National Gallery – Spanish Artists In London

THE work of the Spanish school is not very fully displayed in the National Gallery. One can hardly follow the history of the art of that nation by a study of its masters here; but, by taking the few examples chronologically, it is possible to arrive at some idea of the progress of painting in Spain. Of primitive art, the principal exponents were illuminators of manuscripts ; these are not to be found in the National Gallery. We have opportunity here of observing Spanish art prior to the sixteenth century, and, as the national æsthetic development was very late, so far as picture-painting was concerned, we lose little by not being able to trace its earlier stages.

The art of Italy was influenced greatly by the Church in its earlier periods ; the art of the Dutch-men was especially free from ecclesiastical tradition; but in Spain the Inquisition undertook to dictate to the painters as well as to every one else, so that the absolute domination of the Church is felt more than in any other country.

A didactic gentleman was selected to lay down laws for the guidance of artists, as well as to inspect their works. On the 7th of March, 1618, a commission was made out and sealed, conferring the office of ” Inspector of Sacred Pictures to the Inquisition ” upon Francisco Pacheco, in the fol-lowing terms : ” We give him commission and charge henceforward that he take particular care to inspect and visit the paintings of sacred subjects which may stand in shops or in public places.” Pacheco, in his work, ” Arte de la Pintura,” ex-plains how particularly adapted he was to fill this office, saying : ” My remarks will serve as salutary counsel, offered as they are at the age of seventy. . . . I find myself at this moment rich in hints and observations, the result of the advice and approval of the wisest men since the year 1605. . . . If I find anything to object to in them, I am to take the pictures before my Lords the Inquisitors, in order that they, having seen them, may take such order as may be fitting therein.” (What possibilities of entertainment this opens up for the Inquisitors!) But probably the painters were very discreet in their selection of subject, for it is one thing to have one’s work advertised by condemnatory critics, as is the fortune of naughty painters to-day, and quite another question to be subjected to torture or imprisonment for having transgressed the rigorous moral or religious law ! Pacheco, thus armed with the power of the most persuasive of arguments, — absolute despotism, — proceeds to lay down laws for the government of painters. ” As to placing the damned in the air,” he remarks, fighting as they are with one another, and pulling against the devils, when it is matter of faith that they must want the free gifts of glory, and cannot therefore possess the requisite lightness or agility, the impropriety of this mode 0f exhibiting them is self-evident.” (No more Last Judgments for Spain. Leave these details to the Inquisitors, please!) Other improprieties also shock the susceptible Pacheco, who seems at seventy to have retained to an unusual degree the self-conscious innocence of what Mallock calls the Blameless Prig. He objects to angels being represented without wings, naïvely giving as his reason that ” angels without wings are not known to us.” He also proscribes the painting of undraped saints, saying, ” Our eyes do not allow us to see the saints without clothing, as we shall hereafter.” The ingenuous Pacheco wishes to be more modest on earth than he expects to be in heaven ! He also condemns those artists who represent the Angel of the Annunciation coming down, falling, or flying, with his legs uncovered, but states that he ought to be drawn as kneeling firmly on both knees before the Virgin! He also objects to angels being painted with beards. Surely all would agree with him in this, if called upon to express an opinion upon a subject which seems indisputable from every point of view.

Pacheco is instructive and amusing reading. He commends the lofty moral standard of a certain bishop, of whom it is related that he said he would rather experience a hurricane in the Gulf of Bermuda (and he had been there before), than celebrate mass again opposite the picture of the Last Judgment which then hung in the Augustine Con-vent in Seville ! He also quotes a story of an artist, who, having painted an immoral picture, was charged with it after his death; only through the intercession of the various saints which he had also painted was he able to escape the torments of hell. The painter, while in purgatory, to which he had thus been promoted, made himself visible to his confessor on earth, and instructed him to advise the owner of the wicked picture to burn it. When this was done, the painter was released from purgatory. Penance was imposed upon an artist who ventured to paint the Virgin in a hoop-skirt and pointed bodice, while St. John, standing by, wore pantaloons and a doublet cut in points.

