Exhibition: Luis Paret in Bilbao. Sacred and Profane Art - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


2021-06-09 • 2021-10-17

Luis Paret in Bilbao. Sacred and Profane Art

Room A [Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao (room 3, 2nd floor)]

The exhibition Luis Paret in Bilbao. Sacred and Profane Art was presented at an event attended by Juan Mari Aburto, mayor of Bilbao and president of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Foundation; Joseba Segura, bishop of Bilbao; Gorka Martínez, general manager of BBK; Miguel Zugaza, director of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum; Juan Manuel González Cembellín, technical director of the Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao; Javier Novo, coordinator of Research and Conservation, and José Luis Merino, curator of Ancient Art, both of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum; and Guillermo Barandiarán, president of the Fundación Gondra Barandiarán. Divided between two venues—the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao—it is the first result of the partnership agreement signed by both museums last January.

In partnership with BBK, the project has brought together more than 50 works and objects of all kinds—paintings, sculptures, works on paper, furniture, decorative arts and documents—chosen by the show's curators, Juan Manuel González Cembellín and José Luis Merino. Along with works in the collections of the two Bilbao museums, the exhibition also includes work from other museums—such as the National Gallery in London, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Cerralbo in Madrid—along with churches, private collections and other entities, including the Archivo Municipal de Bilbao and the Archivo Histórico Foral de Bizkaia, the San Fernando Royal Fine Arts Academy (Madrid) and the Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa Collection.

The cultural programme developed parallel to the exhibition includes an urban route and a river journey which highlights the mark Paret left on the city and a summer course on the painter and enlightened Bilbao offered through the sponsorship of the Fundación Gondra Barandiarán.

Furthermore, thanks to the collaboration between Fine Arts Museum and Museum of Sacred Art, visitors can enjoy a 20% discount off a ticket by showing the receipt proving a previous visit to the other museum.

Luis Paret in Bilbao. Sacred and Profane Art

Between 1779 and at least 1787, the painter Luis Paret (Madrid, 1746–1799) lived in Bilbao in fulfilment of part of the banishment ordered by King Charles III due to his complicity in the licentious lifestyle of the monarch's younger brother, Prince Louis of Bourbon. He lived here with his wife of French extraction, Micaela Fourdinier, and here they had their two daughters—María and Ludovica—who were born in 1780 and 1781.

During this time, his mature work included religious commissions, allegorical compositions and the series of landscapes depicting the ports on the Cantabrian Sea to decorate Charles III's country homes. The forerunner of this series is View of Bermeo (1783), which belongs to the collection of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.

With Paret's stay in Bilbao as the core theme, this exhibition shows a significant series of works made during these years while also highlighting the transformation that Bilbao and Bizkaia experienced in the eighteenth century. This is the period when some intellectuals and institutions were promoting the new enlightened mindset which the painter had adopted, as reflected in Paret's journey reconstructed in this show. In this sense, it is no coincidence that Paret painted the portrait of Xabier María Munibe, one of the founders of the Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País (Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country), in a drawing that Antonio Salvador Carmona later engraved in a print included in this exhibition.

The Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao is displaying 27 works on religious themes by Paret and other artists of his day: seven oil paintings, eleven drawings, one engraving, three wood carvings and five pieces of furniture and decorative arts (one liturgical cloak and chasuble, a monstrance, a chalice and a patron's chair). It also displays an interesting document from the period which attests to the fact that Paret was paid 12,055 reales to construct the Easter Week monument in Santiago church.

These works reflect the change that Paret's painting underwent during the years he lived in Bilbao. While he was residing in Madrid, he primarily painted courtly themes, but when he reached Bilbao he had to find new clients, who primarily asked for portraits and religious works. He thus became one of the most important painters of religious subjects in Bizkaia in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the sculptures of Juan Pascual de Mena—who lived in Bilbao to work on San Nicolás church between 1754 and 1756—and the paintings of Antonio Carnicero and Vicente López, among others, also arrived, sometimes to decorate private chapels and other times to decorate local churches. In both cases, Paret produced not only paintings but also drawings for furnishings—including the furnishings of the main altar in Bilbao's Santiago church—and for ephemeral commemorative architecture, such as the Easter Week monument for the same church.

For the chapel of the former Bilbao Town Hall near San Antón church, he painted the work The Virgin Mary with Child and Saint James the Greater (1786), and for the sacristy of San Antón church he painted The Divine Shepherd (1782). In these works owned by the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, he maintains the delicate colours and taste for detail that are also clear in Virgin with Child (1786), lent by the Abelló Collection (Madrid).

Prominent among the works of his contemporary artists are the print Our Lady of Begoña (1782) by Antonio Salvador Carmona based on a drawing by Paret conserved in the San Fernando Royal Fine Arts Academy, the painting Immaculate Conception (1769) by Antonio Carnicero from the Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao and the carving Head of Saint John the Baptist (1754–1756) by Pascual de Mena, also from the same museum.

