), Menippus, copy of Velázquez, 1866. Watercolour on paper, 620 x 470 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7416]

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.

Another close follower of Fortuny’s most characteristic style was the painter Francisco Pradilla (1848-1921), who met him in Rome and who used Fortuny as his starting point for a fine, sumptuous type of handling that he would continue to use until well into the 20th century. The Museo del Prado possesses some of Fortuny’s most outstanding watercolours, almost all from the bequest of Ramón de Errazu (1840-1904). In addition, the Museum has a sizeable collection of watercolours, including works of great technical virtuosity, by some of his most talented pupils and followers, on subjects ranging from regional folk costumes and Orientalist figures to landscapes and urban views. Given the fragile nature of these watercolours, a selection of the finest examples from this appealing and unexpected group has now been placed on temporary display.

List of works on display

19th-century collections presentation room (Room 60)

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]

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874)

Idyll, 1868 *

Watercolour on paper, 315 x 230 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7415]

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874)

A Moroccan, 1869 *

Watercolour on paper, 320 x 200 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7414]

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874)

Landscape at Portici, 1874

Watercolour on paper, 465 x 320 mm. Legado Ramón de Errazu 1904 [D-7418]

Martín Rico y Ortega (1833-1908)

On the Banks of the Guadaira, 1871

Watercolour on paper, 300 x 460 mm. Ramón de Errazu Bequest 1904 [D-7417]

José Tapiró y Baró (1836-1913)

The Dancer Parache, h. 1880

Watercolour on paper, 680 x 470 mm. Acquired in 1908 [D-5523]

José Tapiró y Baró (1836-1913)

Darqarwi Holy Man, h. 1880

Watercolour on paper, 680 x 460 mm. Acquired in 1908 [D-7480]

José Jiménez Aranda (1837-1903)

The old Tree Trunk, 1886

Watercolour on paper, 480 x 320 mm. Acquired in 1903 [D-7445]

José Villegas Cordero (1844-1921)

The Return of the Flock, h. 1877

Watercolour on paper, 945 x 640 mm. Acquired in 1882 [D-5531]

José Villegas Cordero (1844-1921)

Peasant Woman, or Autumn

h. 1877

Watercolour on paper, 1020 x 690 mm. Acquired in 1882 [D-5532]

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848-1921)

Marino Faliero, dux LV, 1883

Watercolour on paper, 725 x 515 mm. Acquired in 2001 [D-6383]

Antonio Fabrés y Costa (1854-1936)

A Thief, h. 1887

Watercolour on paper, 1380 x 730 mm. Acquired in 1887 [D-7473]

Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929)

The Painter Mariano Fortuny, 1874

Cast bronze, 56 x 42 x 39 cm. Donated by Cecilia de Madrazo. [E-819]

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874)

The Sea with Vesuvius in the Background, 1874 **

Watercolour on paper, 350 x 253 mm. Donated by Henriette Nigrin 1950 [D-6220]

José Jiménez Aranda (1837-1903)

The Beach at Chipiona, 1899 **

Watercolour on paper, 340 x 520 mm. Donated by Pedro Ruiz Prieto, 1908 [D-7444]

(*) (**) For conservation reasons the works marked with an asterisk will be replaced during the course of the exhibition by those indicated with a double asterisk.

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