All nine Spanish paintings in The Frick Collection are displayed in this room. In the sixteenth century, the art of the Iberian Peninsula mainly looked to foreign examples, in particular, Flemish and Italian ones. The earliest artist represented in this room—Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco (the Greek Man)—was actually born and trained on the Greek island of Crete, which was then part of the Republic of Venice. As a young man, he traveled to Italy; after almost a decade there, he moved to Toledo, in Spain, where he spent the rest of his life. There he developed the imaginative style so esteemed by twentieth-century artists.
In the seventeenth century, Spanish painters gained increasing social prestige, as epitomized by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s stylish self-portrait—a recent gift of Dr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick II—in which the painter is shown as an aristocrat. Like Murillo, Velázquez was born and trained in Seville, in southern Spain. He later moved to Madrid, where he became the preeminent court artist of King Philip IV. Velázquez’s portrait of the king, victorious after one of his uncommon military successes, exemplifies the artist’s extraordinary painterly technique. Of all the paintings in Henry Clay Frick’s collection, this portrait is believed to have been his favorite.
The Frick’s four paintings by Goya—all displayed on one wall of this room—herald a new, modern sensibility in Spanish art. Goya is the painter of the imaginary, of human experience and desperation. His Forge, a dispassionate depiction of metal workers, must have held strong, if complex, resonance for Frick, the steel magnate who famously suppressed the violent labor dispute in Pittsburgh known as the Homestead Strike.