Past Exhibition

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Welcome to the exhibition Murillo: The Self-Portraits. I am Xavier Salomon. I'm the Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator here at the Frick Collection and I am the co-curator of the exhibition together with Letizia Treves from the National Gallery in London.

This exhibition celebrates two events. Firstly, the gift in 2014 of Murillo's self-portrait from the Frick family to the Frick Collection. This is the painting that you see to your right at the end of the room. It's a painting that was acquired by Henry Clay Frick in 1904, and remained within the family collection for about 100 years until Mrs. Henry Clay Frick II generously donated the work to The Frick Collection in 2014.

We celebrated the arrival of this work with a restoration campaign, and with the acquisition of a new frame for the painting. But we also decided that it made sense to reunite this work with the only other known self-portrait by Murillo, a later work from the National Gallery in London, which you can see on your left at the end of the opposite room.

If you're facing Murillo's signature, you can see the two self-portraits on your left and your right together. This is the first time they're brought together since 1709. The exhibition also celebrates the 400th anniversary of Murillo's birth. He was baptized on the 1st of January 1618, in the Church of the Magdalena in Seville, and this means that he was probably born in the last few days of the December 1617. So throughout 2017 and 2018, New York, London, and Seville will celebrate this important anniversary for one of the greatest artists who lived in the golden age of painting in 17th-century Spain.

If you turn right, you enter the first room of the exhibition where we've assembled a group of works to create a context around the first self-portrait. If you go to the self-portrait, this is the key work in this room, and this is the first of the two self-portraits by Murillo that the exhibition focuses on. You look at this image, and if you did not read the inscription in red at the bottom of the canvas, you would never guess that this man is an artist. He is shown, pretty much, as a great aristocrat of the day. He has rich clothes, the wonderful black outfit and the white shirt, and this stiff white Spanish collar usually known as golilla, which was typical of the aristocracy of the day. Murillo looks proudly out of the canvas at us. He is in his mid-thirties, and this was painted, probably, in the 1650s.

The conception behind this work is extraordinary. Around Murillo is this unbelievable stone, fictive frame. It's in fact a block of stone, marble, that is chipped and battered, and that sits on another stone ledge below. The effect would have been even more extraordinary to begin with. Technical analysis that was undertaken on the picture at the Metropolitan Museum shows that the whole section at the top and right, that is now a darkish brown color, was originally, probably, a blue color that deteriorated with time. So the effect would have been of this block sitting outdoors in the open.

The inscription at the bottom tells us that this is a portrait of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, who is a famous painter born in Seville, and who died in Seville on the 3rd of April, 1682. The inscription was clearly added in the 17th century, probably soon after Murillo's death. It's not original to the painting when it was first conceived.

This is a remarkable work, and the exhibition tries to bring around it various works that help us understand this extraordinary image. First of all, the portrait was one of the key images of Murillo throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. This was in prominent collections in Madrid, in Paris, and London throughout that whole period, and was a very well-known portrait.

If you turn to the immediate right, you can see two works on paper hanging together close to each other. On the left is the very first print after Murillo's self-portrait, the Frick one. This is signed and dated 1790 by a man called Manuel Alegre. At that time, the self-portrait belonged to a collector, Bernardo de Iriarte, who had links to the Academia of San Fernando in Madrid, and decided to lend the painting to the Academy so that artists like Alegre could copy the work. The print, produced in 1790, was what made Alegre win a prize for his work at the Academy.

To the immediate right is a drawing, almost identical to the engraving, and this is likely to have been a preparatory drawing for the engraving. Showing them together, you can see part of the process of creating a drawing like this in preparation for this very specific engraving. But already in the early 19th century, this was a celebrated image, and the most famous period in the life of the self-portrait was the ten years it spent in Paris as part of the Galerie Espagnole, the collection of paintings belonging to King Louis Philippe at the Louvre in Paris.

On the opposite side of the self-portrait, to the left, towards the corner, is another print, this is an engraving, an etching, by French artist Auguste Blanchard, which was produced around 1842 when the painting was in the Galerie Espagnole. This is a very accomplished work on paper. It's a great print, and one of the most monumental ones after the self-portrait. It really shows us how well known and celebrated this work was at that date.

