Exhibition | Luis Paret (1746–1799)

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 29, 2022

Luis Paret y Alcázar, The Shop of Geniani, 1772, oil on panel, 49 × 57 cm
(Madrid: Museo Lázaro Galdiano)

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

Now on view at the Prado:

Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 24 May — 21 August 2022

Curated by Gudrun Maurer

In the words of Javier Solana, President of the Royal Board of Trustees of the Museo Nacional del Prado: “Luis Paret is possibly the 18th-century Spanish artist who most deserved a major exhibition of the type now opening at the Museo del Prado.” With the invaluable collaboration of private and public lenders and the support of Fundación AXA, the Prado has thus reunited most of the artist’s known paintings. They include Masquerade, The Puerta del Sol, Paret’s Daughters, View of Bermeo, and The Annunciation to Zacharias, in addition to a remarkable group of drawings such as Hannibal at the Temple of Hercules in Cadiz and The Oath of Allegiance to don Fernando as Prince of Asturias, which together allow for an appreciation of the richness and variety of a painter alert to the changes of his day and one characterised by a remarkable originality and versatility.

In this first monographic exhibition on Paret organised by the Prado, Gudrun Maurer, the museum’s Curator of 18th-century Painting and Goya and the curator of the exhibition, has surveyed Paret’s professional career with the aim of singling out the excellent technical level and striking originality with which the artist depicted his chosen subjects while also presenting the new information on Paret’s working method obtained from the scientific analysis of his paintings undertaken by the Museum’s technical department.

The exhibition offers a complete survey of Paret’s career and is divided into nine sections. The first provides a unique opportunity to compare a key drawing from his early period with the first documented painting by his celebrated fellow-Spaniard Francisco de Goya, who, like Paret, was born in 1746. The two artists started their careers (Paret in fact five years before Goya) after being singled out in competitions organised by different Fine Arts Academies: Paret by the Academia de San Francisco in Madrid and Goya by the one in Parma, Italy. Those two works which brought the artists recognition—both, in fact on the subject of Hannibal—are now on display in the exhibition, one loaned from the Academia de San Fernando and the other in the Prado’s collection. In general, the two paintings reveal the importance of both academic competitions and the period of training in Italy for artists’ careers. The comparison with Goya also emphasises Paret’s notable technical and compositional skills at this early date while the marked artistic personalities of the two artists are evident in the different styles of their works.

Luis Paret y Alcázar, Masquerade, detail, ca. 1767, oil on panel
(Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado)

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

The next section starts with a small group of early drawings by Paret from the collection of the Prado and the Biblioteca Nacional de España. They reveal the artist’s originality in his inventive and versatile approach to the subjects and the modernity of his choices. Subjects include The Necromancer, The Glory of Anacreon, and Roman Military Trophy. The principal work in this room is one of Paret’s earliest known paintings, Masquerade of 1767 from the Prado’s collection. It once again reveals Paret’s modernity in the context of his time, as an artist who from the outset was able to respond to the new demand for images of society in the public and private space and which reflected the varied fashions and customs of the different social classes. Displayed here are other small-format cabinet paintings on innovative subjects in the context of Spanish art of this period, such as Scene of a Boudoir (previously Play Rehearsal) from the Prado; The Letter from the Musée Goya in Castres; Geniani’s Shop from the Museo Lázaro Galdiano; and The Puerta del Sol from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba. In addition, paintings on rarely depicted episodes from life at the Spanish court, such as The Royal Couples and Charles III dining before the Court (both in the Prado), offer a panoramic view of different facets of contemporary society and also demonstrate the success Paret enjoyed between 1766 and 1775, the year he was exiled.

Luis Paret y Alcázar, Zebra, 1774, Black pencil, gouache brush and opaque pigment gouache (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado).

The third section presents one of the artist’s exquisite coloured drawings of birds alongside Zebra from the Prado’s collection and a private collection respectively, works executed by Paret for the Natural History Cabinet of the Infante don Luis, Charles III’s brother, who appointed Paret his painter in 1774. They reveal the artist’s ability to combine an almost scientific depiction of his subjects with landscape settings of great subtlety and refined beauty.

The fourth section focuses on Paret’s few known portraits, which are notable for their exquisite technique and personal, intimate nature. They also mark the transition between the artist’s Madrid phase and his years in Bilbao. The four known Self-portraits of around 1770–75 to 1780 reflect the painter’s powerful, self-confident personality but also his different states of mind. This is evident during his exile in Puerto Rico when he portrayed himself not just as a jíbaro or local peasant in 1776 but also in the melancholy Self-portrait in the Studio of 1777 which Paret sent to a trusted individual in Madrid, as the inscription detected by the recent X-radiograph reveals. Shown alongside these works are other portraits such as those of the artist’s wife and their daughters, compositions enhanced by complex floral ornamentation; a portrait of a typical Enlightenment gentleman (on loan from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando); and that of Antonio Sancha from the Biblioteca Nacional de España. Finally, there are compositions on the theme of motherhood, such as the small painting of The Virgin and Child from the Abelló Collection, The Orange Seller from Patrimonio Nacional, and the two floral bouquets from the Prado. Flowers were an enormously important motif in Paret’s work and one that reveals the virtuosity characteristic of all the paintings in this section.