The rules for painting the Virgin were as strenuous as any in the ” Byzantine Manual ” of earlier days, Pacheco, in righteous wrath, asks : ” What can be more foreign to the respect which we owe to the purity of Our Lady than to paint her sitting down with one of her knees placed over the other, and often with her sacred feet uncovered and naked?” Thus it will be noticed that in Spanish art the feet of the Virgin are rarely allowed to be seen. Another writer remarks that it is entirely ignorant to draw the Virgin with bare feet, since it is easily proved that she wore shoes, ” by the much-venerated relic of one of them ” at Burgos.

The earliest Spanish picture which hangs here is a Madonna and Child, by Morales, No. 1229. This is a sixteenth-century painting, Morales dying in 1586. It is not a very remarkable work for its period, but, as we have observed, Spain was back-ward in this particular. It greatly annoyed Pacheco to see the infant Saviour depicted without clothing, not so much on the ground of nudity, but because it suggested that Joseph could not afford the proper comforts for his family! Morales, for some un-known reason, was called the Divine Morales. He painted on wooden panels primed with gesso, like the Florentines, whom he further resembled in his sharp, clean drawing. When he was between fifty and sixty, Philip II., hearing of his fine work, sent for him to undertake some work in the new Escorial. Morales attired himself in what he considered the most suitably elaborate costume, and went to court. Philip did not like his ostentation, got huffy, and ordered him to be dismissed. Morales had the tact to assure the king that he had spent his last coin trying to appear in proper attire before his Majesty, and managed to redeem him-self in royal favour. Many years later, Philip II. happened to pass through Badajoz, the painter’s home. This time Morales presented himself in most humble apparel. ” You are very old, Morales,” said the king. ” Yes, Sire,” replied the artist, ” and very poor.” The king gave him a couple of hundred ducats, smiling, ” for dinner,” as he explained. Morales smiled in his turn. ” And for supper, Sire? ” he suggested. Philip, amused, bestowed a larger sum upon him.

There is an interesting Spanish legend which shows how deeply the Virgin appreciated it when artists obeyed all the Inquisitorial regulations, and how she once saved one of them from death because he had delineated her in a becoming manner. This artist was working upon a picture of the Madonna on a wall high above an altar. The scaffolding on which he was standing gave way under him, and, in fear of being precipitated, he called out, ” Holy Virgin, hold me up! ” Instantly the arm of the picture disengaged itself from the wall, and held the devoted painter until a ladder could be brought to his assistance, when the miraculous arm was withdrawn, subsiding again into the fresco.

Theotocopuli, or El Greco, is next to be considered. He was born in Greece in 1548, but of Spanish parents. He probably studied with Titian; his colouring leans to that of Venice, but he passed most of his active life in Toledo, dying there in 1625. He was an architect as well as a painter. His tendency to elongate his figures may be seen illustrated in the Portrait, No. 1122, said to be intended for St. Jerome. The figure is in cardinal’s robes. While the picture was in the Hamilton collection, it was supposed to be a Titian. Pacheco states that he once asked Theotocopuli which he considered the more difficult and subtle art, drawing or colour; he replied, ” Colour.” El Greco showed this writer a lot of clay images which he kept as models, and also small oil duplicates of all his pictures, of which he always preserved a miniature record. Of Michelangelo, Theotocopuli said he was ” a good sort of man, but did not know how to paint ! ”

No. 1457, Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple, is extravagant in its postures, and the drawing is faulty; but in these very characteristics there is some suggestion of the work of Tintoretto, whom El Greco is sometimes said to resemble.

