ARTYFACTS: Velasquez - National Gallery

Friday, January 12, 2007

Velasquez - National Gallery

In Seville
The exhibition opens with some early, sometimes poorly composed, but remarkable paintings. I was used to seeing An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, as it's from Edinburgh, but The Water Seller is superior in terms of painted textures; the slips on clay pots, stains and water drips. I rather disliked the two Kitchen Scenes with Christ. They're very staged and the view through the hatch is an artifice. The nun, Jeronima de la Fuente, she rocks, with her cricifixion as a weapon and ribbon a trajectory of bile - he could spot the power of the fanatic. The religious paintings The Immaculate Conception, St John and St Thomas have no life to them. The rest is all Murillo-like and too devotional.

Christ, Appollo and the weird figure of Don Gaspar
Christ after the Flagellation is horrifying, with its cruel shaft of light, but the Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan is the finest work in the room with the startled apprentice. I then spent some time pondering on the Don Gaspar de Guzman. His head is tiny and his right arm is hopelessly elongated. It was much later that I read Hockney's theory in Secret Knowledge, that Velasquez had used an optical device, and that this distortion was the result of the necessary realignment of the device, as he moved down the body. Hockney must surely be right. It is hopelessly ill-proportioned.

Court of ugliness
If Velasquez had not been forced to earn a living through the patronage of Philip IV we would have been spared the posed ugliness of his royal subjects. Who could fail to peer first, close to the canvas, then far back, to wonder at how someone can apply such crude close-up strokes to produce such subtle effects, only seen at a distance. However, nothing can hide the ugly posing of this house in decline. His royal portraits are not his best work. The saving grace are the images that do not contain royal blood.

In Prince Batasar Carlos with Dwarf we see an ugly dead-eyed child with his lively dwarf companion. Prince Batasar Carlos in the riding school and on Horseback are simply dull. The horseback image simply does not work. The head is still in the studio and the horse balloons out of proportion into a podgy mess. Even the landscape is odd. Philips IV in Brown and Silver is ugly, stilted and commands no sense of majesty and Philips IV hunting Wild Boar is lifeless and diffuse. I have never seen a monarch so ugly and ungainly. Velasquez literally feels bored in these paintings.

The room is redeemed, however by the dwarf Francisco Lezcano, where the paint says 'don't judge me, we're both slaves to his whims'. This is a masterpiece.

Priests and ugly girls
Pope Innocent X is justifiably praised. You can look into his scheming eyes for hours. Similarly with the Archbishop Fernando de Valdes. They're of the prisethood but painted like mafiosi. Camillo Massimo, unlike the King and his family, seems totally in control, confident and politically astute. As for the Infanta Margarita in a Blue Dress and Queen Maraiana - grumpy, trapped and overblown. The Infanta Maria Teresa's dress looks like a tent.

Venus and Mars
Only four paintings in this last room but two make the other two almost invisible. First The Toilet of Venus, measured, erotic and very much a real woman, not a god, with the diffuse image in the mirror. She has the most exciting figure. Then my favourite picture - the astounding Mars - almost a comic image with his funny hat and sicarded weapons. His face is of an old soldier not a god and his body weary and aging. A very, very starnge picture.


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Blogger Juan Bautista said...

Go & paint!

Maybe you can surpass velazquez as well!

(I agree the prince riding the horse sucks tho...)

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