One hundred years ago today, on 1 November 1921, the great Spanish artist Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848–1921) died. In the first article about his career and paintings, I looked at his work up to 1883, which was mainly Spanish history painting. Although his style in those wasn’t as academic as other nineteenth century history painters, it contrasts markedly with several of his later works.
Pradilla also seems to have made the most marvellous oil sketches en plein air, here showing Galician Washerwomen (1887), above, and Laundry Day (c 1880-1910), below.
Following on from The Surrender of Granada, Pradilla painted The Moor’s Sigh. The two paintings seem to have been started at about the same time, in 1879, but he did not complete this until 1892, a decade after the scene of surrender.
This shows the legendary sequel to The Surrender of Granada. After Muhammad XII had handed the key to Granada to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, he’s claimed to have ridden up to a rocky viewpoint from where he could take a final view of the Alhambra and the valley of Granada: the location now known as Suspiro del Moro. For a while, Muhammad remained in exile in Las Alpujarras, but soon crossed to Fes in Morocco.
Pradilla shows the former ruler dismounted, after he had walked over to take his last look at Granada in the distance. Although this was painted in oils, the hills behind Granada appear as if they had been painted using watercolour washes – an unusual effect demonstrating his technical skills.
In 1897, Pradilla was appointed director of the Prado in Madrid, one of the greatest collections of art in the world which was first opened to the public in 1819, when Francisco Goya was still living and painting in the city. However, Pradilla soon decided to return to painting, and resigned this position fairly quickly.
Under Ceres’ Sacred Tree (1903) appears to be a fantastic exploration of classical myth associated with the Roman goddess of agriculture and grain, Ceres, and the Eleusinian Mysteries. The sacred tree is the hawthorn, or May, which comes into flower in the spring.
Pradilla shows a party of ecstatic young women worshippers at a shrine to Ceres on an ancient hawthorn tree – a wonderful flight of fancy perhaps inspired by his travels in Italy.
In Queen Juana the Mad Imprisoned in Tordesillas with her daughter, the Infanta Catalina (1906) Pradilla returns to the tragic story of the first Queen of Spain. She is shown during her effective imprisonment in the Convent of Santa Clara, in Tordesillas, north-west of Madrid in northern Spain. She was taken there in 1509, and despite being co-monarch of Castile and Aragon with her son Charles I, she remained there until her death in 1555.
Pradilla shows her with her youngest daughter, Catherine (Catalina) of Austria (1507-1578), who married John III of Portugal and became its queen in 1525. The girl’s toys are scattered forlornly over the barren floor. One of Juana’s maids sits spinning, as a small fire burns in the huge fireplace.
Pradilla doesn’t seem to have painted many pure landscapes, but The Fog of Spring in Italy from 1907 was probably inspired by one of his visits there. His style remains quite realist in detail, but away from the figures is far looser and more painterly than in his earlier history paintings.
The Baptism of Prince John (1910) was Pradilla’s last major history painting, and like its predecessors is packed with people and detail.
This shows the royal court attending the baptism of Prince John of Asturias, the brother of Juana the Mad, in Seville in 1478. John was the only son of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic Monarchs who had taken Muhammad XII’s surrender of Granada. Queen Isabella is shown in the royal box to the left of centre. Prince John died at the age of eighteen in 1497, and missed his part in history.
Fish Market on Vigo Beach (1916) is a wonderfully vigorous view of the beach of this city in the north-west of Spain, just to the north of Portugal. Pradilla’s style has loosened further, with many of the figures becoming sketchy and gestural. In some parts, just to the right of centre, for example, all form breaks down into incoherent patches of colour.
Francisco Pradilla Ortiz died in Madrid in 1921. His paintings have remained popular in Spain ever since, and are on display in the Prado and several other Spanish galleries. However, they’re now almost unknown outside Spain.