There are two fine specimens here of the work of Giuseppe Ribera, who was born in 1588. There is some question whether this important event took place in Spain or Italy. Hence his nickname, Lo Spagnoletto. He was an artist of the Neapolitan school, but his works are equally numerous in Spain and in Italy. He was court painter at Naples. He is said to have painted in so fine a style that he stirred envy in the breast of Ludovico Carracci. Vigour and gloom, — the blending of the qualities of fleshly appreciation with asceticism which is seen in most Spanish artists, — the natural man con-trolled by the spell of ecclesiasticism, — are the dominant features in both of these paintings. No. 235, the Pietà, is rendered very beautifully, while No. 244, a shepherd with a lamb, usually supposed to be a portrait study, is powerful and interesting. One begins to recognize the broad, true touch, which was brought to its ultimate perfection by Velasquez.

Of the work of Francisco Herrera, No. 1676, Christ Disputing with the Doctors, is the only ex-ample. The soft, free treatment is still visible, but less of the strength which is manifest in the handling of Ribera.

Francisco Zurbaran, a painter of humble origin, born in 1598, demands our notice at this point before we advance to a consideration of the works of Velasquez, although he was contemporary, the two artists having been born within a year of each other. Zurbaran was especially noted for his paintings of monks, and we are fortunate in having so representative a work as No. 230, the Franciscan in Prayer, clasping a skull in his hands. The lighting of the picture is admirable, and it is interesting to observe the realistic touch in the worn and patched condition of the monk’s habit. In Spain in those days it was common for the country people to purchase old Franciscan garments to bury their dead in, in the belief that St. Peter would pass them unquestioned into heaven, supposing them to be Franciscan monks ! Zurbaran painted many female saints, also, which were generally portraits of famous Spanish beauties. It must have caused the Inquisitors some displeasure when the St. Margaret, No. ’930, was painted. This picture was recently purchased from the Marquis of Northampton for a thousand pounds. With her shepherd’s crook and her embroidered satchel, she would be difficult to recognize as the saint, were it not for the dragon which appears behind her. Her costume is quite coquettish, and entirely of the period when Zurbaran painted. Zurbaran acquired the pseudonym of the Spanish Caravaggio, from his sweeping style and deep contrasts of light and shade.

The loveliest of his pictures in the National Gallery is a naturalistic painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds, No. 232, long supposed to be an early work of Velasquez. These wondering Spanish peasants, bending over the tiny manger, where the little child lies, are full of reverence, and their humble offerings are laid at his feet. Notice the earnest expression of the boy, who holds out a pair of fowls to attract the attention of the baby. This is considered the chef-d’oeuvre of Zurbaran; it was bought from the collection of Louis Philippe in 1853.

We come now to one of the mightiest men in art, Don Diego Velasquez de Silva. Velasquez was born in 1599, in Seville. His principal master in the arts was the redoubtable Pacheco, whose voluminous writings have been referred to, and whose daughter he married in 1618. Pacheco was genuinely attached to the young Velasquez, and appreciated his great genius. He says : ” The honour of being his master is greater than that of being his father-in-law. . . . I hold it to be no disgrace that the pupil should surpass the master.” Pacheco also lets us into the intimacies of the studio, when he tells us that Velasquez employed a peasant boy as apprentice and model ; he says that he ” studied him in different sorts of action, and in various attitudes,” making numerous drawings, some plain and some tinted, thus gaining much certainty in portraiture.

Velasquez became court painter when he was only twenty-four, while the king, Philip IV., was only eighteen. The intimacy which sprang up between the monarch and the artist was of long duration, — they were in daily intercourse for a period of forty years. He accompanied the king on many of his expeditions for amusement, one of which, the Boar Hunt, he immortalized in a delicate painting; this hangs in the National Gallery, No. 197. His earliest painting of Philip which we have is No. 1129.

In 1649 Velasquez went to Italy, chiefly to pur-chase pictures for his royal patron in Venice. Here he came under the spell of Titian, whom he greatly reverenced. There is a curious old poem by Boschini, ” La Carta de Navegar Pitoresco,” in which occurs an interview and an exchange of ideas between Don Diego Valasquez and Salvator Rosa :

” Proudly the master turned his head ; ‘ In Raphael, forsooth,’ he said, ((You know I always speak my mind,) No wond’rous aptitude I find.’