The fifth section opens with a painting of The Circumspection of Diogenes which Paret sent from Bilbao in 1780 to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and which led to his nomination as an Academician of Merit. His subsequent enhanced reputation is evident in the large-format religious compositions that he executed in Bilbao, such as The Invention of the True Cross painted for the Gortázar family and their family chapel (private collection) and The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy for the parish church of Santa María in Larrabezúa (now in the Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro in Bilbao). These exceptionally exquisite paintings of great technical and compositional delicacy demonstrate Paret’s importance in the context of 18th-century Spanish art. Their presence in the exhibition makes it possible to appreciate his mastery in devising subjects that were unusual in the context of the day and his ability to create scenes of a monumental nature with extremely dynamic figures. Furthermore, they reveal the artist’s extensive knowledge of classical sculpture and the work of the Old Masters such as Rubens, as well as his exceptional manner of combining grandiose, classical beauty with lighter Rococo resources such as a markedly pastel palette. The juxtaposition of these works with small-format paintings and drawings on religious subjects—including The Apparition of Saint Michael to Charles VIII of France and Saint Francis of Paula (private collection), a unique subject in Spanish art—and with a number of his designs for religious monuments in Bilbao further reveals Paret’s multifaceted nature in this pictorial genre.

Luis Paret y Alcázar, Self-portrait Attired in Blue, ca. 1780, oil on paper affixed to canvas (Colección Abelló).

The next section is devoted to paintings and drawings on bucolic subjects and classical, erotic ones produced for private clients. These reveal Paret’s enormously original powers of invention, including The Triumph of Love over War from the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and the drawings of The Eclogue from the Prado, which are shown together with paintings on similar subjects from real life, albeit with a certain critical element, such as Gallant Scene of High Society and Gallant Scene of Low Life (private collection), Saying the Rosary from Patrimonio Nacional and the drawing of The Procuress and the Lovers from the Prado. The small painting of Young Woman asleep in a Hammock from the Prado establishes a connection between the two worlds through references to classical sculpture and modern society, the latter including the exoticism of the Caribbean.

The seventh section features eight of the nine currently known views of the Basque Country painted by Paret, executed for the Prince of Asturias, for private clients and as commissions for Charles III. These are now divided between museums in Spain, France, and the UK. The group constitutes a striking survey of landscape and also of the variety of society of the day, its different working and leisure activities and the region’s ports and coastline. These notably complex paintings in both technical and compositional terms are among Paret’s most important creations from his time in Bilbao. Also on display are the two fine drawings of ports in the Basque country, loaned from private collections, which reveal the artist’s masterly ability in the use of different media, such as black chalk, pen, and brush, which he employed to capture the characteristics of these landscapes and the brilliant effects of light observed in nature.

The eighth section focuses on two oils on canvas executed by the artist for the chapel of San Juan del Ramo in the church of Santa María de la Asunción in Viana: The Annunciation to Zacharias and The Visitation of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth. In these striking paintings, which are among the last produced by Paret during his Bilbao period, the remarkable quality and technical and compositional complexity achieved by the artist reaches its peak. Furthermore, they reveal the original way in which he made use of models to add liveliness and expressivity to his figures and scenes, as well as the excellent technique that he employed to describe all the details in his works with enormous naturalness and variety. Also evident is the way in which Paret applied a modern, art historian’s eye to make use of the Baroque and Neo-classical styles in order to emphasise the era of the scenes depicted. Finally, this section includes a group of excellent preparatory drawings for one of these paintings (private collection) and for the mural decoration of this chapel (Museo del Prado).

Luis Paret y Alcázar, The Oath of Allegiance to Ferdinand VII as Prince of Asturias, 1791, oil on canvas, 237 × 159 cm (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado).

Following his return to Madrid in 1789, in 1792 Paret was appointed Vice-secretary of the Academia de San Fernando and Secretary to its Architectural Committee, receiving few commissions for paintings but producing numerous drawings of beautiful scenes and figures for book illustrations and other projects. The paintings from the end of the artist’s career are displayed in this ninth section of the exhibition. They include three allegories of one of the provinces of Spain, works of enormous classical beauty which are the only ones now known from a series of ten paintings executed in 1789 for the headquarters of the Five Major Guilds in Madrid (private collection and Museo del Prado). The one in the Prado was only rediscovered five years ago and was acquired for the Museum. Finally, visitors will be able to appreciate an example of Paret’s creative process through the painting of The Oath of Allegiance to don Fernando as Prince of Asturias, its remarkable preparatory drawing in the Louvre, two preliminary drawings of details for that work (Biblioteca Nacional), and an infrared reflectograph that reveals an excellent underdrawing. Other equally important examples are shown in a video.

The exhibition closes with an unfinished painting of The Botanical Garden from the Paseo del Prado. It depicts the entrance to the garden, located close to the Museo del Prado.

This extremely comprehensive survey of Paret’s career furthers an analysis of his approach and techniques while promoting his recognition as the most important Spanish artist of the 18th century alongside Goya.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue by the curator  Gudrun Maruer with texts written by her, by other specialists, and by the technical staff of the Museo del Prado and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.

Gudrun Maurer, ed., Paret (Madrid: Prado, 2022), 288 pages, €28.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: