Curator: Javier Barón, Head of the Department of 19th-century Painting
For the first time since its acquisition in 2011, the Museo del Prado is displaying a previously unpublished and unique work of its kind by Genaro Pérez Villaamil (El Ferrol, 1807 – Madrid, 1854), the leading and most influential Spanish Romantic landscape painter. The work in question is Diptych with 42 Views of Spanish Cities, comprising 42 views mounted in a frame with pointed arches in the English Gothic Revival taste. The work was created around 1835 to 1839 for the British ambassador in Spain, George Villiers, subsequently the Earl of Clarendon.
Following its complete restoration, sponsored by Fundación Iberdrola, the Diptych can now be seen in the “Nineteenth-century collections presentation gallery”, which is Room 60 of the Villanueva Building. It is shown alongside other paintings, watercolours and drawings by Pérez Villaamil, in addition to two volumes of lithographs from La España artística y monumental, the monumental publishing project directed by the artist, and two paintings by his master David Roberts. Together these works provide the context for an artist essential for a complete understanding of Spanish Romanticism.
In 2011 in London, the Museo del Prado acquired this previously unpublished group of 42 views of Spanish cities, the majority depicting Seville and Toledo. Unique within the context of Spanish landscape painting, they were executed by Genaro Pérez Villaamil, the leading Spanish landscape painter of the Romantic period.
The Diptych was painted around 1835 to 1839 for the British ambassador in Spain, George Villiers, subsequently the Earl of Clarendon, who assembled the largest group of works by Villaamil during his time there.
In order to fully reveal the quality of Villaamil’s work and his focus on Romantic landscape, the exhibition also includes various paintings, watercolours and drawings by the artist as well as two views by David Roberts. Selected from works in the Prado’s collection, this group also includes two volumes of lithographs from La España artística y monumental, a major publishing project directed by Villaamil.
Diptych with 42 Views of Spanish Cities
This previously unpublished group of works produced between 1835 and 1839 comprises 42 views painted on tin plates and assembled by the artist as a diptych with each side terminating in simple, pointed arches supported on columns, resulting in a unique work within the context of Spanish Romanticism.
The views are remarkable examples of Villaamil’s use of oil when painting outdoors from life, as he normally only used this medium in his studio. They reveal his ability to depict interiors and exteriors of buildings, some of which are already in ruins and would soon disappear. These views also demonstrate his skill in working directly in oil and brush on tin plate, applying superimposed layers of very dilute pigment, than adding final touches to create highlights on the complex ornamental details of the Mudéjar and Gothic buildings, which are the two prevailing architectural styles in these scenes.
The views in the Diptych anticipate Villaamil’s subsequent focus on the depiction of historic buildings and monuments, which led him to become artistic director of La España artística y monumental (1842-1850), a publishing project for which he supplied drawings and watercolours for reproduction as lithographs. The compositions and viewpoints of those works are closely related to some of the present views, as the lithographs on display reveal.
When restoring the Diptych, the Museum has benefited from the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola in its capacity as Benefactor Member of the Museo del Prado’s Restoration Programme.
The fact that the views arrived at the Museum in their original state, without any later restorations, made it possible to appreciate that the aging of the original varnish and the accumulation of surface dirt had completely altered the chromatic values of a work more than 170 years old.
The most distinctive feature of Villaamil’s Diptych is the use of tin-plated steel plates as a support, giving the views a mirror-like appearance. Tin plates, which the artist frequently employed for commissions of this kind painted directly from life, were also used by Goya. However, subsequent generations of Spanish landscape painters, such as Carlos de Haes, Fortuny and Martín Rico, preferred to use small, light wooden panels, asthe metal’s non-absorbent nature determines the pictorial effects that can be achieved.
Tin plates are a type of support suitable for painting from life as they are light and easy to transport and store. A preparation has to be applied to the metal to allow the pigment to be absorbed. In this case, Villaamil used an oily paint of a light, slightly ochre tone that helped him to achieve effects of light. Over this layer he approximately established the composition and the distribution of the areas of shade, then completed the scene in oil with such mastery that he achieved effects comparable to drawing or watercolour.
The defect of tin platesis their fragility and susceptibility to damp. However, the fact that these views have been extremely well mounted since the time of their creation has meant that they remain in excellent condition.
The pictorial resources used by the artist, particularly the red lake glazes, complicated the recent cleaning process. This fact, together with the unique nature of the metal supports, necessitated the use of different materials and procedures to those habitually employed for oil on canvas.