Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Spanish Line in the British Museum. Drawings from the Renaissance to Goya

A Saint Tied to a Tree, José de Ribera, Red chalk, 232 x 170 mm, 1626, © The Trustees of the British Museum 1850, 0713.4

For the first time outside the UK, The Spanish Line in the British Museum. Drawings from the Renaissance to Goya at the Museo del Prado starting 19 March 2013, presents a group of 71 works from the collection of drawings by Spanish artists housed in the British Museum, considered one of the most important in the world due to the exceptional quality of the works. The collection offers a reflection of the highly refined taste that English collectors developed for Spanish art during the course of the 19th century. Only a few of these drawings have previously been seen in Spain and the present exhibition thus represents a unique opportunity to see a fascinating survey of the history of Spanish drawings in the galleries of the Museo del Prado. Sponsored at the Prado by its “Friends”, the exhibition was first seen at the British Museum at the end of last year and now arrives in Madrid with notable differences, although maintaining the overall chronological arrangement and sections devoted to regional schools. Within these sections there are works by some of the leading Spanish artists such as Berruguete in the Renaissance and the great masters of the Golden Age including Zurbarán, Murillo, Cano, Ribera and a drawing attributed to Velázquez. The exhibition culminates with the work of Goya, who is particularly well represented in the collection housed at the British Museum

Arranged chronologically, the 71 drawings will allow visitors to appreciate the way Spanish artists expressed their commitment to the medium of drawing over a period spanning more than three hundred years, from the mid-16th century to the 19th century.

The exhibition includes drawings by all the most important artists of this period including Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, represented through some of their key works.

Drawings by Spanish artists were highly esteemed and collected in Great Britain from the mid-19th century onwards, reflecting the growing taste for Spanish art in that country which was encouraged by the publication of the two volumes of the Handbook for Travellers in Spain by Richard Ford (1845) and Annals of the Artists of Spain by William Stirling Maxwell (1848).

It was traditionally considered that Spanish artists were not particularly interested in drawing. This idea has, however, been revised in recent years and the present exhibition aims to demonstrate that the notion of drawing as a basis for the practice of art was well established in Spain from the Renaissance to the 19th century.

The 71 drawings in the exhibition are complemented by two paintings from the Prado’s collection for which the preparatory drawings are in London. The presence of these two oils by Vicente Carducho and Luis Paret allows for a reflection on the role of preparatory drawings in the final work.

The exhibition opens with the oldest drawings by 16th-century Spanish artists working in Castile, including Alonso Berruguete. This section also explores the repercussion on Spanish drawing of the presence of foreign artists in the country, primarily Italians, who were working on the decoration of the monastery at El Escorial. Among them was Pellegrino Tibaldi, represented here by one of the most outstanding architectural drawings of the 16th century, Study for the Decoration of the Library at El Escorial.

This section continues with the work of some of the most important 17th-century artists active in the different regions of Spain, which were independent artistic centres. They include Vicente Carducho, Alonso Cano and Francisco Rizi in Madrid; Francisco Pacheco, Murillo and Zurbarán in Seville; Juan Ribalta in Valencia and José de Ribera in Naples. All represent the great burgeoning of drawing that took place in the Golden Age, of which outstanding examples are The Dwarf Miguelito by Rizi, The Archangel Michael by Murillo, A miraculous healing by a Saint attributed to Ribalta and Tityus (or Prometheus) by Ribera.

From the 18th century the exhibition includes key works by Luis Paret (Masked Ball at the Teatro del Príncipe) and by José Camarón (Oriental Woman under an Awning) as well as drawings by other masters of this period, demonstrating artists’ increasing use of the medium at this period in response to international trends and influences.

The exhibition concludes with the work of Francisco de Goya, who permanently changed the context of Spanish art and contributed to making the country one of the leading artistic centres in Europe. Goya’s drawings explore the imagination, beliefs and human conduct. Eight works that span his entire career and have never previously been seen in Spain (including the magnificent drawing of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington) reveal his incomparable versatility as a draughtsman and the variety of subjects that attracted his interest.

The accompanying catalogue analyses the works on display in the individual entries and also includes a brief history of drawing in Spain from the 16th to the 19th century in the form of five introductory texts to the entries: “The introduction of graphic practices: Castile 1500-1600”; “Madrid, artistic capital 1600-1700”; “Andalusia 1550-1700”; “The drawing in Valencia 1500-1700. Ribera in Naples”; and “The 18th century and Francisco de Goya”.

The catalogue also includes an introductory essay that offers a general analysis of Spanish drawing with a focus on its critical fortunes, origins and distinctive characteristics, concluding with the history of the Spanish drawings collection in the British Museum. All the texts are written by Mark McDonald, the exhibition’s curator and the curator of the British Museum’s collection of Spanish drawings.

Partial Exhibit List

The Archangel Michael, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Pen and brown ink over black chalk, 268 x 189 mm, c. 1655 - 1660 © The Trustees of the British Museum 1873,0614.216

The Garrotted Man
Francisco Goya
Etching, 327 x 211 mm
c. 1778
© The Trustees of the British Museum 1875,0612.95

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Francisco de Goya
Red chalk over black chalk and graphite, 235 x 177 mm
© The Trustees of the British Museum 1862,0712.185

Don Quijote Beset by Monsters
Francisco de Goya
Brush drawing in grey-brown ink and wash, 207 x 144 mm
c. 1812 - 1820
© The Trustees of the British Museum 1862,0712.188

For having Jewish Ancestry
Francisco de Goya
Brush drawing in brown ink and wash, 205 x 142 mm
c. 1808 - 1814
© The Trustees of the British Museum 1862,0712.18