2009 Archives

Meadows Museum acquires plein-air landscape and cubist portrait

June 12, 2009

DALLAS (SMU) -- The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University has acquired two significant oil paintings from the early 20th century.

El Tajo, Toledo, c. 1904, is by Aureliano de Beruete, a contemporary of Joaquín Sorolla known for his luminous, Impressionistic depictions of Spanish landscapes and historic cities.  Femme Assise (Seated Woman), c. 1917, is a Cubist work by one of the movement’s few major female painters, María Blanchard. The works were purchased with funds donated by The Meadows Foundation.

They may be seen at the same time as Meadows' much anticipated exhibit, Diego Rivera: The Cubist Portraits, 1913-1917, which opens June 21. The exhibit, which continues through September 20, features 31 works by Rivera that are being brought together for the first time.

About El Tajo, Toledo

The Tajo, Toledo  by Aureliano de Beruete c. 1904
The Tajo, Toledo
by Aureliano de Beruete
c.1904 | Oil on canvas, 26-1/2 by 39-3/4 in.

Aureliano de Beruete (1845-1912), a well-known Spanish intellectual, was a prominent historian, writer, painter and collector. After pursuing a political career and completing a doctorate in civil and canon law, he dedicated himself to writing about art and produced important studies on Diego Velázquez (1898), Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1901) and other major Spanish artists. He travelled extensively in Europe, studying the different national schools of painting. On his travels he also painted landscapes, such as El Tajo, Toledo, which he executed in Toledo around 1904.

After working for some time as a copyist in the Prado Museum, Beruete decided in 1873 to concentrate on developing himself as a painter. He enrolled at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts) in Madrid and also studied in the studio of the Belgian-born Spanish painter Carlos de Haes. Beruete was among the founders of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (School of Liberal Learning) and, along with such members as Haes, he made several study trips abroad. In Paris he came to know the paintings of the Barbizon school, and in Belgium he assimilated the form of Realism adopted by a generation of landscape artists. The fundamental constants of the Spanish pictorial tradition, however, especially the sketching style typical of Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, became the starting point from which Beruete developed his own style, in which he recorded his response to landscape, impressions of light and rural settings.

Beruete’s depiction of the Castilian landscape, in works such as El Tajo, Toledo, earned him iconic status with the Generación ’98, the introspective group of novelists, poets, essayists and philosophers active in Spain around the time of the Spanish-American War (April-August 1898). This group has been credited with reinvigorating Spanish letters and restoring Spain to a position of intellectual and literary prominence that it had not held for centuries. It was important to the group to define Spain as a cultural and historical entity and, as such, Toledo’s dramatic topography and its role as the ancient capital of Spain had particular resonance for them.

The painting, which measures 26 ½ by 39 ¾ inches, depicts a view of the El Tajo River, which surrounds the hilltop city of Toledo. Beruete emphasizes the sweeping austerity of the view over the natural landscape, devoid of human presence, and the enigmatic shadows across the deep gorge made by the river. The river cuts through the center of the painting, forming steep diagonals directing the eye to zig-zag its way deeper into the composition and emphasizing the mountainous terrain. The left foreground features a water mill constructed of the same peach native stone as the city itself; behind are steep, uncultivated and rocky mountains, which, with the sun behind them, are obscured in shadow. Across the river, evidence of the ancient city of Toledo in the form of peach-orange walls and a partial view of the famous Alcázar castle rests atop an imposing rise covered with muddy greens and light grey-purple stones, all of which are bright and warm in full afternoon sun.

“The painting relates beautifully to Sorolla’s view of the same city in The Blind Man of Toledo, which was painted around the same time in 1906 and is also owned by the Meadows Museum,” said Mark A. Roglán, museum director. “In fact, Beruete’s view portrays the same side of the city, but focuses on the terrain outside the city walls. The work illustrates Spanish artists’ interest in their homeland, especially its historic towns. El Tajo marks an excellent addition to the Meadows’ collection of late 19th and early 20th-century painting by artists often described as ‘luminists’ for their ability to depict the brilliant luminosity of the Spanish sun and its effects on the landscape. We are the only museum outside of New York to have in its collection a painting by this accomplished artist, one of the most important plein-air painters of the Spanish School.”

