Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Velazquez at the Palais Royale

In Paris we saw quite a few exhibitions, visiting two museums a day for 6 1/2 days. We never went to the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, or most of the museums near the Louvre.The Velazquez exhibition at the Grand Palais had just opened and I thought we needed to go, since he is such an important artist, but I didn't find it nearly as exciting as just seeing the Velazquez paintings at the Prado, an unforgettable, powerfully moving experience. At the same time I was sad that the lines for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition were far longer. The exhibition, organized chronologically, seemed to have a lot of portraits and a lot of work by his followers, which is fine, except that they weren't necessarily all that exciting. (On the other hand I was very impressed with the work of his teacher Francisco Pacheco.) The Rokeby Venus (London, National Gallery) was there, and a selection of works from the Prado, including Baltasar Carlos on his Pony, 1634-35 and The Forge of Vulcan, ca. 1630, all fabulous paintings. For the press release that explains the organizers' purpose, click here.

Among the paintings that caught my attention, I was surprised that so many were actually familiar since I had seen them in American collections. The portrait of the young Baltasar Carlos and his Dwarf of 1631, for example is from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Others were from Cleveland, Chicago, Fort Worth and other American collections. However I missed the Velazquez that probably attracted me in him in the first place, the portrait of Philip IV from the Frick Collection. I always love the experience of looking at the silvered lace of Philips sleeve and robe and watching it turn into daubs of paint as I get close to the painting. Velazquez painted Philip IV many times, but this one always seems particularly flattering to him, despite his unappealing Hapsburg features. The exhibition included a pretty good painting by Juan de Pareja, Velazquez's slave who studied with him and also became a painter, but not the famous portrait of Juan from the Met.

Of the many portraits in the exhibition, that of Pope Innocent X is, of course, stunning, as it is considered one of the great portraits of all time. The artist captured the complexity of the elderly pope's emotions so that looking at it for a while one sees the full range of his character. And there is that virtuoso brushwork.

Among the masterworks it seemed that there were quite a few portraits that did not sing with the individuality of the sitter or the virtuoso brushwork of the master, and then there were also works by those who imitated Velazquez, skilled artists who captured the appearance of their subject, but perhaps not his or her essence.

I thought that if one lives in Europe this exhibition is a fabulous way to see a lot of Velazquez works from the diverse and distant cities in the United States, and if one hasn't been to the Prado or seen many of these works in other places, it's a fine introduction to Velazquez's work. At the same time, he was a brilliant artist, but not every one of his paintings is brilliant and some of those are in this exhibition.

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