In the middle of the room is a vitrine, and in this vitrine you will see a selection of four books. These four books push this point further. They're a selection of books from the 1860s until 1907, starting with William Stirling-Maxwell's Annals of the Artist of Spain, which was published in London in 1848, and going all the way to Albert Calvert's biography of Murillo of 1907, through books published in 1869 and 1882.

These are books on Spanish art, or biographies of Murillo, and what you can see immediately is that every time Murillo was discussed, we are in an age that is pre-photography or where photography is beginning to develop, the image of the artist was represented by engravings or prints after the same self-portrait. So you have to imagine that for about 200 years, the Frick self-portrait was really the official image of Murillo in Europe. If you step back from the vitrine and look at the books and then look again at the prints and the self-portrait, you can see this incredible group of works together, which really witness the importance of the Frick self-portrait.

The other paintings in this room are here seen for the very first time together. All three paintings were restored especially for the exhibition in Madrid or in London, and they are remarkable examples of Murillo's portraiture in the 1650s and probably early 1660s.

Let's start with the painting on the left. This is a portrait of a man called Juan de Saavedra, and it's signed by Murillo and dated 1650. You immediately see that, again, the portrait is surrounded by a stone frame, very similar in many ways to the one in the self-portrait, but much more decorated and complicated as a design. The portrait of Saavedra is set in an oval surrounded by fictive palm branches. At the top, two putti, two little children, are holding the Saavedra coat of arms and two tablets. The tablet on the right reads the year 1650, gives us the date of the portrait. The one on the left gives us the age of the sitter, 29 years old.

Saavedra, again, is shown in black, in a very expensive outfit, again with a golilla collar. He is very proud, clearly, of belonging to the order of Santiago, one of the most important chivalric orders in Spain at the time. The red cross of Santiago is embroidered on his proper left shoulder. He has a pendant at the front of his chest, with a shell and the cross of Santiago, again, on it, one of the symbols of St. James, the saint to whom the order was dedicated. If you look at the top, the coat of arms is also set below a crown and against a cross of Santiago, which is just behind it.

The inscription in Latin below tells us everything we know about this portrait and its relationship to Murillo. Juan de Saavedra was an officer in the Spanish Inquisition at the time, praised in this inscription for his particular skill and cruelty towards heretics as part of this office. More cheerfully, he was also interested in the arts, and he was a friend of Murillo's. So the portrait is dedicated by Murillo to Saavedra for his interest in the liberal arts.

Where did an idea for a frame like this, for a stone frame like this, come from? There are no portraits, no images from this period, by other artists who show anything similar to this. The idea must have come from works on paper. If you go to your immediate left, you can see a very large print, which relates quite closely to Murillo's portrait of Saavedra. This is a work from about 25 years earlier. It was printed in 1626, and it shows Gaspar de Guzmán, the Count-Duke of Olivares. This is an extraordinary object. It was created by Paulus Pontius, who was a great engraver at the time in Flanders. He engraved various things after Van Dyck, especially, but this is based on the design of two of the greatest artists, painters, of the 17th century.

The portrait of Olivares is based on a design by Velázquez. The surrounds, with the complicated frame and the allegorical figure, is based on a design by Rubens. This specific example of the print is very rare, because it's the only one that's known that is unfinished. You can see entire areas of the white paper left untouched at the bottom of the armor of Olivares, and the background, in parts of the plants on the left, the star at the top. So this is a working object, before the print was completed. It belonged to the art historian Leo Steinberg, and it's on loan here from the National Gallery in Washington. It just represents a very curious example of work-in-progress for these extraordinary works on paper.

Olivares is surrounded, also, by a fictive stone frame with palm branches exactly like Saavedra, but there are also trumpets and torches to celebrate his fame, and two winged figures that hold attributes of ancient mythological figures that relate to the sitter in the print. The one on the left has a shield with the head of Medusa, holds a spear in his right hand, and behind him there is an owl. These are all symbols relating to Minerva. While the figure on the right has the club and lion skin that belong to Hercules. So Hercules represents strength, Minerva is wisdom. This print is telling us that Olivares was a man both strong and wise.

It is also a remarkably large print, and when you think of monumental objects like this, you understand where Murillo got the idea from for his Saavedra. If you step back and look at both objects together, you realize that there are many links between these two objects. Prints were incredibly common in Seville in the 17th century. They were frontispieces of books, loose sheets like this, and Murillo would have had access to many of these by both Spanish artists and Northern artists. I think these are one of the great objects that he would have looked at when thinking about his self-portrait and many of these other portraits.

