Madrid show shines light on El Greco heritage

Madrid's top art museum the Prado has unveiled a major exhibition about the master painter El Greco, exploring his influence on modern greats such as Picasso, Francis Bacon and Jackson Pollock.

Madrid show shines light on El Greco heritage
A man looks at the painting "Lady in a Fur Wrap" (R) by Spanish painter El Greco and "Lady in a Fur Wrap, after El Greco" by French's painter Paul Cézanne at the Prado National museum in Madrid. Photo

"El Greco and Modern Painting" is part of a year-long series of big exhibitions to mark the 400th anniversary of the Greek-born master's death.

El Greco's works languished in obscurity until the late 19th century, but once collectors noticed them he became one of the most important figures in the history of art, influencing Picasso at the start of the Cubist movement.

The Prado exhibition shows just how far he marked modern art, juxtaposing his works with those of artists he influenced.  

"The influence of El Greco is very wide. He influenced hundreds of modern artists," said the show's curator, Javier Baron.

He cited artists who shaped modern painting, such as Paul Cezanne, Picasso, British painters such as Bacon and US ones such as Pollock.

Cezanne's "Lady in a Fur Wrap, After El Greco", a portrait of a stern-faced woman, hangs in the show alongside El Greco's 16th-century work, to which it is a tribute.

Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Crete in 1541, El Greco moved to Spain, settling eventually in the city of Toledo at the age of 36 after being rejected by the court of King Philip II.

He was forced to accept all kinds of commissions to pay off his debts, producing numerous portraits and religious images in his workshop in Toledo.

The Prado show reveals his startling influence on works such as Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" — though that painting does not form part of the show.

In that 1907 painting, the nude prostitutes depicted in Cubist style by Picasso were inspired by the heavenly figures painted by El Greco in his altarpiece "The Vision of Saint John".

"That painting fascinated Picasso and influenced him decisively when he was launching the key avant-garde movement known as Cubism," said Baron.

The show groups 26 works by El Greco plus 57 paintings and 23 sketches and etchings by 19th and 20th century artists.

"El Greco and Modern Painting" runs at the Prado Museum, Madrid from June 24th to October 5th.

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Why Prado’s exhibition on women is provoking sexist storm

Slave, witch, prostitute or mother: a new exhibit at Spain's Prado explores how misogyny influenced the way women were portrayed in art, and the role that the museum itself played.

Why Prado's exhibition on women is provoking sexist storm
Painting entitled Phalaena by Carlos Verger Fioretti. Photo: Prado Museum

“Uninvited Guests”, the museum's first post-lockdown exhibition, is divided into sections with names such as “mothers under judgement”, “guidance for the wayward” and “the art of indoctrination”.

One of the aims is to put the spotlight on “an ideology, a State propaganda regarding the female figure”, which existed between 1833 and 1931, curator Carlos Navarro told AFP.

The artworks from this period reveal a “bourgeois thinking which sought to validate the role that society attributed to women,” he added.   

With this show the Prado, one of Europe's finest painting collections which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year, hopes to make amends for the role it played in this process.

The museum acknowledges that during the period in question, discrimination operated not just against female artists but in the way women were represented in the works the state bought and exhibited.

The show focuses on the period between 1833 and 1931 because that is when the Prado says it started to play a “key” role in the “acquisition and display of contemporary art”.

That gave it “an important role in the construction of the idea of a modern Spanish school” of art.

Young nudes

The exhibition explores how paintings by men at the time relegated women to secondary roles, usually as attractive accessories.   

Two works by Spanish painter Pedro Saenz Saenz, his 1897 “Chrysalid” (pictured above), and “Innocence” completed two years later, both depict a naked, prepubescent girl in a suggestive pose.

Young models at the time were forced to pose naked, in tears, for painters during an era when there was “no age limit or violence in the nude,” said Navarro as he stood before the paintings.

The few times women are the protagonists it is often against their will.    

“The Rebel”, for example, a 1914 work by Spanish painter Antonio Fillol Granell, depicts a Roma girl being expelled by her family from their camp — presumably for some kind of moral transgression.   

The second half of the exhibition features works by women from that era, who were marginalised because of their gender.    

It includes many still-lifes — representation of household objects such as flowers or food. But there are few portraits, as these were reserved for male painters.

'Missed opportunity'

This section includes works by two women, France's Rosa Bonheur and Spain's Maria Antonia Banuelos, who did not get the recognition they deserved in Spain at the time, Navarro said. No works by Banuelos can be found in Spain today, he added.

Ironically, shortly after the exhibition opened, the Prado was forced to remove a painting from this section after it was found to have been painted by a man, and not a woman as previously thought.

And of the 130 works in the exhibition, 70 are signed by men, prompting complaints from some feminist groups that it does not dedicate enough space to works by women.

A group called Women in the Visual Arts, which has over 500 members, said the show was a “missed opportunity” to give overlooked female artists their due.

Navarro, who is the lead curator for the exhibition, dismissed the controversy, saying it was sparked by “historians and especially contemporary art critics who had hoped to be part of the project”.

Uninvited Guests” opened to the public on October 10th and is due to run until March 14th.

 By AFP's Marie Giffard