Exhibition: From Goya to Benlliure - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2007-11-19 • 2008-02-17

From Goya to Benlliure

Paper Art (VI)

Room 33

The 19th century was a highly prolific and particularly rewarding period in European art. Beginning with the legacy of the previous century's academic style, it ended with the fashioning of new artistic laws, somewhere between tradition and modernity.

As developments in production processes made the use of paper widespread, daily newssheets, weekly journals and books proliferated, all of them needing artists for the illustrations they included. Successive innovations in engraving and printing techniques led to unprecedented developments in the production of drawings and engravings. From being an exclusive concern of artists and collectors, the print became a commercial product adapted as required to current fashions and tastes. The art market, auction houses and galleries marketing art prints, drawings and watercolours in particular, all benefited.

Accompanying the progress made on the technical side of things, the engraving once again acquired a central role. Although in principle a medium for reproducing masterwork paintings (the "reproduction engraving", perfectly represented by Goya, who around 1778 produced his first series of etchings of sixteen oil paintings by Velázquez in Madrid's Palacio Royal), in the 19th century it came into its own as an artwork category and, in consequence, artists began to limit editions and sign copies.

Watercolours also gained in popularity during the century, eventually acquiring the condition of an independent genre. Associations of watercolourists appeared in England, France, Italy and Spain to organize exhibitions to promote and sell their members' works, a move that affected the themes addressed by the genre, which ranged from elementary work such as colouring photograph albums, to more refined works in line with current tastes, which tended towards popular, historical and exotic scenes.

Drawing, in the shape of preliminary sketches, had traditionally been a first step in the production of oil paintings, sculptures, prints and murals, and often provided a vital tool in reconstructing certain aspects of an artist's work. Drawing skills were highly relevant in art teaching systems and, throughout the century, direct copies abounded, either of models or other works of art. Coinciding with the taste for working en plein air, there was also a major movement amongst artists away from the studio to paint and draw outdoors.

As part of the Museum's ongoing exhibition programme entitled Art On Paper, this sixth edition once again focuses on works on paper from its own collection of artists more attuned to the academic side of 19th century art. From Goya to Benlliure is a selection of some eighty works, including drawings, engravings and watercolours by, among others, Francisco de Goya, Rosa Bonheur, Juan Barroeta, Mariano Fortuny, Eduardo Zamacois, Anselmo Guinea and Mariano Benlliure.


In the image:
Mariano Benlliure (El Grao, Valencia, 1862 – Madrid, 1947)
Vapor de Nápoles a Capri, 1884