One of the most celebrated painters of the Spanish Golden Age, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo worked primarily in Seville, where he was born in December 1617, until his death in 1682. Well known for his religious paintings and his extraordinary depictions of street urchins, he was also an ingenious painter of portraits. This genre remains, however, the least studied aspect of his work. Inspired by the self-portraits in their holdings, New York’s Frick Collection and London’s National Gallery co-organized a 2017–18 show that marked the 400th anniversary of this great artist’s birth. Murillo: The Self-Portraits opened at the Frick from November 1, 2017, through February 11, 2018, and moved on to the London institution for a showing from February 28 through May 21, 2018. The exhibition was jointly organized by the Frick’s Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon and Letizia Treves, Curator of Later Italian, Spanish, and French 17th-Century Paintings, National Gallery.
In 1682, an inventory of the possessions of Gaspar Murillo, the painter’s son, lists the following: “Item. Another canvas of the portrait of Don Bartholome Murillo with its legend below and its frame completely gilded at three hundred reales. Item. Another portrait canvas of said Don Bartholome Murillo made by his own hand of a bar and a third with its frame of gilded adornments and half a cane bid on at three-hundred and seventy and five reales.” These two self-portraits are the only known images of the painter by his own hand. The first one, recently acquired by The Frick Collection, was painted about 1650–55, while the second, now in The National Gallery, London, is from about 1670. The two portraits have not been seen together since at least the early eighteenth century.
To provide context to these canvases, the exhibition featured a group of fifteen other works on loan from international private and public collections. These included paintings of other sitters by Murillo, as well as later reproductions of the two paintings that reflect their fame in Europe. A catalogue published by the Frick in association with Yale University Press investigates the history of the two paintings and their prestigious provenances in France and England.
Commented Xavier F. Salomon, “As an American collector, Henry Clay Frick had a particular taste for Spanish painting, which is reflected today in our galleries. In 2014, Mrs. Henry Clay Frick II gave the museum the first of these paintings acquired by Mr. Frick, Murillo’s Self-Portrait. We have subsequently enjoyed uniting it with works he purchased in the early years of the twentieth century, masterpieces by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. The painting was also sent to the conservation department of the Metropolitan Museum so that it could undergo conservation and its first major technical study. We look forward to sharing those findings, through an exhibition that will reintroduce our important acquisition with new audiences in both New York and London.”
Principal funding for the New York exhibition is provided by an anonymous gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden.
Additional support is generously provided by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Marianna and Juan Sabater, the families of George and Michael Eberstadt in memory of Vera and Walter Eberstadt, Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Horvitz, Aso O. Tavitian, Helen-Mae and Seymour R. Askin, and the Spain Tourism Board, Consulate General of Spain in New York. The accompanying catalogue is underwritten by Colnaghi.