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Live in painting. Spanish art in the Carmen Thyssen Collection

From April 5 to September 25, 2023
Ayuntamiento de Estepona y Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga

" I believe that painting is a way of taking us to the light and colour of another place, an unknown place where we would like to stay and live in fascination. "

Carmen Thyssen

These words of Baroness Carmen Thyssen sum up the private fascination for art as it is experienced through emotion and sensory experience, and which the works in her collection also reveal publicly to those who contemplate them. If, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin said, the collector seems to see through the objects in his collection, the viewer, contemplating them without owning them, does so in reverse, wishing to discover the collector hidden behind his treasures.

With more than forty paintings, the present exhibition invites visitors to enter into this game of mirrors, which reveals a passionate search for beauty in nature and in the intimacy of the everyday through more than a century of Spanish art. Carmen Thyssen has focused her gaze on genres traditionally considered to be “lesser” forms of the art, such as landscape and costumbrismo painting, yet the scene of the most vivid exploration of the world by countless modern masters.

Heir to and continuation of – but also complementary to – the thematic and chronological lines that defined the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection from its beginnings in the early decades of the 20th century, the Baroness’s collection, formed from an extensive group of works bequeathed by her husband, Baron Hans Heinrich (1921-2002), is above all a faithful reflection of the tastes of its owner. Thus, since the late 1980s, Carmen Thyssen has assembled a collection that is recognisable today for its marked personality. In it, the vindication of Spanish art, and especially Catalan and Andalusian painting from the 19th and 20th centuries, occupies a very prominent place and gives it its singularity.

Joan Llimona i Bruguera, Lavanderas
Joan Llimona i Bruguera, Lavanderas
Pau Roig i Cisa, Naturaleza muerta
Pau Roig i Cisa, Naturaleza muerta

As we walk through this exhibition, our gaze also crosses in time with that of all the previous owners of the works: collectors, dealers, artists and art lovers who had the ephemeral fortune of enjoying them in the intimacy of their residences, galleries and studios. It has always been an aspiration of the successive owners of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection that these experiences should not be confined to the private sphere, and exhibitions such as this one fulfil this desire to share the passion of a life surrounded by art.

Evocation and Reality

From Romanticism to the Dawn of Modernity

Confronting the view from the Estepona of 2023 with the unspoilt natural surroundings which in the very same place were regarded in the mid-19th century by German painter Fritz Bamberger – with whose work this exhibition commences – the present itinerary starts off under the sign of an incessant search for renewal. Thus, the fifty years of Spanish art covered in this first section of the show begin with an evoked reality, reworked by the painter’s imagination, and advance through various stages of naturalistic experience before arriving at the creative freedom that anticipates the breakthrough of the avant-garde.

Romantic nature, enveloped in a halo of reverie, warm lights and the powerful impressions conveyed by the settings of Bamberger and Eugenio Lucas Velázquez, gave way to a timid naturalism in Lluís Rigalt, Ramon Martí Alsina and Modest Urgell, heralding a growing concern to faithfully represent “seen reality” with a sense of atmospheric verism. In these first attempts at realism, Mariano Fortuny’s stay in Morocco signalled an unprecedented impulse and a great novelty, in paintings that were saturated with the intense North African light and executed with agile, vibrant brushstrokes.

The frequent contacts of Spanish artists with Paris, which became a centre of modernity radiating throughout Europe, led to the gradual introduction of Impressionist experiments, still tentative in the case of Eliseu Meifrèn, but laying the path towards plein air painting, which Joaquín Sorolla would elevate to an international pinnacle for Spanish art.

Ramón Casas i Carbó, Interior al aire libre
Ramón Casas i Carbó, Interior al aire libre
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Rompeolas de San Sebastián, 1917
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Rompeolas de San Sebastián, 1917

In Catalonia, the most determined commitment to the new trends burst forth with Ramón Casas and Santiago Rusiñol, through the sober realism of their Paris production and the studies of sunlight they made in Barcelona and Sitges: pictures in which the painting itself overrides its own subject matter, heralding a free art that the following generations would consolidate.

Beyond realism, on the border with the early avant-garde, Joaquim Mir turned the cliffs of Mallorca into a colourful delirium of brushstrokes that seem to slide down the walls and which, definitively surpassing the naturalist vision, had an impact on the expression of landscape and its profoundly emotional perception.

Renewal and Avant-garde

From Noucentisme to Pop Art

Preference for certain genres, such as landscape painting and still lifes, and for the most colourful, advanced and cosmopolitan currents in art.

We begin our tour with some of the outstanding works of Noucentisme, a reformist artistic trend that emerged in Catalonia in the early years of the 20th century. Its guiding principles, a synthesis of classicism and modernity, promoted the harmonious union between man and nature. The show includes Mediterranean Sea, a foundational work of Noucentisme, by Joaquim Sunyer, the movement’s most distinguished painter.

Paris was the main point of reference for the most modern Spanish artists in the first decades of the last century, and was fundamental to the development of their respective careers. In an environment influenced by the emergence of the avant-garde movements, painting became decidedly anti-academic and followed its own rules. It was the triumph of subjectivity in a painting stripped of moral lessons. This new aesthetic sensibility can be perceived in the different works by Josep de Togores, Francisco Iturrino, Celso Lagar, Pere Torné Esquius, Francisco Bores and Josep Amat.

The Dau al Set group was an outstanding vector in the renewal of Spanish art. In contrast to the general sluggishness of the national art scene during the Franco regime, artists such as Modest Cuixart, Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponç proposed an original way of representing the world through a language dominated by magic and symbolism.

Francisco Iturrino, El baño (Sevilla), 1908
Francisco Iturrino, El baño (Sevilla), 1908
Bamberger Playa de Estepona
Fritz Bamberger, Estepona Beach with a view of the Rock of Gibraltar,1855.

The exhibition also includes the powerful painting of the legendary group of artists who came together in Madrid under the name of El Paso. In the creations of Luis Feito and Antonio Saura, two of El Paso’s members, we find an embodiment of the most radical informalist avant-garde of the 1950s.

In this highly advanced environment, we also come across other interesting individualities: the love of matter and lyricism of Ràfols-Casamada, the experimental painting of Antoni Clavé and the disparate group of pieces by three magnificent figurative artists: Amalia Avia, María Antonia Dans and Menchu Gal. Finally, Pop Art represents the playful side of art that Carmen Thyssen is so interested in. The works of Eduardo Úrculo and Antonio de Felipe emphasise the voluptuousness of forms or the graphic nature of mass culture.