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Saturday, January 28, 2023

American Travelers in Spain and Mexico: The Hispanic Society’s Splendid Watercolor Collection


Serra Chapel (2020-2021) by Timothy J Clark.

Like the European romantic travelers who set off big tour The American artists who visited Spain and Latin America a century ago created a dreamy and misleading image of the East, projecting a vision halfway between folklore and exoticism. Mostly following their interest in Joaquín Sorolla, whose work they became acquainted with thanks to the Hispanic Society, a whole generation of artists, brushes drawn, traveled to the most popular places in Spain, Portugal and Mexico, leaving to posterity thousands of drawings and watercolors, of which part can be seen in the exhibition until October 16th American travellers: a tour of the watercolors of Spain, Portugal and Mexico.

Of the very rich holdings of the Centennial Hispanic Society, the collection of drawings and watercolors is one of the least known, although it brings together nearly 7,000 pieces. The exhibition at the institution’s New York headquarters, which juxtaposes a hundred watercolors of various decorative arts of the time (enamel, ceramics, textiles), also includes an artistic plus: examples from the work of Timothy J. Clark (1951), the only living author on display and one of the few contemporaries in the museum’s permanent collection. Clark’s work, although late by more than a century, affirms a devotion to the landscape and architecture of places that once captivated travelers. romanticalthough the definition does not exactly fit the temporal and stylistic notions established in Europe for such a cultural and artistic movement.

Since the days of Washington Irving, who published today’s classic in 1829 Tales from the AlhambraSpain has fascinated American authors. John Singer Sargent, for example, painted in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid and in Granada. Other 19th-century American painters such as William Merritt Chase, Harry Humphrey Moore and Mary Cassatt, as well as younger artists such as Childe Hassam and Robert Henri, traveled to Spain as an integral part of their artistic development, those formative years previously spent traveling. When the Hispanic Society Museum and Library opened its doors in 1908, its collections became a source of inspiration for American artists interested in the exotic and distant Iberian Peninsula, as well as several Latin American countries, particularly Mexico. A year later, the large exhibition dedicated to Sorolla at the institution’s headquarters finally convinced contemporaries of the interest of these places, which soon became an open-air canvas, an impressive field research.

The “Cathedral of Puebla” (2020) by Timothy Clark.

“The idea for this exhibition arose from my study of the works of Childe Hassam in our collection and the recognition of the role Hassam’s visit to the 1909 Sorolla exhibition at the Hispanic Society played in his return to Spain a year later. explains Marcus B. Burke, curator of the exhibition and emeritus of the Hispanic Society. “The result was a remarkable series of works that were exhibited at the 2004 Hassam retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum [de Nueva York], documented a remarkable array of Hispanic influences on one of America’s greatest artists. Also crucial is a remarkable series of small oil sketches, so-called pocket panels, which Max Kühne made around 1920; Kühne had also been inspired by the Hispanic Society collections.”

A decade after Hassam’s anthology in New York when the exhibition Sorolla and America When California artist Timothy J. Clark landed in San Diego in 2014, he found a source of inspiration in the places and characters the Valencian painter portrayed and, like Hassam and Kuehne before him, returned to tour Spain, the he knew before as a tourist – and later Mexico, with the impression of Sorolla in his gaze and above all in his formal search for light. From an aesthetic point of view, his large-format watercolors, such as the night picture of Plasencia (Cáceres) or the oratorio of Serra de México, seem to be the natural continuation of those watercolorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, for the Americans, discovered such remote landscapes as public distant civilization and at that time somewhat neglected by the cultural and artistic currents that were popular in the world.

Curator Burke’s contact with Clark led him “to rediscover our collection of 6,800 drawings and watercolors, a very pleasant surprise, for it is an enormous treasure trove of great works of art by American artists now little known or remembered , who had all visited Spain. with prior knowledge of the Hispanic Society and its collections,” adds the curator of the exhibition. A century later, this work considered minor watercolors as a form and format in contrast to stars of oil in one of the temporary exhibitions with which the venerable Hispanic Society is warming up for its final reopening after years of reform.

California native Clark mixes English, his native language; Italian, the language of his ancestors, and Spanish, which he learned on his travels through Spain and Latin America to explain the fine details of his paintings. “In the night view of Plasencia [una de las obras magnas de la muestra] The role of light is fundamental. What is irrelevant as a passage between buildings in daylight acquires an almost magical aura at night due to the effect of light,” he explained recently in front of the large watercolour. over another, Serra Chapel, painted between 2020 and 2021, the author also emphasizes the role of the light that falls through a latticework in the oratory, the state of preservation of which seems mediated by the passage of time. A nightscape of Guadeloupe (2016) emerges as if from a mist carried by the towers and domes of the buildings. It’s a watercolor to breathe in the twilight

A delicate example, as intimate as a chamber music composition, the hundred watercolors that the Hispanic Society is exhibiting through October are a distant and restful echo of a time when travel meant not just displacement, but the perception of a world transformed by the strokes of the watercolours, it constitutes a worldview suspended in the balance of history.

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