Mariano Fortuny y Marsal: a cosmopolitan 19th-century artist


Mariano Fortuny in 1867 by Federico de Madrazo (Wikipedia)

This year marks the 180th anniversary of the birth of Spanish painter Mariano Fortuny 1838-1874 (not to be confused with his son Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, the fashion designer). For the first time, Madrid’s Museo del Prado held a comprehensive exhibition devoted to Fortuny, showing 169 art pieces loaned by private collectors and major museums including the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – MNAC (Barcelona) and Museo Fortuny (Venice).

Fortuny was internationally renowned and, after Francisco de Goya (see Glendinning’s donation post), considered one of the best Spanish painters and printmakers of the 19th century.  His take on genre painting was fashionable, and collecting his art was a sign of class for the bourgeoisie, as Carlos Reyero explains in his recent book (C205.d.4208).  Fortuny had great success painting genre scenes and Moresque-inspired paintings. But at the same time he was an innovator and enjoyed the rare privilege of creating the art he wished. He was very versatile artist; he mastered all the techniques he undertook: oil painting, with precise touch often compared with Ernest Meissonier’s, and especially watercolour and etching, advancing both techniques and achieving new results. He used watercolour in a more modern way, as an autonomous art technique, and not only for preparatory works. His etchings were influenced mainly by the work of Goya, Rembrandt and José de Ribera. As he was more skilful than his contemporaries, he aroused both their envy and admiration.


Odalisque, 1861, MNAC (Wikipedia)

Born in Reus in 1838, the painter came from a humble background and started early with his art training. Both parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather, a cabinet-maker and amateur sculptor who taught him to make wax figurines. Both moved to Barcelona in 1852, where Mariano studied in the Academy of Fine Arts. At that time, he learned from the works of the Nazarene painters.

Arab camp0

Arab camp, watercolour in Musée Goya-Castres, c. 1862. S950.b.200.3770

In 1857 he won a two-year scholarship to Rome, where he studied drawing at the Accademia Gigi. Here he associated with Spanish and Italian painters, such as Eduardo Rosales and Attilio Simonetti. In 1859, he was commissioned by the Diputación de Barcelona (government body of the province of Barcelona) to depict the campaigns of the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1859-60. He travelled to Morocco in 1860 where the bright light of that country made a major impact on his art; meeting there the French journalist and art critic Charles Yriarte. In 1862, he received funding to finish his research in Morocco, towards completing his later piece, Battle of Tétouan. During this second Moroccan stay, he was more attracted to depicting scenes from the Moroccan life, rather that immortalising the war campaigns. Once his commision from the Diputación was finished, he had the opportunity to create works free from convention; unlike other European painters approaching Arab or Oriental subject, he was painting en plein-air. In 1867 he married Cecilia, the daughter of Federico de Madrazo, remarkable portraitist and director of the Prado museum.


Photo of some antiquities in Fortuny’s atelier, Rome. From S950.a.201.5955

Fortuny was very often inspired by his collection of antiquities gathered in his atelier at Rome; it included many exotic objects, ranging from Moresque pieces (such as the so-called Alhambra vases) to Oriental armours and medieval weapons. The Prado exhibition shows he was also influenced by other artists; paintings by Fortuny that he copied partially or fully from works by the great masters at the Prado (such as Goya, Velázquez, Ribera, El Greco and Titian) were on display.

In summer 1869, the artist settled in Paris and stayed there almost a year, working closely with the art dealer Adolphe Goupil, who gave Fortuny a wider international audience. During this period, he received many visits from the high society: Princess Mathilde, Alexandre Dumas (son), Gustave Doré, etc. In fact, Fortuny painted La vicaría (or The Spanish wedding, 1870), basing it on the French taste of the time. It was sold for 70,000 francs, which was a huge amount of money, and gave him international fame. Shortly after, following his artistic interest, Fortuny moved to Granada from 1870 until 1872, using the Alhambra as inspiration for some of his Moorish paintings. During this period he made his third trip to Morocco.


La vicaría or The Spanish wedding, 1870, MNAC (Wikipedia)

Fortuny maintained an interesting correspondence with his friends (the painters Martín Rico and Eduardo Zamacois, and the art collectors William Hood Stewart and Jean-Charles Davillier, among others) and his family, particularly his wife and her family of painters. The first volume of the correspondence of the Madrazo family archive has been published recently (C214.c.3525).

Fortuny died suddenly in Rome in 1874, at the age of 36. He had spent his last year of life in Portici, Italy, forming a new approach to the depiction of nature in his paintings: full of light and colour, and in some cases – such as in The painter’s children in the Japanese room, and in the portrait of his wife (below) – showing a clear influence of Japanese art, which he collected.  His premature death ended Fortuny’s fruitful career at a time when the art world was at a turning point; the Impressionists were creating a new artistic movement.

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Although he died at a young age, Fortuny’s achievements were already remarkable. His work was admired and praised by great artists and art critics (for instance Ernest Meissonier and Theophile Gautier, respectively) and his art influenced a generation of painters in Europe. His funeral was heavily attended.

Despite Mariano Fortuny’s fame both inside and outside his country in the 19th century, his work seems to be forgotten for some time. Finally, in the last decades, several exhibitions and studies of his life and work have been undertaken, recognising his significant role in 19th-century art. The recent comprehensive exhibition at the Prado is a milestone in the study and promotion of his work.

Manuel del Campo


Exhibition catalogues at the UL

Fortuny, 1838-1874: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Barcelona: MNAC, 2004. S405:43.a.200.32

El legado Ramón de Errazu: Fortuny, Madrazo y Rico. Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005. S950.b.200.992

Zamacois, Fortuny, Meissonier. Bilbao: Museo de Bellas Artes, 2006. S950.a.200.1778

Fortuny (1838-1874) : œuvres graphiques dans les collections du Musée Goya. Castres : Musée Goya, 2008. S950.b.200.3770

Marià Fortuny : gravats. Palma de Mallorca: Caixa de Balears, 2008. [In Catalan and Spanish] S950.c.200.1112

Tiempo de ensoñación: Andalucía en el imaginario de Fortuny. Barcelona: Fundación “la Caixa”, 2016. S950.a.201.5436

Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874). Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2017. S950.a.201.5955  [Further content on Prado’s exhibition; related videos in Spanish with English subtitles].

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