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2011 Archives

Meadows Museum acquires rare 19th century Spanish portrait

Richard Worsam Meade by Vicente López, 1815, oil on canvas.  Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas.
Richard Worsam Meade by Vicente López
1815, oil on canvas

May 12, 2011

DALLAS (SMU) – A rare portrait of influential American merchant and naval agent Richard Worsam Meade —the first major collector of Spanish art in the U.S. — has been made accessible to the public in its new home at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University.

On May 10, the museum unveiled the masterwork by Vicente López, one of the most significant painters of the Spanish Enlightenment. Acquired with the generous support of six donors from the Dallas community, the unpublished painting will add depth to the museum’s holdings of work by this celebrated court painter and will provide insight into a legendary American family.

Meade was the son of the Philadelphia Revolutionary George Meade, and his son, George Gordon Meade – better known as General Meade – went on to defeat Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Around 1800, Richard Worsam Meade moved his export business to the port city of Cádiz, Spain, where he began to collect paintings as currency for debts. It was there that Meade developed one of the most outstanding private collections of Spanish art, including paintings by Titian, Correggio, Veronese, Rubens, Van Dyck, Velázquez, and Murillo, and ultimately became the first American collector known to have owned a painting by Murillo.

Meade could in many ways be considered the earliest predecessor of our museum’s founder, Algur H. Meadows,” said director Mark Roglán. “Both men were influential American entrepreneurs who, in the course of their business abroad in Spain, developed a passion for the country’s art, ultimately creating a new audience for it back home. This exceptional painting will be the first portrait of an American painted by a Spanish painter to enter our collection, and it is fitting that the subject is someone who shares a legacy with our founding patron.”

The painting went on display at the museum on May 10 and will be included in the upcoming exhibition Meadows Collects: Ten Years, Ten Works, which will open in the fall of 2011. The exhibition will feature the ten most significant works the Meadows has acquired over the past decade, and will celebrate the ten year anniversary of their current home, which was funded by The Meadows Foundation.

López, honorary court painter to Charles IV (r. 1788-1808), was later appointed First Court Painter to Ferdinand VII alongside Francisco Goya in 1814. Ferdinand VII eventually began to greatly prefer the work of López, and in 1826 Goya requested permission to retire, leaving López as the primary court painter to the King. López went on to be the court painter for a third monarch, Queen Isabella II (r. 1830-1868), the eldest daughter of Ferdinand VII. This monumental portrait of Meade, which dates from 1815, was likely created in Madrid where López was working at the time. The painting depicts Meade seated at a desk, turned to confront the viewer, and showcases López’s extraordinary technical skill, from his detailed depiction of a wrinkle in the carpet to the color palette on the Meade’s clothing, which is echoed on the patterned rug.

This López painting is a significant addition to the Meadows Museum’s collection, as it provides a more comprehensive understanding of López’s work as a portraitist, and also draws important connections to the Museum’s foundation. The painting is the fourth by López in the Meadows collection, which also includes the Portrait of José Martínez de Hervás, Marqués de Almenara (1812), the Portrait of José Orbaiceta, Marqués de Nevares (1840), and an oil sketch depicting Saint Vincent Martyr Before Dacius (c. 1796).

The painting was purchased through funds generously provided by Linda P. and William A. Custard; Jack and Gloria Hammack; Richard and Gwen S. Irwin; Natalie H. and George T. Lee, Jr.; Mildred M. Oppenheimer; and Catherine B. Taylor. These gifts are eligible for a $5 million matching challenge grant by The Meadows Foundation for the acquisition of Spanish art to enhance the Museum’s permanent collection.   

About  the Meadows Museum

The Meadows Museum is the leading U.S. institution focused on the study and presentation of the art of Spain. In 1962, Dallas businessman and philanthropist Algur H. Meadows donated his private collection of Spanish paintings, as well as funds to start a museum, to Southern Methodist University. The museum opened to the public in 1965, marking the first step in fulfilling Meadows’ vision to create a “Prado on the Prairie.”

Today, the Meadows collection of Spanish art — one of the largest and most comprehensive outside of Spain—comprises more than 125 paintings and sculptures and approximately 450 works on paper. The collection spans from the 10th to the 21st century, and includes medieval objects, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, and major paintings by Golden Age and modern masters.

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