“‘ Nay,’ said the other, ‘ if indeed To Raphael you refuse the meed, Whom do you find in Italy More worthy of the crown than he?’

“‘ In Venice,’ quoth Diego, ‘ where Who seeks shall find both good and fair: Titian is over all men lord, To him the banner I award.”

His earlier manner of painting, as may easily be seen from these two pictures referred to, was much harder and drier than that of his later work. The Venetian feeling crept in, although absolutely under the dominion of Velasquez’s own marked personality, — as did also certain qualities of Rubens, during the next twenty years. He painted real men and women, — when his pictures were not actual portraits, they were studied from contemporary life. As Richard Ford very justly says : ” No Virgin ever descended into his studio; no cherubs hovered around his palette. He did not work for priest or ecstatic anchorite, but for plumed kings and booted knights.”

Velasquez does not paint a type to which he makes his sitters conform; he has as many styles and touches as are required for the same number of subjects. He paints either with what Sir Walter Armstrong calls a ” smeary drag,” or ” staccato,” as the case demands.

The most wonderful quality in Velasquez is perhaps that absolute truth to vibrating nature which we might call passive action. One feels that even if a figure is represented in repose it is always the natural, short-lived repose of an unconscious attitude, and not the artificial pose adopted deliberately for the purposes of conventional portraiture. His people seem to breathe, — their eyes appear to glance, and he catches the transitory without the exaggerated movement.

Among his earlier pictures in the National Gallery is his Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, No. 1375, in which the name is misleading, as this is really a picture of servants preparing a meal, while, in the background, Christ sits, instructing Mary and Martha, in another room. In the riper second period, Velasquez painted the beautiful Christ at the Column, No. 1148, and the wonderful portrait of Admiral Pulido-Pareja, No. 1315. When one first looks at this picture, the impression is simply that of a living man standing there in a casual way. The whole composition is so direct and obvious, that one feels inclined to credit the story which is told of its impression on Philip IV. Pareja was captain-general of the Spanish forces in New Spain. When Philip IV. came into Velasquez’s studio and saw this picture for the first time, it is said that he started, and exclaimed, addressing it: ” What? Art thou still here? Did I not send thee off ? How is it thou art not gone? ” Then, discovering his illusion, he stammered an apology to the painter, saying : ” I assure you, I was deceived ! ” Probably this was only a royal compliment in dramatic form. Approach the can-vas nearer; then we begin to realize the great skill of the painter, who has made these apparently unrelated bits of colour coalesce on our retina until the lifelike result is attained. There is, probably, nowhere a greater portrait than this, from the technical point of view.

Velasquez was handicapped when he came to paint women, for the costumes of the period were trying beyond any that have ever obtained, and the use of rouge made the complexions look artificial, as indeed they were! The ladies of the royal family, in addition, happened to be especially plain, and few except the royal ladies were painted, as the Spanish ideal of feminine seclusion discountenanced portrait-painting.

The latest of his works in this gallery is that of Philip Old, No. 745. The modelling of this masterly work is softer and more mellow than any earlier painting; it has even something of the famous ” vaporoso ” made popular a little later by Murillo.

The lovely Betrothal, No. 1434, is attributed to Velasquez. There are parts of the work which are unworthy of the master, but one would like to feel that the exquisite child was painted by him. Velasquez is the artist whom Wilkie considers to be the most helpful to British painters. ” He is the only Spanish painter who seems to have made an attempt in landscape,” says Wilkie. ” Some of his are original and daring.” Of this quality we can hardly judge in the National Gallery, the only pictures approaching landscape being the Boar Hunt already alluded to, and the Duel Scene, No. 1376.

In his later pictures, Velasquez is the first great impressionist. Instead of earlier chords having been resolved and brought to perfection, a new note is struck. Velasquez died in 1660.