In recent decades, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum has made a decisive contribution to knowledge of the figure of Luis Paret: the aforementioned religious-themed paintings contributed by the Town Hall in 1913 were joined by View of Fuenterrabía (1786) in 1986. Since then, the painter's representation in the collection has only grown through new acquisitions and donations, until reaching its current total of eight works, the most recent one being The Triumph of Love over War, donated by Alicia Koplowitz. Furthermore, in 1991 it held the last major retrospective of his works and later published several books by different authors: Luis Paret y Alcázar y los Puertos del País Vasco (Luis Paret y Alcázar and the ports of the Basque country, 1997), El triunfo del Amor sobre la Guerra (The Triumph of Love over War, 2018) on the occasion of the donation of the work by the same name, and in a broader context, Bizkaia y la corte en la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII (Bizkaia and the Court in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century, 2018).

In the year marking the 275th anniversary of Paret's birth, this exhibition is a new milestone in his revival by showcasing an important set of works from his oeuvre which also stand as an extraordinarily important visual document of the history and art of Bilbao and Bizkaia.

Room A of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum displays 28 works and an engraving plate, eleven of which are Paret's oil paintings and six his works on paper. Another nine works are prints by the artists José Jimeno, Antonio Salvador Carmona, Juan Moreno Tejada and Juan de la Cruz Cano, the latter with a selection of prints of popular Bilbao archetypes based on drawings by Paret included in the well-known series Colección de trajes de España (Collection of Costumes of Spain) lent by the Basque Museum of Bilbao.

All the works are on secular themes, including the celebrated views of El Arenal de Bilbao—the Fine Arts Museum and the National Gallery of London—and other coastal towns, such as Santurce and Bermeo.

A more personal side is reflected in the painter's two self-portraits belonging to the Abelló Collection and the Museo del Prado. In both compositions, Paret painted himself—elegantly dressed with a seascape in the background—as the best representative of the rococo style in Spanish painting because of his mastery of colour and original compositions. This section is completed with two small oil paintings on copper bearing the portraits of his wife and daughters. The latter are depicted as little cupids, a classical inspiration which is repeated in the two lunettes of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, although here his brushwork is freer, perhaps because they were made to be installed at a certain height as part of the decoration of a bridal chamber commissioned by a prominent citizen or merchant from Bilbao.

Along with the paintings, decorative and architectural designs related to buildings and emblematic constructions in the city are also presented, along with the floor plans and elevations of the fountains for Plaza de Santiago and Plaza Vieja. The latter, now located in Plazuela de los Santos Juanes, was recently restored by the Town Hall, and the elements were cleaned and replaced to give it back its original appearance, while the history of its current location was also documented. In other cases, like the ink drawing depicting Luchana Tower from the Juan Várez Collection (Madrid), the works are also valuable as historical documents of enlightened Bilbao, one of whose residents in the late decades of the eighteenth century was the most important rococo painter in Spain.


Urban route

Starting 13 June, a route through Bilbao's old quarter has been planned to comple-ment the exhibition. It will use Paret's most important works in the city to analyse the transformation it experienced during that period. In addition, two reproductions of his views of Olabeaga and El Arenal will situate them in the place near where they were presumably painted. The route is planned to be done either freely with a hand guide or via a programme of guided tours.

Thursdays, 6 pm. Saturdays, 12 noon.
Until October 17
Spanish and Basque (last Saturday of every month)
Groups of 20 people
Meeting point: Teatro Arriaga (main door)

General tickets €5, Friends of the Museum €3
Registration here

Sponsor: BBK

River Journey

By sailing the river we will recreate the Bilbao that Paret discovered during his so-journ here. Three of the artist's works will illustrate this journey: San Antón fountain and the paintings View of El Arenal in Bilbao and The Quay at Olabeaga. The prom-enades and quays, houses and people who lived in the city at the time illustrate the changes happening in the old quarter in the eighteenth century.

Saturdays, 11 am 17 July / 14 and 28 August
Length: 1 hour
Boarding site: small dock at San Antón bridge
General fee: €15
Discounted fee: €13 (Friends of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao, and with the ticket to either of the two museums or registration in any of the activities related to the exhibition)

After the tour, the reservation receipt is worth a 20% discount on tickets to the Museum of Sacred Art Bilbao and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. Promotion applicable only at the ticket counter.

Reserve tickets at www.bilboats.com

Sponsor: BBK / Partner: Bilboats

Summer course [FINISHED]

14, 15 and 16 July. The exhibition is complemented with a summer course which will be held in the auditorium of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum thanks to the sponsorship of the Fundación Gondra Barandiarán. In this course, experts in different disciplines—applied arts, architecture, sociology, etc.—will share their vision of the painter's contri-bution to the construction of enlightened Bilbao.

Full program here.

Sponsor: Fundación Gondra Barandiarán