Today I am writing about the special exhibition focusing on the art of Mariano Fortuny, Spanish artist who was active during the latter half of the 19th century. This talented artist who died prematurely in 1874 at age 36 enjoyed great popularity during his lifetime in the art world in not only Europe, but also the United States. He may have been the trailblazer for the three most renowned Spanish modern artists -- Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró. In the history of Spanish art, he is thought of as the link between Goya and Picasso.
Fortuny was from the Reus, a city in Tarragona that sits next to the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, if you look at the hometowns of those three most noted Spanish modern artists, you find that Picasso was from Málaga, a port town in Andalusia, Dalí was from Figueres in Girona bordering France, and Miró was from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia -- all coastal cities along the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps baptism in the sunlight and clear sky at birth allowed their natural talents to blossom. A layman might think that, had they been born under the dismal cloudy gray sky, they might have experienced a completely different world before discovering their artistic talents.
One of Fortuny’s most famous masterpieces, albeit small, is this painting called, “The Painter’s Children in the Japanese Salon” from the Museo Nacional del Prado collection. Many of you may have seen it in the Prado exhibition that was held in Tokyo two years ago. This masterpiece is being used now as one of the designs for the admission tickets. It is one scene from the vacation home Fortuny rented on the coast of Portici, a picturesque Italian port town in the suburbs of Naples.
Looking at the laid back scene you can almost feel the early summer afternoon sea breeze from the Gulf of Naples. Fortuny’s actual children lounge around on a sofa in a living room outfitted with Japanese decor. His daughter Maria Luisa is sweetly portrayed posing with a large folding fan in her hand, already exhibiting a coquettish feminine manner at the age of six. The naked child wearing what looks like a mask on his head is his three-year-old son who bears the same name as his father, Mariano. The contrast between the deep ultramarine color of the embroidered satin fabric covering his son’s lower body and the vivid reddish-orange of the cushion against which his daughter lays and the general color sense is strongly oriental.
Fortuny painted this picture to show his father-in-law, Federico de Madrazo who was the grandfather of the children depicted, what his grandchildren were like. This is considered a masterpiece of the time when he could paint freely as he pleased without playing to the art market, due to his great success. His father-in-law was also a celebrated artist who later worked as the curator of the Museo Nacional del Prado.
Fortuny’s style of painting was greatly influenced by his time in Morocco, North Africa, where he was stationed as a painter for the military. Spain itself that was under Islamic rule for eight centuries has faint oriental elements despite being the furthest west in Western Europe. As someone from Catalonia near France who had spent his days in Rome and Paris that were the center stage for Western European art, Fortuny was fascinated by the exoticism of the vivid light and Saracenic culture of Morocco.
Fortuny actually spent the two years before his death, from 1870 to 1872, in Granada, the ancient capital of Spain that retains the deepest remnants of Islamic culture. An exhibition of his works from that period when he pushed the boundaries of his imagination in the furthest corner of Western Europe from the places where he enjoyed his greatest success is currently being held in Sevilla.
Although Fortuny is not well-known in Japan, there is a Japanese artist who was fascinated by him over 70 years ago. That artist is Yakichiro Suma. Suma was stationed in Madrid as an envoy extraordinary to Spain during the war. He enthusiastically collected Spanish artwork when not on duty, and his collection numbered as many as 1,760 pieces. When the war ended, 1,200 of them remained in Spain, and 501 of the pieces he brought to Japan are kept at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum as the Suma Collection.
Of this massive collection that he created in Spain, Suma’s distinct favorite among modern artists was for Fortuny, and he collected no fewer than 200 pieces of his works. His passion was also conveyed to Reus that was the artist’s birthplace, and he was even appointed honorary curator of the Fortuny art museum erected in the city. In addition to paintings, he also collected items connected to the artists, and Fortuny’s cherished paintbrushes that were donated by Reus are part of his collection.
Incidentally, Antoni Gaudí, the famous architect who designed the Sagrada Família that is currently under construction in Barcelona, was also from Reus, Fortuny’s hometown. The name Gaudí was virtually unknown in Japan until it was introduced in the 80s in a TV commercial for a whisky company. Suma, however, rated him very highly, saying he was ‘a genius who portrays a sense of Orientalism,’ giving you a glimpse of his sharp aesthetic sense that is not limited to collecting works of art.
Fortuny (1838-1874) Exhibition
When: November 21, 2017 to March 18, 2018
Where: Museo Nacional del Prado
Andalusia en l’imaginari de Fortuny
When: September 21, 2017 to January 7, 2018
Where: CaixaForum Sevilla