Exhibition: Beach at Portici - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The guest work


2006-03-07 • 2006-04-30

Beach at Portici

Room 19

Playa de Portici (Portici Beach) is one of the most outstanding paintings by Mariano Fortuny (Reus, Tarragona, 1838-Rome, 1874), one of the foremost painters of 19th century Spanish Art. Despite its relevance, the work has been exhibited to the public on very few occasions:  at an auction in Fortuny's studio held after his death in Paris in 1875, in New York in 1887 and, more recently in Barcelona and at the anthological exhibition that the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia) dedicated to the painter from 2003 to 2004.

In the summer of 1874, which was unexpectedly to be his last, Mariano Fortuny settled down with his family in  Villa Arata in the town of Portici, situated at the foot of Vesuvius facing the sea in the Bay of Naples. After Fortuny's success in Paris, his stay in Portici afforded him the peace and quiet which comes with being away from artistic circles and immersed in the light and landscape similar to those of Granada and the north of Africa, which the painter loved so much. In fact this work has been associated with other works painted in Granada two years previously when Fortuny tried out a new artistic style far removed from the genre so demanded by his art dealer and which gave him so much success.

Together with other paintings, numerous drawings and preparatory water colours, Fortuny painted this canvas of large dimensions where the landscape and especially the luminous effects are the protagonists. The painting, which is unfinished, is of a summer scene with two women in the centre surrounded by children playing on the sand and for which his wife and children posed. It is a scene in the plein air in which the figures and the landscape blend together under the intense southern light. Fortuny intensifies the effects of light and air sought by situating the horizon at a very low level thus giving greater importance to the sky, of an intense blue only occasionally interrupted by brilliant clouds. Apart from being one of the few examples of the landscape genre among Fortuny's work, Portici Beach incorporates the sea as an iconographic novelty.  

In the correspondence conserved, Fortuny expresses his desire at that time to give his career a new direction. His wish to situate the scene in the open air together with the use of free flowing brush strokes capable of expressing the effects of light and colour heralds the beginning of a new journey interrupted by the untimely death of the master.

The importance of the work and the few occasions on which it has been exhibited to the public make this latest edition of the Guest Work Programme especially interesting.