When I wrote a couple of days ago about the art of the de Madrazo family, particularly the brothers Ricardo and Raimundo, one person kept reappearing: Marià Fortuny, a brilliant Spanish painter and print-maker who had a tragically short life, from 1838–1874. In this article and the next, I show a selection of his works, which I think rank alongside the best of the French Impressionists.
Marià Josep Maria Bernat Fortuny i Marsal, known better as either Marià Fortuny or Mariano Fortuny, was born near Tarragona, in Catalonia, Spain. His parents both died by the time that he was twelve, so he was largely brought up by his grandfather, who taught him to make wax figures. His artistic talents were spotted early, and in 1852 the family moved to Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia, so that he could develop those talents.
He initially studied at the Barcelona Academy, where he won a scholarship for two years study in Rome (much like the French Prix de Rome, for history painting). He started his studies there in 1858, then early in 1860 was sent as an official artist to the Spanish-Moroccan War. For three months he painted in the field, and returned with landscape and battle sketches which were exhibited in Madrid and Barcelona.
He also painted this early Self-portrait at about that time, showing himself as a young man already dressed in ‘orientalist’ (i.e. North African) style.
His war sketches impressed, and he was commissioned to paint a large diorama showing one of the successes of the Spanish Army in Morocco, the capture of two Arab camps. This became his monumental and unfinished The Battle of Tetouan, shown below. He spent much of the rest of the 1860s painting scenes from Morocco, and visited it again in company with the young Ricardo de Madrazo, whom he first met in 1866.
Our House in Tetouan (1860) is one of Fortuny’s early watercolours, presumably painted when he was in Morocco, showing a room in the house in which the artist stayed when deployed to Morocco. Tétouan is a city and major port just a little south from the northern tip of the country, and was taken by the Spanish forces on 4 February 1860 in the early phase of the war.
Like many contemporary orientalist artists, Fortuny developed various motifs on the theme of the harem and its women. The Odalisque, which he painted in 1861, is one of his several works showing a nude in harem-like surroundings, and builds on a tradition most notably painted by JAD Ingres, and made even more popular in the following decades, after Manet’s Olympia shook the Paris Salon in 1865.
In its original usage, applied to a Turkish seraglio, the term odalisque referred not to a concubine, but to a chambermaid or maid who served the concubines, and they were transformed into fantasy figures by the orientalist artists of the nineteenth century.
Fortuny’s quick watercolour sketch of Arabs Walking in a Storm (1862-64) appears to have been painted in front of the motif, during a windstorm in Morocco.
As mentioned above, Fortuny was commissioned to paint what was intended to form a large diorama showing one of the successes of the Spanish Army during the war in Morocco. He assembled the many sketches which he had made in early 1860, and started painting his vast canvas of The Battle of Tetouan by 1862. Despite working on it intermittently through the rest of his life, Fortuny never completed it. It is almost ten metres (over thirty feet) long.
The objective of the Spanish force which assembled in Morocco just before Christmas 1859 was to take the city of Tétouan, to try to prevent raids being launched from there by local Moroccans against the nearby Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The Spanish troops started to advance towards their objective on 1 February 1860, inflicting heavy casualties on the Moroccans in a series of smaller attacks until the city fell on 6 February.
Fortuny’s painting shows the Spanish attacking an Arab camp (to the left) during its advance towards the city. The image below shows a more detailed view of its centre section.
Camels Reposing, Tangiers (1865) is a watercolour sketch made over a heavily-worked and now visible graphite drawing, showing a group of camels resting near the city of Tangier, not far from Tétouan, in northern Morocco.
At about this time, Fortuny seems to have started to make his first etchings, and his highly detailed realist painting of The Print Collector from 1866 may be a reflection on that. It is most spectacular and unusual in the wall shown above the fireplace, which is covered with intricate and brightly-coloured images. These could be from paintings or prints, but towards the right assume a third dimension, almost appearing to come to life. They are also depicted in a much more sketchy style, heralding the changes that were taking place in the artist’s paintings.
Fortuny’s watercolour sketch of an African Beach from about 1867 appears to have been painted during a later visit to Morocco, perhaps that with Ricardo de Madrazo.
Arab Fantasy, a more formal oil painting from the same year, shows a group of Arab tribesmen firing their guns into a pit, but leaves the mystery as to what (if anything) was in the pit at the time. Fortuny’s signature indicates that this was painted when he was staying in Rome, and it is considerably more painterly than his earlier oils.
Masquerade (1868) is a marvellously loose watercolour showing an open-air masked ball, presumably held in Italy in the autumn, which is arousing the interest or bemusement of two swans. Dress is liberal to say the least, with the woman in the centre baring her breasts and holding a parasol!
In 1868, Fortuny visited Paris, and later married Cecilia de Madrazo, the daughter of Federico de Madrazo, and Ricardo and Raimundo’s sister.
Anchorite, an etching from about 1869, is an example of Fortuny’s highly worked prints. It shows a hermit who is living in a fissure in the ground and so thin that you can count the vertebrae of his back. The land and sky around him is wild and isolating.
Wikipedia (in Spanish).