He is described as being refined and fastidious in dress. At state functions he was always arrayed in elaborate costumes, but invariably in good taste. He wore many gems, and was proud to display the Order of Santiago, its red cross being embroidered, as was the custom, on his cloak as well.

After Velasquez one always turns to Murillo, as the complementary figure in Spanish art. David Wilkie expressed for all time the distinction between the work of these two great artists. He wrote: Murillo is all softness, Velasquez all sparkle and vivacity. . . . The latter has more intellect and ex-pression, still Murillo is a universal favourite, and perhaps only suffers . . . because all can admire him.”

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was born of obscure parents in Seville, in 1618. He began at the very foot of the ladder, grinding colours for a second-rate artist, who, in return, gave him technical instruction. In his youth he became a painter of pictures to be placed for sale in the stalls of the Feria, or weekly market, held in Seville. These works were rough, highly coloured productions, planned simply to catch the public eye at a low price ; Murillo would bring his pigments and pencils with him to the Feria, and alter or add to a picture to suit the taste of the purchaser. But Murillo wasted no precious time. He made constant studies of little beggars about the market, thus obtaining practice in that line of art in which he has produced so many delightful genre subjects. In the National Gallery are two of these ” beggar boys,” though of a more developed style than those sketched on the ground in the artist’s early youth ; one, No. 74, is a merry laughing head, while in No. 1286 the subject is regaling himself with a drink of wine. It is a curious contrast in the art of Murillo that he usually painted either very low life or spiritual life; either an ideal Virgin with a glorious Child and beautiful angels, or else gay street urchins. Hardly ever did he attempt portraiture or refined life. Evelyn, in his Diary, in 169o, mentions that ” Lord Godolphin bought the pictures of the boys by Morillio the Spaniard for eighty guineas ; deare enough ! ” In view of the prices of such pictures to-day, this sounds a most modest sum. It does not refer to either of the small pictures in London, but to a large painting by Murillo which is now in Munich.

Like other famous painters, Murillo had ” three manners. That is to say, when he was young he painted more cautiously, with less assurance than in middle life, and when he was old he allowed his facility to carry him to greater lengths of imaginary lights and shades and haziness of outline. In his case, it is customary to allude to his earlier work as being in his cold or ” frio ” style, his middle period is characterized by his ” calido ” or warm treatment, while his later pictures exhibit his ” vaporoso ” or vapourous manner. This last style, with Murillo, was not a sign of carelessness or decadence, but it is especially typical of his work, and has been developed by him much more successfully than by any other artist.

Murillo soon became successful, and in 1648 he married a wealthy and well-born woman, and took a legitimate place at the head of the Seville school of painting, while occupying an enviable social position as well. His house was the centre of artistic life in the city. In 1658 he founded the Academy of Seville, the first of its kind that any artist had been able to establish in Spain.

Of his religious pictures, on which the chief stability of his fame rests, there are three very typical examples to be seen here. One, to be sure, is only the preliminary colour-sketch for the large painting of the same subject in the Louvre; this is the small lunette-shaped picture, No. 1257, the Nativity of the Virgin. No. 176, St. John with a Lamb, is a tender study of childhood and nature, full of sympathy, and exquisitely treated. But the chief treasure of the National Gallery from the hand of this immortal Spaniard is No. 13, the large canvas, painted originally for the Marquis de Pedrosa, and purchased by the British nation in 1837. When this picture was thus acquired, a deputation was sent to request an interview with the trustees in order that they might enter a protest against the representation of God the Father, who appears in the clouds; the trustees were wise in refusing the interview, so the protest remained where it had started. This is one of the painter’s last pictures, and it is evident that there was no falling off in his art because of age or facility, as has been mentioned. The power of Murillo has been defined as the ability to give reality to the never seen, while another critic assails him for transforming devotion into a ” sort of delicious hysteria,” calling his Virgins ” almost profanely feminine.” These opinions are largely a matter of temperament. What seems to one man reverent seems to another archaic, grotesque, and superstitious; what one considers spiritual, seems to another earthly. We all admit the apt expression of Ruskin, alluding to the ” brown gleams of gipsy Madonnahood from Murillo,” but whether this gipsy quality is profane or religious is a matter of personal theology. The ” bouquets of Cupid-like cherubs,” to which Lucien Solway calls attention, are undoubtedly there, as they are in the pictures by Correggio ; whether we like them or not, we accept them as characteristic of one of the most popular and beloved artists who has ever lived.

