Living is the most beautiful painting, the rest is just paint

I think it was summer because it was hot in the rooms of the Hermitage. I had spent several days without even leaving my adored seventeenth century, when I found myself with Kees Van Dongen. It was a ¨coup de foudre¨ and since then, every time I see one of his paintings, my heart skips a beat.
Kees Van Dogen

Kees was born in Delfshaven in 1877, a suburb of Rotterdam. Showing early artistic promise, he studied in the evenings at the Académie des Beaux-Arts of Rotterdam from 1892 to 1897. In 1899, van Dongen settled in Paris.
What Andy Warhol was to New York in the 1960s, Kees Van Dongen was to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. He was a cynic with humor and a part of a society of artists and bohemia that brought excitement to the Parisian upper class. He was a colorful figure there with his controversial lifestyle, lavish nightly studio parties where film stars, masque politicians and artists would attend. ¨Woman¨ was his muse all his life, and her body his landscape; the young Brigitte Bardot was his last muse.
In 1904, van Dongen exhibited some 100 works at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard. The catalogue of the show was introduced by the famous anarchist and art critic Félix Fénéon. The next year, he showed pictures at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne alongside a loose collection of like-minded painters of which Matisse was the ringleader. The riot of color in their work caused a somewhat hostile critic, Louis Vauxcelles, to dub these artists “les fauves”
Kees Van Dongen¨Color, color and more color. This is what defines fauvist paintings. It doesn´t rely on framing, perspective, light, shadow, nor volume. Everything is color, strong, alive, aggressive – applied in violent contrasts thought pasty strokes.¨
In Paris, van Dongen found lodging in the famed Bateau-Lavoir, the name coined by the poet Max Jacob for the seedy Montmartre tenement whose most celebrated resident was Pablo Picasso (in addition to other amazing artists as Chagall). Picasso and van Dongen became friends soon, and van Dongen painted Picasso’s mistress, Fernande Olivier. Thrust into this fertile artistic and literary milieu, van Dongen cultivated a carefree bohemian image typified by his comment:
“I’ve always played. Painting is nothing but a game.”
In 1910 – 1913, Van Dongen travelled to Spain, Morocco and Egypt, producing a series of somber, but striking landscapes. And later in 1913, Van Dongen gained celebrity through the outraged reactions to his Tableau of his large, nude wife. This picture was considered so salacious and licentious that the police removed it from the Salon d´Automne.
“For all those who look with their ears, here is a completely naked woman. You are prudish, but I tell you that our sexes are organs that are as amusing as brains, and if the sex was found in the face, in place of the nose (which could have happened), where would prudishness be then? Shamelessness is really a virtue, like the lack of respect for many respectable things.” Van Dongen commented upon the virtual detention of his wife.
Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, van Dongen acquired a reputation as a socialite, hosting a masquerade party at his home. His licentious nudes and erotic subjects caused a stir among critics and admirers alike. Van Dongen’s connections with the rich and famous led him to chronicle the Age des Folles and its excessive habits.
After World War I, van Dongencontinued with his sucess with the upper classes, who commissioned him many portraits. With a playful cynicism he remarked of his popularity as a portraitist with high society women: “The essential thing is to elongate the women and especially to make them slim. After that it just remains to enlarge their jewels. They are ravished.”

He complemented his work as a portraitist with a steady stream of book illustrations, including writings by Proust, Kipling, Montherlant, Voltaire, Gide, and Baudelaire.

In the waning years of his life, spent in Monaco, van Dongen was honored by frequent museum retrospectives. He disappeared from this world on May 28, 1968 in Monaco, the same day all the world had its eyes turned toward the burning barricades in Paris. To disappear almost unnoticed was his final artistic act. Until almost the end kept what Apollinaire had called his blend of “opium, ambergris, and eroticism”.

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The exoticizing look

One month ago, Alicia Forneri and I discussed the influence of Spanish folklore in the artistic movements around the world. So, here is her post about it…

While it is true that there have been  great travelers from Spain, and that our country has made a significant contribution to the discovery and description of other peoples and cultures, it is also to be noted that  especially in the nineteenth century, we were the ones who woke up the curiosity of travelers from the rest of Europe.

sorolla1914The nineteenth -century romantic look became the root for the creation of many Spanish clichés. Although, in the twentieth century, the increase of number of travelers and information  dismantled progressively those clichés,  their traces remained displayed within the museums.

