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Solidity and beauty. Miguel Blay at the Museo del Prado Monday, April 18, 2016

The Museo del Prado is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Miguel Blay (Olot, 1866 – Madrid, 1936), one of the most important Spanish sculptors of the late 19th and first third of the 20th centuries, with an exhibition of several important works from a career that reflects the different trends prevailing in sculpture during his lifetime, principally Realism, Modernismo and Symbolism. 

Solidity and beauty. Miguel Blay at the Museo del Prado

Miguelito, Miguel Blay y Fábrega, Marble, 48 x 18 x 18 cm, 1919 Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

Starting tomorrow, visitors to the Prado’s permanent collection will have the exceptional opportunity to appreciate a number of key works by Miguel Blay, one of the most important Spanish sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exhibition is displayed in Rooms 60 and 47.

Together with notable sculptural groups such as To the Ideal and Blooming, which received the highest awards at national and international exhibitions and which have been restored for this occasion, the exhibition also includes drawings, several medals and a small diary of 1902.

The 19 sculptures and objects on display reveal Blay’s different creative phases, during which he aimed to convey emotions, naturalness and beauty in an unaffected, restrained manner through serenity and equilibrium.

Blay’s approach to sculpture is summarised in the quotation from which this exhibition’s title is taken and which comes from his entry speech to the Royal San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in 1910: “Solidity and beauty. Two words that fully express the idea behind the mission that a sculptor must fulfil.”

Room 60 of the Museum displays various key sculptures from Blay’s career, including Nude Girl and Miguelito in marble, as well as To the Ideal in plaster, the latter representative of the Symbolist trend. Alongside them are seven deft, spontaneous drawings, the majority executed in Blay’s youth in Olot, Paris and Rome, which reveal his precocious technical abilities. Also on display are six medals and a plaque that demonstrate his skills and his mastery of relief sculpture. Another item in the exhibition is the artist’s diary of 1902, which is an important document for understanding his personality and lifestyle. It is displayed open on 7 and 8 September in order to show Blay’s use of a mixture of French and Spanish and the importance of those dates in his life, when he was presented to the king and queen of Spain in Bilbao. Every day, Blay systematically noted in his diary his social commitments, activities and other information, particularly regarding his domestic economy.

Room 47 displays the sculptural group Blooming, a work that brought the artist the highest award conceded by Spanish official competitions: the Medal of Honour of the National Fine Arts Exhibition. Within Blay’s oeuvre, Blooming was one of his most highly appreciated works. Depicting an intimate, tender scene, it reveals his period of study in Paris although it differs from Rodin’s explicit sensuality and passion.

Miguel Blay y Fábrega (Olot, 1866 – Madrid, 1936)

Trained in Paris, a city with which he remained closely associated, Blay earned recognition and honours both in Spain and abroad. In his native country he received the First Class Medal at the National Fine Arts Exhibition in 1882 and the Medal of Honour at that event in 1908, while in Paris he was awarded the Medal of Honour at the Universal Exhibition of 1900 and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in France in 1901. In Buenos Aires he received the Grand Prix at the International Exhibition of Art in 1910. 

Blay moved to Madrid in 1906 where he was recognised as an outstanding sculptor and was made a member of the Royal San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts. He was also a professor at the Higher School of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking in Madrid and between 1925 and 1932 was director of the Academia de España in Rome, the city where he had completed his early training.

Blay’s works are notable for their quality, elegance, restraint and naturalness, evident in both his official and private commissions (the latter including portraits of members of the nobility, the middle-classes and his own social circle), and in the public monuments he produced for Spain, France and various Latin-American countries, principally Argentina, to which he was particularly attached and for which he executed a number of works at the height of his career. Other large-scale commissions undertaken by Blay are to be seen in Santiago de Chile, Montevideo, Panama City and San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Miguel Blay produced admirable and important examples of the different trends within sculpture at this time. Maintaining an open approach, he evolved stylistically along a route that encompassed the modernista, symbolist, realist and naturalist aesthetics. The success of his career can be attributed to his outstanding talents for sculpture based on a solid grounding in drawing, as well as the efforts and dedication of a lifetime entirely devoted to his profession. Mariano Benlliure, the other great sculptor of this period, described Blay as “the prince of elegance and correctness.”