11 December 2017

Cecilia de Madrazzo: Portrait Of The Artist's Wife

This charming portrait of the artist's wife, like the better known portrait of their two children, was painted just a few month's before Mariano Fortuny's untimely death at age thirty-six.  Although the finished picture shows evidence of elaborate planning, the effect is relaxed.  It is not clear whether the location is outdoors (is that a patch of blue sky reflected in the glass of the window above the door?) or in a salon or somewhere between, say a patio.  The placement of the potted plant behind the seated woman appears as perfectly natural as it is deliberate, as is the arrangement of folds of her skirt.  Like John Singer Sargent, with whom he has frequently been compared, Fortuny preferred to lavish attention on details such as fabric, thereby creating an impression of greater spontaneity in his subject's gestures.  The trope of a space opening into another space is also familiar from a number of Sargent's Venetian paintings.  How curious then to remind ourselves that the influence flows in only one direction - from Fortunty to Sargent.

When the paintings of the young John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) were first exhibited in Europe, viewers were reminded of the recently deceased Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny y Marsal.   Fortuny had died unexpectedly from malaria in 1874; already he was the most renowned  Spanish artist on the international stage.  One reason he may be less well known today is because of that very brevity.  Also, his short life was bookended by two giants of Spanish art: Goya had died ten years before Fortuny was born while Picasso would be born seven years after Fortuny's death. 

His contemporaries prized the elegance of Fortuny's work,  his command of elaborate detail, and the insinuations of the exotic, characteristics  that are now collected under the catchall term of Orientalism.   Spain's Orientalism was a secondhand acquisition, learned through centuries of Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula.  For Fortuny, as for Sargent after him, realism was more a philosophy than a technique  and, in its service, he was on his way to developing a style that we now think of as Impressionism. 
Cecilia de Madrazzo (1846-1932), survived her husband by almost six decades.

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal - Cecilia de Madrazzo, 1874, British Museum, London.