On the opposite side of the room, on the left, there is another portrait, very similar to the one of Saavedra. This is another aristocrat from Seville from around that time, a man named Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga, who was an aristocrat but also an intellectual. Ortiz de Zúñiga wrote the great history and many volumes of Seville from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. Here he is probably in his early twenties, again, like Saavedra he was knight of Santiago. You will recognize the cross, again, on his left shoulder, on the pendant at the center of his chest, and, again, behind the fictive coat of arms at the top of the painting in the frame.

Ortiz de Zúñiga looks out at us surrounded by an even more extraordinary stone frame. The two putti that you had in Saavedra seems to have stepped down and are holding this frame from the bottom in a very curious way. The design of this whole frame is absolutely amazing. This is a picture from a private collection in the United Kingdom. It was also cleaned for the exhibition, and it is the first that it's seen together with the Saavedra. You can compare very similar solutions in terms of composition between these two pictures.

The smaller painting to the right is also a new discovery. This appeared on the market in 2009 in Europe, and was acquired by a private collector. It was sold as an anonymous Spanish work, but technical analysis points to the fact that this is very likely a work by Murillo, and stylistically the painting fits with his work from the 1650s, probably the middle of the decade. This was cut down. You can see on the left that the oval stone frame around it is not as wide as on the other sides. We're not entirely sure how much this was cut down. It may have had a much more complicated frame, or it may have just had a simple stone oval frame around it and was just slightly larger. We don't know.

We also don't know who the sitter is. While Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga and Juan de Saavedra have been identified, this boy remains mysterious, because of the lack of provenance and because of no description of this work in the 17th century. We wonder if it's one of Murillo's own children. In the 1650s, two of his boys would have been the right age. But we know that both of them died at a very young age, so we don't know if they were ever even portrayed by Murillo. But the outfit, again, points to an aristocrat. And the long hair, the golilla collar, the black coat, makes us think that this is more likely to be an aristocrat from Seville. It shows that Murillo, in the 1650s, was painting and portraying many of these aristocrats in the city of different ages in very similar ways.

The last object in this room, the drawing towards the door, is a reminder that Murillo also painted wonderful full-length portraits. Of course, they don't fit in this exhibition because of their size, but also because the two self-portraits are both half-length. So I decided, as a curator, to focus on the smaller paintings, on the half-length, and almost all of them, by Murillo, are gathered together in this show for the first time.

There are about seven or eight full-length portraits by him, and this is a preparatory drawing for one of them. There are about five surviving drawings by Murillo for portraits, three are sketches of heads, two are overall compositions like this one. This was probably a quick sketch done for a patron to show him how his portrait would have looked like. The man is standing holding a hat in his right hand, and on the background there's a curtain and a column. We do not know of any paintings that relate directly to this. The portrait is either lost or was never painted, but this is just a small reminder that portraits like this existed. If you want to see two spectacular ones, you can go across 5th Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they have two incredibly wonderful full-length portraits by Murillo in their Spanish galleries.

This whole room focuses, really, on the first part of Murillo's career in Seville in the 1650s and early '60s. In 1658, Murillo traveled to Madrid, and that is the only known trip he did outside of Seville. He was there, probably, for a short time, but he met Velázquez and Zurbarán and Alonso Cano. He also saw the great old masters by Titian and Raphael in the Royal Collection in Madrid.

He was back in Seville at the end of 1658. As we move into the next room, we walk down the corridor towards the London self-portrait, we move in time well into the 1660s and the 1670s. This was a time when Murillo's career was at its apex in Seville. When you look at the London self-portrait, directly in front of you, you're looking at a different man from the one in the Frick self-portrait. About 20 years have gone by, we're now in the 1670s, and what you're looking at is the most important and prominent painter active in Seville at the time.

Other great painters from Seville like Zurbarán and Velázquez had actually moved away from their birthplace earlier on. Murillo was born in the city and lived there for all of his life. At this point, he was painting for the great aristocrats of the city, for the great religious institutions. He is, obviously, portraying himself as a great artist of the day. This time, he's surrounded by the tools of the trade.