After a noble life of heroic determination and pious courage, Murillo died in April, 1682. His wife had died before him, and he left two sons and a daughter. He was buried in the Church of Santa Cruz, and his tombstone, by his own request, was a simple slab, bearing the device of a skeleton, and the inscription, ” Vive Moriturus.” All vestiges of this memorial have disappeared, owing to the zeal of ” restorers.”

Among the Spanish pictures is a good Cavalier Portrait by Mazo, No. 1308, and a soft, hazy Assumption of the Virgin by Valdes Leal, No. 1291. The donors of this picture are to be seen at either side, a mother and son. Valdes Leal was left as the leading painter in Spain after Murillo’s death. In character, however, he was strikingly different from the older master, of whom he was violently jealous. Indeed, jealousy of other artists seems to have been the dominant note of his career. On one occasion it is narrated that an Italian painter, who requested permission to draw in the academy, was refused by Valdes Leal, until the patrons of the institution interfered, and insisted that this hospitality should be extended ; the Italian, availing himself of this privilege, painted a fine Crucifixion, which was publicly exhibited. Valdes was so enraged at the success of the foreigner that he threatened his life, and the poor Italian was actually obliged to flee the city ! It is a question whether it was a compliment or a mortification to such a spirit as that of Valdes Leal when Murillo, upon seeing one of his works which contained a realistic study of a corpse, observed : ” Really, one ought to hold one’s nose in looking at this ! ”

Only one other noted Spaniard remains for us to consider. Francisco Goya, who painted in the eighteenth century, was an eccentric personality, who is represented here by specimens of varying types, exhibiting his versatility. The merry, the gruesome, and the beautiful may be seen in his three pictures in this gallery, showing the changing moods of this many-sided genius. Goya was born in Aragon in 1746. When he came to Madrid, he at once gained popularity, and became court painter to Charles IV., and afterward to Ferdinand VII. In early life Goya made no concealment of his anarchistic propensities. He had many enemies, and, after being found one morning lying in the grass with a dagger sticking in his back, he decided to go to Rome for a time. He worked his way from Madrid as a bull-fighter on this occasion.

Goya was a would-be reformer. Like the strange Belgian artist, Wiertz, he painted great human satires, sparing neither Church nor state when he would ridicule an hypocrisy or condemn an error. As he was a man of fashion, he had intimate knowledge of the court intrigues, and knew the subjects which he attacked. His taste was for sarcasm and character-study, rather than for religious imaginings. He was never successful with saints, but he was a past-master in sinners. With a morbid love for horrors and the fantastic, he is seen at his best in the little picture, No. 1472, a scene from a play by Zamora, in which a priest is visited by demons, who force him to make a libation of oil to the lamp of a grotesque goatish devil of weird form. The little, terrified eyes of this false prophet are positively haunting in their desperation, and yet the comic element predominates.

No. 1471 represents a picnic party of courtiers, who, in their fine clothes, are no more dignified than the brutish peasants, from whom Goya intends us to understand that they are only removed by an accident of temporal prosperity. The beautiful and spirited portrait of Dona Isabel Corbo de Porcel, No. 1473, is a fitting climax to our observation of Spanish artists in London. In handling and tech-nique, this and No. 1951 are the equals of any modern works, yet they were executed during the lowest period of art. Goya died in 1828 in Bordeaux, where he had gone into voluntary exile. He was eighty-two years of age.