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19 junio 2024

Painting in Aragon between the XVII and XX centuries: Goya and much more

The weight of the genius of Fuendetodos is evident in the pictorial field, not only in Aragon, but also in the universal one. However, this territory has been the cradle of great artists, beyond Goya, who make up a legacy with names such as Francisco Pradilla or Bayeu himself.

When approaching a subject such as Aragonese painting from the 17th to the 20th century, it is inevitable that the tremendous weight of a giant like Francisco de Goya marks a large part of the story. His influence on universal painting is well recognized and, of course, was reflected in his fellow artists. However, the richness of the legacy of Aragonese painting transcends the genius of Fuendetodos with names that, influenced or not by his work, maintain their own personality.

And, before Goya, the Aragonese territory already provided the world with outstanding figures. In fact, for the Zaragozan painter Eduardo Laborda, in this territory there were artists “of the first order, always”. Thus, he recalls that the Crown of Aragon became a “world power” and had Mediterranean territories under its dominions, even in Italy.

However, in order not to extend this article too much, his chronological review will begin in the 17th century, with the Baroque Jusepe Martínez (Zaragoza, 1600-1682), a friend of another universal genius like Velázquez, who was appointed painter to the king “ad honorem”, and whose works include some like Santa Cecilia, which is kept in the Museum of Zaragoza.

Continuing with baroque authors, it is the turn of José Luzán (1710-1785), master of Francisco Bayeu and Goya himself. His two disciples, by the way, would end up being related, as the latter married Josefa, Francisco’s sister. The latter, in turn, held the position of painter of the Court, a position also occupied by the author of the black paintings.

The Genius Arrives

With Goya, Laborda is clear in assessing his weight in Aragonese painting: “Everything,” he stresses. “He has been the figure around which a good part of Aragonese art has revolved,” says the artist, who notes that his influence reaches well into the twentieth century, in authors like Santiago Lagunas. “Those dark, earthy colors tried to be Goyaesque, imitating Goya’s black paintings chromatically,” he describes.

In fact, that tremendous gravitational field of his legacy, for Laborda “has been, in some ways, negative, because it has hidden everything else”. In that sense, he recalls that Aragonese painting “has always been luminous” and that the strength of the black paintings, “one of the peaks of the history of art”, disrupted the subsequent pictorial path. “Everyone has gone to look like something and has always imitated not the bright, like the tapestries; they have almost all gone to the dark,” he evaluates.

The path through the pictorial art of Aragon continues with Valentín Carderera (1796-1880), from Alto Aragon, an outstanding portraitist, painter of the Court of Isabel II and who followed in the footsteps of Goya, although he never coincided with him. He also promoted the creation of the Museum of Huesca, by donating works from his collection to the center.

In his review, Laborda also vindicates other figures who moved in the margins of painting and other expressions, such as the draftsman and journalist Agustín Peiró (1835-1905) or “the king of the poster”, Marcelino de Unceta (1835-1905), a great figure of bullfighting posters together with the lithographer Eduardo Portabella, who was also in charge of works such as the curtain of the Teatro Principal in Zaragoza.

An artist with his own personality

After him comes another of the great names in Aragonese painting, Francisco Pradilla (1848-1921). “Pradilla has his own personality”, Laborda affirms about the artist from Villanueva de Gállego, although he also observes some possible Goyaesque influence. However, he considers that he does not take it directly, “but from English and French painting” and from the influence of Italy, since both enjoyed stays in that country, which had a significant influence on them.

For the expert, in turn, Pradilla “greatly influenced Spanish painting, more than he is recognized”, with an influence in his work, on the other hand very powerful of Galicia, where his wife was and the place where he went to spend his days off.

About this artist, author of works such as Juana la Loca or La Rendición de Granada, Laborda also highlights his connection with aqueous atmospheres. “He is looking for water, humidity”, he insists about a Pradilla who, by the way, gave his first brushstrokes linked to another outstanding name, the Aragonese scenographer Mariano Pescador.

Of this painter also highlights his relationship with another great, Mariano Fortuny, a “key figure in European painting”, of whom he was one of the people he trusted and who also marked another of the important names in the Aragonese environment, Mariano Barbasán (1864-1824).

This costumbrista author, whose work also had symbolist overtones and was a friend of Sorolla -in fact, he studied at the Valencian Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos- stands out for his work as a landscape painter and for the way he recreates “totally Mediterranean” environments.

Laborda does not forget in his explanation the name of María Luisa de la Riva (1859-1926), one of the most important artists of the 19th century, specialized in still lifes and floral representations. “She triumphed in Paris,” Laborda emphasizes about this painter, who had an interesting social life in that city and turned her home into “a cultural center” where other Spanish painters who were in the French capital attended her gatherings.

Twentieth century: the dawn of change

Already framed in the second half of the 19th century, Laborda’s account stops at the costumbrista painter born in Albalate del Arzobispo (Teruel) Juan José Gárate (1869-1939), with well-known works such as his Copla Alusiva.

And, beyond painters born in Aragon, the expert also recalls others who, although from abroad, developed a good part of their work in this territory. This is the case of the Riojan Ángel Díaz Domínguez (1878-1952), a “very important character”, who was “Zuloaga‘s protégé” and whose time in Zaragoza can be seen in, for example, the decoration of the Casino Mercantil.

After him, well into the twentieth century, Laborda observes the “tremendous change” that began to experience the pictorial field, not only in Aragon, but worldwide. For the expert, it was in the 1920s that globalization began, reflected in the exchange of ideas that led, for example, to the proliferation of illustrated publications at the international level. A rupture that will be the subject of the next article of this special on Aragon.

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