About Femme Assise

Femme Assise by María Blanchard c. 1917
Femme Assise
by María Blanchard
c.1917 | Oil on canvas, 43-3/4 by 30-1/4 in.

María Blanchard (1881-1932) was born to a bourgeois family in the northern Spanish coastal city of Santander. She was born with scoliosis, which left her with a physical deformity. After a refined and cultivated childhood, in 1903 she moved to Madrid to become a painter, studying successively under artists Emilio Sala, Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor and Manuel Benedito. She won a grant in 1909 to pursue her studies in Paris, where she attended the Académie Vitti. There she was taught by fellow Spaniard Hermengildo Anglada Camarasa and later by the Dutch artist Kees van Dongen, whose influence helped free her from the constraints of her academic training.

Blanchard subsequently became an important member of a group of Spanish artists who were active in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. One of the only women of the group, she, like many of her colleagues, participated in the Parisian avant-garde circles that would come to shape her career and define her work throughout the period. It was during this time that Blanchard first came into contact with Cubism, meeting Juan Gris and Jacques Lipchitz, both of whom influenced her later work. Until 1916, however, her paintings remained academic in spirit, with an emphasis on draughtsmanship and somber tonalities.  After going back to Spain for several years, she returned definitively to Paris in 1916, where she enthusiastically adopted the methods of Cubism.

Femme Assise is a classic example of Synthetic Cubism. Painted during Blanchard’s peak working in that idiom, it illustrates her confidence in her ability to refract her subject matter with kaleidoscopic results. The painting, which measures 43-3/4 by 30-1/4 inches, depicts a woman seated on a rattan chair in front of carved wainscoting that envelops her from four angles, whose vanishing points careen off the canvas. The thick application of cool grey, black, white and green hues along with scattered patches of maroon and pink paint and dizzying geometric patterns contribute to the success of the composition. The figure is devoid of breasts or other typical visual cues; the shoulder-length hair, subtle facial features and repeated floral pattern in the dress provide the only evidence of the sitter’s gender. In Femme Assise, Blanchard reinterpreted one of art history’s earliest and most traditional genres: portraiture. Much like other artists with whom she associated in Paris, including those represented in the Meadows collection such as Rivera, Gris, Lipchitz, Picasso, and to some extent Miró, Blanchard revised traditional representations of the human form by refracting it and de-emphasizing form itself.

Femme Assise marks a major contribution to the Meadows Museum’s collection of 20th-century art. It was executed around the same time as the museum’s other Cubist paintings by Picasso (Still Life in a Landscape,1915), Gris (Cubist Landscape, 1917) and Rivera (Portrait of Ilya Ehrenburg, 1915).  “It represents a different interpretation of Cubism and, as such, contributes to our goal of representing a comprehensive view of this crucial period in the history of Western art through key works by the Spanish artists who participated in, and drove, its development,” said Dr. Roglán. “The new acquisition is one of only three works in the collection by a female artist and brings the Meadows a step closer to expanding the diversity and comprehensiveness of its holdings.”

About the Meadows Museum

The Meadows Museum houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, with works dating from the 10th to the 21st century. It includes masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest painters: El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Miró and Picasso. Highlights of the collection include Renaissance altarpieces, monumental Baroque canvases, exquisite rococo oil sketches, polychrome wood sculptures, Impressionist landscapes, modernist abstractions, a comprehensive collection of the graphic works of Goya and a select group of sculptures by major 20th-century masters.

The museum is located at 5900 Bishop Blvd. on the SMU campus. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; and 12-5 p.m. on Sunday.  Admission is $8 per person for ages 12 and up; seniors are $6; free on Thursdays after 5 p.m.;  and always free for children under 12, museum members, and SMU faculty, staff and students. Ample free public parking is available in the garage under the museum.

For more information, please visit the museum’s website at www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org or call 214-768-2516.

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