In this respect, the place that best represents all these elements for the romantic artist is Andalusia. Its Moorish past, flamenco, bullfighting and of course, its gypsy women as a prototype of Spanish women, fed the imagination of many artists who travelled to these lands in search of the image that symbolizes the essential qualities of the Spanish culture.

Several views are given by artists, both national and international, of the gypsy woman identified as the Spanish woman. Features like the sensuality and mystery are part of these particular visions, forming what will be the image of Spain to foreign eyes. An image linked over the years to anti-humanism and the exotic.

Moreover,  the diffusion of a large number of literary gypsy characters (Carmen,  from Mérimée or La Concha from La femme et le panti, by Louys ) blended the image of the Andalusian woman with the gypsy one, reaching this mystification its peak in 1883 with the revival of the opera Carmen, by Bizet.

The gypsywoman  long symbolized the image of a free woman with light morals. During the nineteenth century we find numerous archetypal portraits with scruffy gypsy women of generous chest, streaming hair and provocative smile – portraits that must have been shocking to more than one contemporary spectator.

In this way we can see how the stereotypes assigned to the gypsies by the bourgeoisie, exert a double influence; on the one hand their clothes, sensual movements and freedom of action symbolize a “lighter” moral than th one that the  conventional society of the time was ready to assimilate positively.  On the other hand, these same characteristics exert a powerful attraction, not only to artists, but also to the middle class that rejected them publicly.

Artists such as John Singer Sargent, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa,  Mariano Fortuny, Isidre Nonell or Joaquin Sorolla in painting and J. Laurent and Charles Clifford in photography will be central to setting and touring this Spanish character image through Europe during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Madrid currently has a large collection of works following this line. From the Museum of Romanticism, through the Sorolla Museum, to  Prado Museum rooms devoted to the nineteenth century,  the tour of the stereotypes of the Spanish imagery, not entirely forgotten, is assured…Let´s take you there !


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The Fascination of Japanese Art

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese art became very appealing to and influential on the West. Known as Japonisme, this fascination represents one of the richest and most productive artistic and cultural phenomena in the relationship between East and West.

Mariano fortuny

The reopening of Japanese ports in the 1860s marked the birth of Japonisme, which eventually became one of the most important and essential elements of artistic modernity in Europe during the latter half of the 1800s. Japonisme went far beyond a simple, superficial interpretation based on the popularity of exotic forms and orientalist themes. Not only did it provide subjects, motifs, compositions, techniques and formats, but ultimately it offered a poetic imagination and a vision of art that revolutionised taste. In doing so, it revealed a whole new world of ideas, formal elements and colours to draw inspiration from and reinvent Western art during the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Mariano Fortuny was one of the first painters in Spain  to discover Japanese art. He could be considered its promoter among Spanish artists, because he integrated new aesthetic solutions based on the study of his own Japanese collection. In any case, and discarding Fortuny for the moment, during the 1870 and 1880s the vast majority of Spanish artists living or in passing thorough Paris engages in their first, superficial interaction with japonisme. Folowing the trend set by the French capital,they limited themselves to representing Japanese scenes or affluent environments where contemporary good taste dictated the inclusion of the peculiar and unusual Japanese objects that had recently begun  luring in front of the east . In the field of painting, artists did not pursue in Spain the direction initiated by Fortuny ( an exploration based on the study of local Japanese art collections) until Dario Regoyos in the 1880s or even later, towards the end of the, you can discover the amazing words of Madrazo, Marin Rico , the Catalan group of Quatre Gats or even the young Picasso.

Explore the current exhibitions of Japanese Art in Madrid  at Caixa Forum, La Fábrica, The Prado Museum

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Surrealism and the Dream

Refletions on the new exposition in the Thyssen Museum


Dali SueñoMany, who have visited expositions with me, have heard me talk about surrealism. From my personal opinion, surrealism started in Bosco´s Garden of the Delicias in 1503 and continues with Arcimboldo´s ¨Spring¨in 1563 – which we can find in the magnificent Academy of Bellas Artes of San Fernando. It is from there that we can divulge into the whimsical works of Goya, before putting ourselves in front of the surrealism of the 20th century. In Spain, to speak of surrealism is to speak of  Salvador Dalí


Dalí arrived to Madrid in 1922 and settled into a Residencia de Estudiantes for study at the  Royal Academy of San Fernando. This same year, Dalí translated the interpretation of dreams, by Freud, – not all surrealists followed the supposed Freudians- to Spanish for Lopez-Ballesteros. Dalí became passionate about the trilogy and even began to assimilate notions of dreams responding to sexual desires, no satisfaction.

