Sunday, November 1, 2015

Spanish Painters

We Europeans have a long cultural history. Every country has its painters, musicians, writers, poets, architects and what not but I've often thought that individual European countries seem to major in one particular art form. Italians and opera for example. I think we Britons are good at writers and poets whilst the Germans excel in music. For Spain it's painters.

So if you want to fit in to your adopted land and chat about something besides football what about artists? There are lots to choose from starting with the unnamed prehistoric painters of the Altamira caves through people like Zurbaran, Murillo, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí or Joaquín Sorolla right through Nestor de la Torre or Antoni Tapies. Too hard? Too many names? Then all you really need are four. With these four you will know as much as most Spaniards.

The first is el Greco. He was Greek, born Domenikos Theotokopoulos born around 1541 in Crete. El Greco, which doesn't quite mean The Greek but leans that way, is a bit like your neighbours calling you el Inglés because they can't pronounce your name. He moved to Toledo when he was in his mid 30s. He painted in a style called Mannerist, a development of the Renaissance style which reflected the changes in science and technology of the time. His paintings are deeply religious. El Greco's big hit was The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, for the Church of Santo Tomé in Toledo but as a back up you should also know the Disrobing of Christ from Toledo Cathedral.

Next up is Diego Velázquez 1599-1660. He painted lots of still life, mythological and tavern scenes as well as religious pictures. This is the chap that most Spaniards cite as their favourite painter. He painted in a Baroque style which was supposed to provoke an emotional response from any audience. The picture you have to know is Las Meninas or The Maids of Honour which is in the Prado in Madrid. It's a group portrait of the Royal Family and Velázquez squeezed himself into the picture. If you need another title The Surrender of Breda is good.

Francisco Goya 1746-1828 painted in the Romantic style which was a move away from a scientific to a more emotional approach that allowed artists to be much freer in the way they depicted things and used colour or light. In his day Goya was best known as a portraitist but now his paintings about the Napoleonic occupation of Spain are more famous. Goya produced several series of paintings, prints and engravings that conveyed his dark, twisted emotions. Names to mention are series like the Disasters of War and the Black Paintings or specific paintings like The Third of May and The Charge of the Mamelukes.

Last but not least is Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, one of the most prolific painters in history. Born in Malaga he spent most of his life in France but he used a lot of Spanish imagery like bullfights, Don Quixote and in Guernica, probably his most famous painting, the horror of the Spanish Civil War. He was a key exponent of the cubist style where things are analysed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint There are so many famous paintings it's difficult to know which names to drop but Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and The Weeping Woman are good to go alongside Guernica.

Culture on the back of an envelope.

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