Portrait of Spain – Masterpieces from the Prado at Brisbane

Juan de Arellano | Basket of flowers (Cesta de flores), c.1668–70 | 1614, Santorcaz, Madrid – 1676, Madrid | Oil on canvas | 84 x 105cm | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The Museo Nacional del Prado at Madrid, Spain, is an extraordinary gallery containing an unparalleled collection of fine works of art. It provides a splendid commentary on the tastes of enlightened Spanish monarchs who, from the fifteenth century onwards became avid collectors of painting and sculpture. Today this major institution continues to aid historical research, influence contemporary museology as it brings about an understanding of the importance and contribution of inter-cultural connections as well as raises awareness of the many influences that affect the growth of our global arts and cultural society.

In a coup for the Queensland Art Gallery, and organized under the scholarly direction of Javier Portús, Head of the Department of Spanish Painting at the Prado for the first time in Australia we will have a survey of the history of Spain and Spanish art from the 16th to the early 20th century. The show is running from July 21 to 4th November 2012 and will include work by renowned painters from the Spanish Royal Court, including El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Goya and Rubens.

It is the largest and most significant international loan the Prado has ever undertaken and will help to celebrate the Queensland Gallery’s 30th anniversary year. Visitors will be surprise no doubt to see such works as those of Juan de Arellano, who was the first Spanish artist to embrace the genre of flower still life in the Flemish tradition. He had a great ability to organize the composition, which resulted in a rich and harmonious work – Basket of Flowers, painted c1668 – 70. It reveals the intense vibrancy of the colours that he used, which are in direct contrast to the neutral background and brown tones of the basket and tablecloth covering the table they stand on.

Alonso Sánchez Coello and workshop | The infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and Magdalena Ruiz (La infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia y Magdalena Ruiz), c.1585-88 | Benifairó de les Valls / Valencia c.1531 – 1588, Madrid | Oil on canvas | 207 x 129cm | P861 | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Outstanding paintings from the Royal collections formed the basis of the Prado collection when it was first established in 1819. The Royal Court of Spain was the main conduit for art produced by both local and visiting foreign artists, who also worked for the court. The foreigners directly influenced Spain’s home grown artists and the development and production of their works. This coincided with the political rise and decline of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty (1506 – 1700) that included the sea voyages of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) to the New World, the completion of El Escorial, the great royal monastery built by King Phillip II of Spain (1527 – 1598) and the emergence of western imperialism and economic competition in Europe. During Spain’s Golden Age the establishment of the new trade routes with the Americas opened up far horizons influencing the growth of Spanish culture. Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531 – 1588) , ‘El Greco’ (1541-1614) and the brilliant Diego Velázquez (1599 – 1660), were all pioneers of the great tradition of painting portraits.

Born near Valencia, Coello, an admirer of the works of Italian Renaissance painter Titian, incorporated the richness of Renaissance textiles, the use of light and the warmth of colour in all his works on canvas. With great ease of execution he indelibly etched the regality and the dignity attached to the Spanish character, as well as the style of formality required at the court of King Philip II of Spain, into all his portraits of famous people during that time.  His infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia is a statement of power and wealth and considered by many to be one of his finest works.

El Greco | Saint Benedict (San Benito), 1577–79 | 1541, Crete – 1614, Toledo | Oil on canvas | 116 x 81cm | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

El Greco, which means ‘the Greek’, was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos on the island of Crete when it was part of the Republic of Venice. He is said to have believed that ‘grace’ was the supreme quest of art.

The drama and sophistication of his works is often overwhelming today, let alone in his own time.

He enjoyed ‘light’ that came from an unseen source and the interweaving of form and space.

His characterization of sitters for his portraits, while conveying the depth and idiosyncracies of their character, titillate the imagination.

Diego Velázquez | Mars (El dios Marte), c.1638 | Seville / Madrid, 1599 - 1660 | Oil on canvas | 179 x 95cm | P1208 | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Like other artists of his time, the focus on religion was a powerful influence and a catalyst for new ideas and possibilities.

El Greco studied under three of the greatest Italian Masters of his time. Titian, Tintoretto and Michelangelo while living in Rome from 1568 – 1577. What more could any artist want.

He eventually found a home in the city of Toledo in central Spain, where he set about creating his own style, bringing the Italian Renaissance influence to Spain. His works are truly monumental, so individual that it means he doesn’t fit into any neat box in relation to genre, but instead because they are so very unconventional, they inspire innovation.

Velázquez was a leading painter at the court of King Philip IV (1605 – 1665), although his work remained mainly in palaces where few people were exposed to it.

Some of his work would be dispersed throughout Northern Europe following Napoleon’s Peninsular War (1808–14). However it would not be until the nineteenth-century that his paintings would begin to make an enormous impact upon other artists.

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, the art of illusion Oil on canvas | 318 x 276 cm | c1656 and 1657 - Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

To the present day in Europe Velázquez is remembered and feted by those who admired his work as a painter’s painter. He  had a miraculous gift for capturing reality, conveying a sense of truth through his handling of his paints.

His portrayals of Christ reflect the heavy influence of the Roman Catholic religion in Spain and its sense of propriety.

