Exhibition: Oriental landscape - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The guest work


2007-02-05 • 2007-04-15

Oriental landscape

Mogrovejo hall


Converting nature into landscape required a special insight and the ability to produce optical perceptions in another way. If we compare the landscape painting inaugurated by Carlos de Haes (1826-1898) with that which was immediately prior to it, we can see that the latter was a genuine awakening, an opening of the eyes in a different way, the discovery of something which was obviously already there but which started to be appreciated in another way. 

However, these years were also characterised by their capacity for paradox and confusion: on the one hand there still existed a world –of clear romantic touches- which never seemed to disappear and on the other, and coexisting with the former, the first signs of a new vision and a breaking away. The advanced art of the 19th century wavered between the romantic, psychological innerness and the impersonal objectiveness of the new realist tendency, which were poles apart and which believed that natural forms were expressive in themselves and would directly convey their meanings to the painting without the need to resort to convention.

One of the fundamental premises of this new vision of landscape –following in the previous footsteps of the Flemish School tradition regarding landscapes in the 17th century and the more modern footsteps of the French School of Barbizon- was the transcription of reality with no previous modifications. It was precisely Haes who objected more strongly than anyone –in his own words- to "fantastic dreams and inventions", the bucolic or subjective vision, in support of the observation of natural places devoid of idealist tendency towards rapid resolution, represented, if possible, in the open air  -plein air- and regarding which the artist had direct experience. In this respect, the landscape inaugurated by Carlos de Haes and his disciples proved to be a genuine antidote –both thematically and technically speaking- and it made its indelible mark on Spanish painting as a transition between romantic ideals and realism. 

But, curiously enough, this canvas - Paisaje oriental (Oriental landscape), (Museo Romántico (Romantic Museum), Madrid)- which we now have the opportunity to present and which was one of the last ones painted by the artist (1883), could be a clear exponent of the contradiction we have mentioned: although the landscape is captured in a naturalist manner and a great luminosity and chromatic richness takes over from the sombre colouring of his first period, his subject matter and vision is still seen to be contaminated by a certain romantic nostalgia.

In the first place, it is not taken from a real landscape or painted in the open air –the artist never went to Egypt- but a reproduction constructed in his studio; besides, it does not reflect an objective, direct experience as it does not attempt to capture appearances but the reality hidden behind them, the mystery and even the insignificance of the human being in the face of nature: the landscape, next to the ruin, -a symbol of the outdatedness and the transience of the great works of man- is depicted as something which is pure, harmonious, a natural order that has existed since time immemorial. 

It is also true that, although it is a picturesque, orientalist picture, it bears no comparison with the paintings of Genaro Pérez Villamil, a romantic painter and often the object of Haes's insults. On the contrary, the detail of the landscape –its naturalist approach- makes it clearly different from the latter's "invented" products. It is certainly not something imagined but thoroughly documented with the aid of a travel book or, more probably, a photograph such as those which assiduously circulate around the studios of various painters (the temple of Kom Ombo, on the east bank of the Nile).

Apparently, this was not the only work with an Egyptian orientalist theme, as in 1862, the only lithograph known of the Belgian, entitled País Egipcio (Egyptian Country) was published in the important magazine, El Arte en España (The Art of Spain). This may be regarded as a precedent in painting, as  -although it is developed horizontally and with a wider panorama- it shows a view of the temple itself, this time without the miniscule presence of the human figure. In both works, the respect for the capturing of the appearance of nature even down to the last detail is particularly outstanding and can be seen in the breeze among the leaves of the palm trees, in the variations of light and shade and in the shades of colour, which is a result of not only a spontaneous liking for the landscape but of a laborious learning process regarding artistic language.  

Begoña Torres González
Curator of the Museo Romántico (Romantic Museum, Madrid)


carlos de Haes (Bruselas, 1826-Madrid, 1898)
Oriental landscape, 1886
Olioa mihisean, 190 x 130 cm