The tempest Shakespeare . 1611

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

                                                        The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. 

In the artistic movement, some artista really stood out such as: Breton, Ernst, Miró Tanguy, Magritte, Masson really…as well as Maruja Mayo, Remedios Varo, our dear and recently decease Angeles Santos Torroella and many more.

All of them played with their dreams, but also with their daydreams and their excitement to change the world.

It´s that dreams are a fundamental dimension of the human life. Dreams transform a part of our lives, they enrich us and they make us crazy.

Calderón. Life is a dream 1635.

Sueña el rico en su riqueza,
que más cuidados le ofrece;
sueña el pobre que padece
su miseria y su pobreza;
sueña el que a medrar empieza,
sueña el que afana y pretende,

 sueña el que agravia y ofende,
y en el mundo, en conclusión,
todos sueñan lo que son,
aunque ninguno lo entiende.

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
destas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida?
Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son. 

Is surrealism an attitude in front of life? An utopia of a mind full of possibilities?

If we situate ourselves chronologically in front of a movement that arose in Europe in the 20th century, the critical sense of a utopia is more necessary than ever. The world was changing and it is then that the proposal was made more intense. Ernst Bloch continues a line of thought opposite to Freud, in that the unconscious is not linked to the past, but rather intimately in relation with the future: the prince of hope.

We dream while we are sleeping and while we are awake. Between the night-dreamer and the day-dreamer, between Minerva (the day) and Hecate (the night); the two worlds nourish each other.

They dream, they enter into a temporary state where clocks don´t make sense, they defend the external stimulus that will threaten him and they have a profound and poetic experience.


Ask yourselves: what is the color of your dreams? How would you materialize this image?

Joan Miro, this is the color of my dream.

Here is an exhibition with many reflections about: death, love, desire, anger, destruction, impotence,fearfreedom.


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Salvador Dalí Art & Science

It is my  pleasure to introduce a new post of  Teresa Vega  about Salvador Dalí , a Spanish painter, draughtsman, illustrator, sculptor, writer and film maker. One of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, his fantastic imagery and flamboyant personality also made him one of the best known. His most significant artistic contribution was through his association with Surrealism.

reinaA few days ago, the amazing Dali Exhibition at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid finished, after attracting more than 730.000 visitors, making it the most visited art show in the history of our city.Fortunately The Reina Sofia permanent Collection continues displaying some of those works.

Teresa had the pleasure of guiding several groups through a treasure trove of sculptures, paintings, drawings, objects, films… and one of the many aspects that captured Teresa s interest is the link between art and science.

Dalí once defined himself as a carnivorous fish who swam with the same ease in the cold waters of art and the warm waters of science.

In his long and eventful life he met many prominent scientists, and befriended some of them. This long list includes mathematicians Matila Ghyka and René Thom, Nobel prize winners Ilya Prigogine, Severo Ochoa and James Watson… and the father of psicoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, whose method inspired his early work.

I would like to show you a few of the  works exhibited where you will find an echo of some of the most groundbreaking discoveries of the 20th century:

    The persistence of memory

dali1Visitors in Madrid were fascinated by this work from the MOMA, probably the most famous of all his paintings. “It’s tiny!”, I heard them exclaim. Dalí himself recounted in his memoirs the circumstances that led to its creation. He stayed at home one evening, while Gala went away with friends. They had been eating a Camembert, and in the summer heat he saw how the cheese began to slowly melt. But, of course, we can find a more profound meaning in the image of the “soft clocks”, as they are usually called:  it illustrates the fluid and relative nature of time, which doesn´t exist as something absolute, independently from the subject that experiences it’s passage.

The máximum speed of Raphael’s  Madonna

dali2Dalí used to compare the ADN molecule to his close union to his muse, Gala. The discovery of it’s structure by Watson, Crick and Wilkins in 1953 fascinated the genius, and there is an anecdote that illustrates the relationship he established with Watson. In 1965 the scientist paid a visit to the Saint Regis in New York, where the artist was staying, and sent him a note: “The second most brilliant person in the world would like to meet the most brilliant”. As you can imagine, Dalí was flattered, and they immediately became friends.


Swallow’s tail


In 1983 Dalí painted this last picture. You can recognize a series of S shapes, that remind us of his famous moustache, but also of a violin and of the symbol of integrals in mathematics, as a homage to René Thom –the founder of the catastrophe theory-. When the painter died, some of the books he had by his bedside were The Geometry of Art and Life, by Ghyka, What is Life?, by Schrödinger, and A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking…

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