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Promenades of an Impressionist By James Huneker Characters: 9416

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The noblest castle in Spain is the museum on the Prado. Now every great capital of Europe boasts its picture or sculpture gallery; no need to enumerate the treasures of art to be found in London, Paris, Vienna-the latter too little known by the average globe-trotter-Berlin, Dresden, Cassel, Frankfort, Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome, Naples, St. Petersburg, or Venice. They all boast special excellences, but the Prado collection contains pictures by certain masters, Titian, Rubens, Correggio, and others, that cannot be seen elsewhere. Setting aside Velasquez and the Spanish school, not in Venice, Florence, or London are there Titians of such quality and in such quantity as in Madrid. And the Rubenses are of a peculiar lovely order, not to be found in Antwerp, Brussels or Paris. Even without Velasquez the trying trip to the Spanish capital is a necessary and exciting experience for the painter and amateur of art.

The Prado is largely reinforced by foreign pictures and is sadly lacking in historical continuity whether foreign or domestic schools. It is about ninety years old, having been opened in part (three rooms) to the public in November, 1819. At that time there were three hundred and eleven canvases. Other galleries were respectively added in 1821, 1828, 1830, and 1839. In 1890 the Queen-mother had the Sala de la Reina Isabel rearranged and better lighted. It contained then the masterpieces, but in 1899, the tercentenary of Velasquez's birth, a gallery was built to hold his works, with a special room for that masterpiece among masterpieces Las Meninas. Many notable pictures that had hung for years in the Academia de Nobles Artes de San Fernando, at the Escorial Palace, and and the collection of the Duke of Osuna are now housed within the walls of the Prado. At the entrance you encounter a monumental figure of Goya, sitting, in bronze, the work of the sculptor J. Llaneses.

The Prado has been called a gallery for connoisseurs, and it is the happiest title that could be given it, for it is not a great museum in which all schools are represented. You look in vain for the chain historic that holds together disparate styles; there are omissions, ominous gaps, and the very nation that ought to put its best foot foremost, the Spanish, does not, with the exception of Velasquez. Of him there are over sixty authentic works; of Titian over thirty. Bryan only allows him twenty-three; this is an error. There are fifteen Titians in Florence, divided between the Uffizi and the Pitti; in Paris, thirteen, but one is the Man with the Glove. Quality counts heaviest, therefore the surprise is not that Madrid boasts numbers but the wonderful quality of so many of them. To lend additional lustre to the specimens of the Venetian school, the collection starts off with a superb Giorgione; Giorgione, the painter who taught Titian his magic colour secrets; the painter whose works are, with a few exceptions, ascribed to other men-more is the pity! (In this we are at one with Herbert Cook, who still clings to the belief that the Concert of the Pitti Palace is Giorgione and not Titian. At least the Concert Champêtre of the Louvre has not been taken from "Big George.") The Madrid masterpiece is The Virgin and Child Jesus with St. Anthony and St. Roch.

It is easy to begin with the Titians, one of which is the famous Bacchanal. Then there are The Madonna with St. Bridget and St. Hulfus, The Garden of the Loves, Emperor Charles V. at Mühlberg, an equestrian portrait; another portrait of the same with figure standing, King Philip, Isabella of Portugal, La Gloria, The Entombment of Christ, Venus and Adonis, Dana? and the Golden Shower, a variation of this picture is in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, the other in the National Museum, Naples; Venus Listening to Music, two versions, the stately nude evidently a memory of the Venus reposing in the Uffizi: Adam and Eve (also a copy of this by Rubens); Prometheus, Sisyphus-long supposed to be copies by Coello; Christ Bearing the Cross, St. Margaret, a portrait of the Duke of Este, Salom, Ecce Homo, La Dolorosa, the once admired Allocution; Flight Into Egypt, St. Catalina, a self-portrait, St. Jerome, Diana and Act?on, The Sermon on the Mount-the list is much longer.