On the left, on the shelf, is a piece of paper. And if you look closely enough, you can see the leg of a man. This is probably an academic study, in red chalk, of a nude figure. Below, beneath the piece of paper, is a wooden ruler. On top of it, compass and a chalk holder with a piece of red chalk on the left, that Murillo must have just used to finish this drawing, and a piece of black chalk on the opposite side. On the right, instead, is his wooden palette and his brushes. If you look at the palette, you realize that the colors on it, white, ochre, red, black, are actually the same colors he used to paint the self-portrait.

You have a stone frame again, a very elaborate stone frame, like the Saavedra and the Ortiz de Zúñiga ones, with, again, an inscription below it. This identifies Murillo. It says that it is a portrait of Bartolome Murillo painted by himself, but it also tells us that it was painted to fulfill the wishes and prayers of his children.

By this point, Murillo was a widower. His wife, Beatrice, has died, and out of his nine children only four are still alive. His only daughter, who lived at the time, had joined a convent. She had become a nun in 1668, and the three boys, José, Gaspar, and Gabriel, were the ones that lived at the end of Murillo's life and survived into adulthood. One of them moved to the new world and died, probably, in Mexico. Another one died as young man in Seville. And only Gaspar really survived Murillo and continued the family after Murillo's death. He was a canon of the Cathedral of Seville. As a canon he did not marry, and when he died in 1709 the Murillo family effectively finished.

Gaspar was the man who owned both self-portraits, and the inventory at his death in 1709 is the last witness to the two self-portraits being together. It is clear that both images were done for Murillo's own family, for his children, and were kept religiously by Gaspar in his house as memories of his famous father.

The remarkable element of the self-portrait is Murillo's right hand, which is projecting out of the stone frame in this incredible trompe l'oeil effect. He is sort of reaching out to us, to the viewer, in a very interesting way. To the left of the self-portrait is a print, and this is the earliest print after the London self-portrait. It was produced in 1682 by an engraver called Richard Collin in Brussels. The inscription at the bottom of the print tells us that this was created in 1682 by Collin, but also it reports the inscription dedicating this self-portrait to Murillo's children.

There are a few changes. The oval shape of the frame is slightly different. The still life of the artist's objects have been removed, and the hand is not projecting out of the frame anymore. But this was produced to commemorate Murillo just after his death in 1682. The print, the inscription, tells us that the print was commissioned by a man called Nicolás Omazur, a merchant from Antwerp.

Omazur was a great friend of Murillo's, and if you look to your right on the other wall, you see his portrait holding a skull. This is Omazur himself portrayed by Murillo in 1672. Nicolás Omazur was a Flemish merchant, a silk merchant, who had moved to Antwerp in the 1660s. He quickly became close to Murillo. By the time he died in 1698, he owned almost 200 paintings, 30 of which were by Murillo. He was an active patron and collector of Murillo's work, and he was portrayed together with his wife in pendant portraits that were made at the time of their marriage in 1672. Unfortunately, we were not able to borrow the portrait of his wife, Isabel Malcampo, but we are able to show the portrait of Omazur from the Prado.

Again, Omazur is set in a stone frame, but this is simpler than the others because this picture was substantially cut down at some point in the 18th century. We know from the original inventory of Omazur's collection that this painting was originally exactly the same size as the self-portrait. If you step back and you look at the two, you realize how much of this portrait has been cut down. We know from early descriptions that it had inscriptions in Latin at the top and bottom. If you get close to the portrait, you can see at the very bottom of it, the beginning of a scroll at the bottom of the frame. That suggests that there was a cartouche there at some point with one of these inscriptions.

The corners of the painting have been heavily repainted, and so we don't know what the original stone frame looked like exactly. But we know from descriptions what the text said, and there were two Latin inscriptions from the Bible celebrating the Trinity and talking about the vanitas themes. The longer inscription at the very bottom reported that this was a portrait of Omazur by Murillo painted in 1672, but it also talks to us, the viewer, addresses us, telling us that this is not only a portrait of Omazur, but also a portrait of death, and us the viewers will become that skull that he's holding in his hands. All of us human beings will one day go back into the womb of the earth. This is a remarkable Northern tradition of vanitas paintings, which Omazur as a Northern patron probably asked for to have in his portrait painted by Murillo.

