Published: June 5, 2012
When the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) “Melancholy Woman” by Pablo Picasso returns this summer after having been on loan to several museums over the past two years, it will bring with it four other masterworks by Spain’s most important artists. The museum celebrates the painting’s return with the exhibition “Five Spanish Masterpieces,” on view June 21⁁ugust 19. It is free with museum admission.
The exhibition comprises “Portrait of the Matador Pedro Romero” by Francisco de Goya, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; “The Holy Family with St Anne and the Infant St John the Baptist” by El Greco, Museo del Prado, Madrid; “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans” by Salvador Dalí, Philadelphia Museum of Art; “Portrait of a Man” by Diego Velázquez, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; and DIA’s “Melancholy Woman” by Picasso.
The exhibition underscores the international importance of the DIA collection and the substantial role that the DIA plays in spreading art, knowledge and culture in the United States and internationally. Lenders to the exhibition recognize the DIA as a significant museum that has shaped the history of American collecting.
Goya produced many paintings representing bullfighters in action, and Pedro Romero is the most famous matador in the history of bullfighting. Goya portrays Romero at age 45 when he was about to retire. His hair is tied in a ponytail and kept in a black net on the back of his head. The ponytail is the foremost symbol of the professional bullfighter. When a bullfighter decides to retire, he cuts off his ponytail in the bullring at the end of his last bullfight to a standing ovation. In this portrait Romero is still an active bullfighter.
“The Holy Family” is a perfect example of El Greco’s mature style. He represents the figures with elongated and distorted proportions, evident through the figures’ small heads, long hands, arms and legs, and uses thick layers of vibrant color to model his figures.
Dalí’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” also titled “Premonition of Civil War,” is an iconic surrealist work. In 1935, Spain was on the brink of civil war, and Dalí began work on the painting, which reflected Spain’s fear before the imminent war. He completed the painting six months before the war started and described it as a “Dalínean Prophecy.” Dalí includes several beans, traditionally used in Spain to appease bad spirits, in the painting’s foreground.
“Portrait of a Man” by Velázquez represents a man dressed in the Spanish fashion with a black doublet and white Spanish ruff. In Seventeenth Century Spain, the king and his ministers strictly regulated attire for men, and as a result of difficult economic times, black attire and simple white ruffs were required as a sign of austerity.
Picasso painted subjects that dealt with poverty and depression, including prostitutes, beggars, vagabonds and drunks. These were done in a monochromatic blue-green palette and were referred to as Picasso’s Blue Period paintings. During this time he sketched women in the prison at St Lazare, France, and it is thought that the subject of “Melancholy Woman,” the DIA’s Blue Period painting, was a prisoner there. It portrays a young woman seated with her arms folded and her legs crossed, staring in front of herself in a cell-like setting.
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