There are many Goyas; the museum is the home of this remarkable but uneven painter. We confess to a disappointment in his colour, though his paint was not new to us; but time has lent no pleasing patina to his canvases, the majority of which are rusty-looking, cracked, discoloured, dingy or dark. There are several exceptions. The nude and dressed full-lengths of the Duchess of Alba are in excellent preservation, and

brilliant audacious painting it is. A lovely creature, better-looking when reclining than standing, as a glance at her full-length portrait in the New York Hispanic Museum proves. One of Goya's best portraits hangs in the Prado, the seated figure of his brother-in-law, the painter Bayeu. The Family of Charles IV, his patron and patroness, with the sheep-like head of the favourite De la Paz, is here in all its bitter humour; it might be called a satiric pendant to that other Familia, not many yards away, Las Meninas. There are the designs for tapestries in the basement; Blind Man's Buff and other themes illustrating national traits. The equestrian portraits of Charles IV and his sweet, sinister spouse, Queen Maria Luisa, reveal a Goya not known to the world. He could assume the grand manner when he so willed. He could play the dignified master with the same versatility that he played at bull-fighting. But his colour is often hot and muddy, and perhaps he will go down to that doubtful quantity, posterity, as an etcher and designer of genius. After leaving the Prado you remember only the Caprices, the Bull-fights, and the Disaster of War plates; perhaps the Duchess of Alba, undressed, and in her dainty toreador costume. The historic pictures are a tissue of horrors, patriotic as they are meant to be; they suggest the slaughter-house. Goya has painted a portrait of Villanueva, the architect of the museum; and there is a solidly constructed portrait of Goya by V. Lopez.

The Raphaels have been reduced to two at the Prado: The Holy Family with the Lamb, painted a year after the Ansedei Madonna, and that wonderful head of young Cardinal Bibbiena, keen-eyed and ascetic of features. Alas! for the scholarship that attributed to the Divine Youth La Perla; the Madonna of the Fish; Lo Spasimo, Christ Bearing the Cross, and several other masterpieces. Giulio Romana, Penni, and perhaps another, turned out these once celebrated and overpraised pictures-overpraised even if they had come from the brush of Raphael himself. The Cardinal's portrait is worth the entire batch of them.

There is a Murillo gallery, full of representative work, the most important being St. Elizabeth of Hungary Tending the Sick, formerly in the Escorial. The various Conceptions and saints' heads are not missing, painted in his familiar colour key with his familiar false sentiment and always an eye to the appeal popular. A mighty magnet for the public is Murillo. The peasants flock to him on Sundays as to a sanctuary. There the girls see themselves on a high footing, a heavenly saraband among woolly clouds, their prettiness idealised, their costume of exceeding grace. After a while you tire of the saccharine Murillo and his studio beggar boys, and turn to his drawings with relief. His landscapes are more sincere than his religious canvases, which are almost as sensuous and earthly as Correggio without the magisterial brush-work and commanding conception of the Parma painter. To be quite fair, it may be admitted that Murillo could make a good portrait. Both in Madrid and Seville you may verify this.

A beautiful Fra Angelico, a beautiful Mantegna open your eyes, for the Italian Primitives are conspicuous by their absence. Correggio is magnificent. The well-known Magdalen and Christ Risen, Noli Me Tangere! His Virgin with Jesus and St. John is in his accustomed melting pate. One Del Sarto is of prime quality, The Virgin, Jesus and St. John, called Asunto Mistico at the Prado. Truly a moving picture, by a painter who owes much of his fame to Robert Browning. His Lucrezia is a pretty portrait of his faithless wife. There are Lotto, Parmigianino, Baroccio, Tintoretto, Bassano, Veronese, Domenico Tiepolo, and his celebrated father the fantastic Giambattista Tiepolo-not startling specimens any of them.

In the Spanish section Ribera comes at you the strongest. He was a personality as well as a powerful painter. Consider his Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew. Zurbaran follows next in interest, though morbid at times; but of Berragueta, Borgona, Morales, Juanes, Navarette, Coello-an excellent portraitist, imitator of Moro-La Cruz, Alfonso Cano, Luis de Tristan, Espinosa, Bias del Prado, Orrente, Esteban de March-two realistic heads of an old man and an old woman must be set down to his credit-Ribalta, influenced by Caravaggio, in turn influencing Ribera-Juan de las Roelas (el Clerigo), Del Mazo-son-in-law of Velasquez, and responsible for dozens of false attributions-Carre?o de Miranda, José Leonardo, Juan Rizi V. Iriarte, the two Herreras, the elder a truculent charlatan, the younger a nonentity, and others of the Spanish school may be dismissed in a word-mediocrities.

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