The stone frames in Omazur's portrait and in the Murillo self-portrait, but also if you look back at the Frick self-portrait, are very much interesting elements of these paintings, and link them to the concept of antiquity as well. Seville in the 17th century was one of the great centers of Europe, but it was also the only major city in Spain that had an important classical past. It was built on the ruins of the ancient city of Hispalis, and many ancient remnants were to be found around where Murillo lived. We know that Murillo was interested in ancient coins. He owned some of them, and he no doubt knew about some of these archeological finds around him.

The portraits, in a way, look back to ancient times. The city of Hispalis was very close, also, to the city of Italica, which is only about half an hour drive from Seville. That was one of the greatest centers of the Roman Empire where Trajan and Hadrian, two of the famous emperors, were born in the city.

In the self-portraits and in these portraits, Murillo is therefore looking back at the past and setting, in a way, these portraits, these figures, in stone. Almost to suggest that they're part of a long tradition of portraiture, and that their effigies are very much a thing of the past. But at the same time, he's looking at the future, and he's reaching out, in the same way that the hand in the self-portrait reaches out to us, he is playing with the surface of the picture as a possibility for a pictorial representation.

The last two works in the exhibition, if you turn 'round, you find them in front of you and on the left, are actually not portraits, but they're great works by Murillo which represent his interest in this breaking of boundaries and this playing with the surface and with the viewer. The two women at the window, the larger of the two pictures from the National Gallery in Washington, it's an earlier work probably from around 1660, and it depicts the space defined by a life size window. There is a ledge at the bottom and a shutter which has been opened, or maybe closed, on the left.

Two women come out of the darkness of the room, presumably, into our space, and they confront us boldly from the painting. The two women have been identified in the past as servants, as gallegas, which are women from Galicia, an area in the northwest of Spain where women would travel to the larger cities of Madrid and Seville and worked as servants in large households. But it has also been suggested that these two women may in fact be prostitutes. No aristocratic woman of the age would show herself at a window or in such poor and, frankly, rather open dresses.

The two women wear identical dresses. You can see that they both have red skirts, and the white shirt with the rolled up sleeves is probably identical for both women. The woman on the left has been identified in some of the literature as an older woman, but in fact her skin is darker because she's represented in shadow and probably, also, this part of this picture has suffered more than the other. So she appears to look older, but she's probably meant to be a young girl like her companion.

She's covering her face, or maybe uncovering it, with a veil, and both of them are provocatively looking out at the viewer, out at us. We don't know what a picture like this was painted for, who it was painted for, and how it would have been displayed. But clearly it's meant to play with this idea of space and the idea of reality and fiction. It would have been even more impressive in the 17th century, when people would have recognized these outfits as contemporary outfits. Imagine these girls today in jeans and a t-shirt. That would have been the effect that they would have had on viewers.

The idea that they are prostitutes may be linked, also, to a Spanish proverb that reads, "women at a window are like the grapes of a street." So the idea that if you see a girl looking out at you at the window she can be picked like a grape, and a grape, in this case, from the streets of the city of Madrid.

On the left is smaller picture of a young boy, and this is a boy, also, in poor clothes. He's clearly a street urchin, and he is leaning on a stone ledge out into our space. This picture may have had a very different effect, originally, when paired with its companion piece, which also, unfortunately, cannot be included in the exhibition. But the other picture of the same size, shows a girl very much like the two girls in the Washington picture, wearing exactly the same outfit and removing a veil. So the boy is smiling at this beautiful encounter he's made of this beautiful girl showing him her features. Again, the two pictures would have played with the idea of breaking the boundaries of the frame of the pictures, and the two figures interacting across a real space out of the paintings.

The whole room is really designed to give you a sense of how much Murillo's interested in these games of space and breaking the pictorial boundaries of a two dimensional surface. I like to imagine that when we leave this room, Murillo, Omazur, the girls, the boy, all leap out of the frames and have a real life in this room, only to re-enter the frames as soon as we walk into the room. That is very much the effect that I think Murillo wanted to give us.

Murillo painted these self-portraits and these portraits for posterity. The self-portraits were probably done for his children, but are really meant for future generations, not only of his family, but also for us. In April 1682, while he was painting in the Capuchin Church in Cádiz, Murillo fell from the scaffolding and hurt himself, and died a few days later in his house in Madrid.

The portraits show what Murillo looked like to us, and commemorate his features and his incredible accomplishments. I really cannot think of a better way to celebrate his 400th birthday than by remembering him through these incredible, extraordinary works that he painted for us and for future generations to admire.