Published 08/04/2024 | 12:02

Works by the brightest names in Spanish modernist art at the Kadriorg Art Museum

Ramon Casas (1866–1932). Bullfighting Ring. Undated. Oil. Private collection, Barcelona. Courtesy of Galeria Senda

On 13 April, the Kadriorg Art Museum opens the exhibition “España Blanca y Negra. Vision of Spain, from Fortuny to Picasso”, introducing Spanish art from romantic landscape paintings of the 19th century to the innovative pursuits of the young Pablo Picasso.

The main focus of the exhibition, however, are works made by Spanish masters of modernism at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century dedicated to their search for the essence of their home country. At that time, the question of cultural identity rose to prominence in many places in Europe, including Spain, where powerful literature, music and art was born out of the dialogue between the proponents of “white” and “black” Spain.

“It is not only a very thorough exhibition consisting of wonderful works of art, but also a small miracle, since organising an international exhibition and bringing it to Estonia at the present moment is very expensive and complicated,” commented one of the curators, the director of the Kadriorg Art Museum, Aleksandra Murre. According to her, many museums and private collections rescinded their original agreements because they considered the geopolitical situation of Estonia too dangerous. “We are grateful to the lenders of the artworks, who trusted their valuable artistic treasures to us – including by one of the pre-eminent names of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso – despite the uncertainty and the lack of recognition of our small museum in Spain. These include the leading museums of Spain, e.g. the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), the Arte Ederren Bilboko Museoa – Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and the Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza in Malaga. Numerous private collections are also represented, whose owners successfully collaborated with us thanks to the efforts of the curator Carlos Alonso Pérez-Fajardo. It is also important that the Embassy of Spain in Estonia has been among the supporters and collaborators of the project since the very beginning,” added Aleksandra Murre.

“Although we managed to bring to Estonia some masterful paintings by Joaquín Sorolla, who is among the most popular and admired artists of the beginning of the 20th century in Spain, I would especially like to highlight a large piece by Joaquim Mir, which is one part of a mural in the artist’s home. The 1904 work is shockingly free, bold and powerful, almost reaching abstractionism,” said the curator and art historian Carlos Alonso Pérez-Fajardo, who is one of the greatest experts of the works of Ignacio Zuloaga, commenting on his choice of works.

Spanish art did not know landscape painting until the 19th century, when questions about the identity and the national image of Spain started emerging. During the modernisation of the state, opposing approaches to depicting the country collided: the bright and cheerful “white” Spain and the dark and solemn “black” Spain, which revealed the deepest layers of the cultural heritage. At the turn of the century, Catalonian modernism flourished between and beside these two polar opposites, bringing together the painterly qualities and tonal sensibility of the former with the latter’s intellectuality.

Spanish landscape painting began in the 19th century, when foreigners became interested in the country’s folklore, exotic nature and architecture. The authors of these often unsophisticated and superficial images were French, English and German authors who had travelled in Spain. With such masters as Mariá Fortuny, Martín Rico and Eugenio Lucas Velázques, a strong school of Spanish landscape painting was born and the importance of this genre in the general development of culture grew. The most important master of “white” Spain, and one of the brightest stars of Spanish painting in general, was the Valencian Joaquín Sorolla, whose paintbrush transferred to canvas bright seascapes sparkling in the sun with women and children enjoying the pleasures of beaches. Sorolla became an official artist of the state who was responsible for the image of Spain. His opposite among the artists of the “black” Spain was Ignacio Zuloaga, whose works are known to Estonian audiences through his 2021 exhibition at the Mikkel Museum. The most influential authors and ideologues of this direction included Darío de Regoyos and José Gutiérrez Solana.

Modernist painting in Catalonia combined the painterly approach and tonal sensitivities of the Mediterranean masters with the intellectualism of “black” Spain. The meteoric rise of Catalonian modernists began at the end of the 19th century in Spain and the rest of Europe with Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol, who were followed by Hermen Anglada Camarasa, Isidre Nonell and Joaquim Mir. The traditions of the Spanish school and Modernism from Barcelona offered fertile ground for the growth of Pablo Picasso, who radically changed art throughout the world and whose works conclude the exhibition, pointing towards the development of a European avant-garde which had its origins in the teeming Spanish culture.

The opening programme of the exhibition is available on the museum’s homepage.

The exhibition is open until 25 August 2024. After Tallinn, the exhibition will move on to Riga, where it will be open at the Art Museum Riga Bourse from 15 September to 15 December 2024.

Curators: Aleksandra Murre and Carlos Alonso Pérez-Fajardo
Graphic design: Külli Kaats

With the support of: Embassy of Spain in Estonia