He was very much influenced by the naturalism of the Italian artist known as Caravaggio (1571-1610) and subsequently his portrayals of Christ have dramatic facial expressions, which are sharply lit against plain backgrounds, his forms finely modeled in sombre shades and tones.

His Las Meninas (Spanish for The Maids of Honour) painted in 1656, is one of his most recognised works of art in the world and the most visited piece at the Prado.

Francisco de Goya | María Antonia Gonzaga, Marchioness widow of Villafranca (María Antonia Gonzaga, marquesa viuda de Villafranca), c.1795 | Fuendetodos, Zaragoza / Bordeaux, 1746-1828 | Oil on canvas | 87 x 72cm | P2447 | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

It depicts the artist himself standing on the left before an enormous canvas, on which he is painting the King and Queen.

They are both reflected in a mirror in the background, while the real subject of the picture, the little infanta, who has come to watch Velázquez at work, stands regally between two ladies-in-waiting.

They are endeavouring to coax her to behave herself while two court dwarfs and a large dog meant to keep her amused, complete the scene. All are rendered with astonishing freedom and truth.

The Bourbon monarchs (1700 – 1808) also had an impact, as did the life and times of various levels of Spanish society.

Pre-eminent among these was Francisco de Goya (1746 – 1828) painter to King Charles IV.

Goya was an important commentator of his era, who also produced the first ‘totally profane’ painting of a female nude that was life-size, although no one had access to it during his lifetime.

Doctor’s suspect that Goya was infused with lead poisoning from his paints, which caused him irreparable brain damage by his maturity.

From being a favourite of the royal circle, when he painted joyous portraits of the royal family reaching a great peak of popularity, he descended into darkness and distress as he became deaf between 1792 and 3, becoming withdrawn and totally introspective.

Tomás Hiepes | Two fruit bowls on a table (Dos fruteros sobre una mesa), 1642 | Birthplace unknown / Valencia, 1674 | Oil on canvas | 67 x 96cm | P7910 | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The emergence of a fledgling Spanish national identity in the mid nineteenth century is witnessed in a series of landscapes, portraits, religious scenes and nudes by major figures in nineteenth-century Spanish painting such as Federico de Madrazo, Eduardo Rosales, Mariano Fortuny, Aureliano de Beruete and Joaquín Sorolla.

These paintings reflect the emergence of a modern Spain and demonstrate the ways in which the visual arts successfully assisted in its formation.

It is the final exhibition, whose works were selected and arranged by outgoing Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art( QAGOMA) Director Tony Ellwood (2007 – 2012).

He is returning to his old stomping ground, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) at Melbourne from July as its new Director, replacing Gerard Vaughan (1999 – 2012), who is returning to the world of Academia.

Portrait of Spain will show in the display spaces of the Queensland Art Gallery, that were magnificently refurbished in 2009.

The Museo Nacional del Prado has the largest collection of Spanish paintings in the world, numbering more than 4,800 pieces dating from the Romanesque and Gothic periods to the 19th century. This is an unprecedented opportunity for Australians to see quite extraordinary works of art, created by some of history’s most renowned and revered painters, from one of the most prestigious and unique museum collections in the world.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012

Self Portrait of the lesser known Zacarías González Velázquez (1763-1834), which is particularly fine

Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado

21 July – 4 November 2012
Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

An Australian first, exclusive to Brisbane

QAG Opening Hours

10.00am — 5.00pm Monday to Friday
9.00am — 5.00pm Saturday and Sunday
9.00am — 5.00pm Public Holidays

Visitors to ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’ are invited to experience the vibrancy of Spanish art, history, food and culture in La Sala del Prado — a large-scale lounge environment nestled in the heart of the exhibition.

The Sala features an integrated cafe, bar, and interactive spaces custom built to reflect cutting edge contemporary Spanish design.

An enticing range of experiences relating to the rich exhibition themes and artists in the ‘Portrait of Spain’ exhibition includes fun multimedia interactives and drawing activities. Over the course of the exhibition period, programs and events in the Sala delve further into some of the most enthralling periods of Spanish history and contemporary culture with special guests.

Titian | Christ carrying the Cross (Cristo con la Cruz a cuestas), c.1565 | Pieve di Cadore / Venice c.1489 –1576 | Oil on canvas | 67 x 77cm / P438 | Collection: Museo Nacional del Prado | © Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

At the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) cinemas from July 21 to September 2, 2012 the career of internationally renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar will be celebrated with Australia’s first complete retrospective of his films.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Director at the time Tony Ellwood said tickets were on sale now for the program, presented by QAGOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque to coincide with the major exhibition ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’ at QAG.

‘While the exhibition at QAG illuminates the history of Spain from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries through painting, Pedro Almodóvar’s contemporary view of the country is an idiosyncratic one,’ Mr Ellwood said.

Featuring all 18 of his feature films, this represents the most complete retrospective of the writer-director’s work ever shown in Australia.  Pedro Almodóvar screens Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons.

Running concurrently to the Pedro Almodóvar retrospective is 100 Years of Spanish Cinema (July 25 – November 4), a major survey of Spanish national cinema from 1908 to the present day. The program features free weekly screenings throughout, and surveys the period of Spanish history following that covered in the exhibition ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado’.

The Audi GOMA Bar will be open from 5.30pm for Friday and Saturday night screenings


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