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Among the earliest prints in the collection are works by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), the first major Spanish artist to take up the medium. Curiously, however, Ribera used it primarily as a vehicle to disseminate his compositions and spread his reputation as he worked in Italy. At the beginning of his career, he created some of the most impressive etchings of his time, but once he had established his position, he abandoned the technique. Perhaps the most celebrated of his works, The Drunken Silenus (1628), reprises his painting of the subject (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), yet the artist has made slight variations. The painting enjoyed a prestige in its time, and the print also was popular, going through three editions in the 17th century.
In 17th-century Spain itself, a handful of artists produced distinguished works, but no local school of skilled engravers emerged, and most artists did not learn the techniques of printmaking. Nonetheless, the Hispanic Society holds major prints by Pedro de Villafranca Malagón (ca. 1615-1684), Matías de Arteaga y Alfaro (1633-1703), and Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690), which were intended for illustrated books. Others such as Pedro Perret (1555- 1637) or Juan Schorquens (ca. 1595-1630), who created plates of high quality, were foreigners who had studied abroad and settled in Castile precisely because the domestic market was so weak.
Printmaking took on greater importance in the 18th century with the foundation of the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1752. Here, students would learn etching and engraving, and artists, such as Manuel Salvador Carmona (1730–1807), mastered these techniques. As local practitioners acquired a proficiency in the arts of printmaking, they soon found opportunities to display their skills.
One artist whose activity corresponds to this heightened interest in this medium is Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Among Spanish artists, his talent as a printmaker is without parallel, both as the creator of four great series of prints—Los Caprichos, La Tauromaquia, Los Desastres de la Guerra, and Los Disparates—and as a technical innovator, first in his use of aquatint and later in his mastery of lithography. Above all, he captured dramatic visual effects, whether enigmatic settings or vivid outdoor scenes. He worked in printmaking throughout his career, producing ever more powerful works filled with mordant criticism of his society and universal statements about the human condition. Right up to the end of his life, Goya continued to experiment and invent with the medium when he took up the recent technique of lithography and created a series of stunning images of bullfights.
While Spanish artists were quick to appreciate Goya’s legacy, they only turned to etching systematically after 1850; at the same time, they introduced new subjects: genre scenes, landscapes, and views of urban Spain. In Madrid, artists such as Carlos de Haes (1826-1898) made delicate prints that capture the beauty and tranquility of the Spanish countryside.
Perhaps the most famous printer of the third quarter of the 19th century was Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838-1874). Although he made only a small number of prints, they are among the most remarkable Spanish 19th-century works in this medium. He had learned the technique while a student, but he resumed it as a mature artist, making etchings in his studio during the evening when he could no longer paint outdoors. Thematically and stylistically, these prints follow his development as a painter, in some cases even reproducing the same images: scenes of Morocco, life in modern Madrid, and historical subjects. No matter the content, Fortuny responded with a brilliant technique that evoked such different atmospheres with great effect.
At the turn of the century, modern art made its presence felt in Barcelona. Led by Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) and Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932), modernist artists blended naturalism and symbolism in an effort to recapture the visible world and imbue it with emotional expression. Although known today primarily as painters, these artists also made prints and posters of exceptional quality. Inspired by this circle in Barcelona, many Catalan artists went to France for further study. Among these, Hermen Anglada Camarasa (1871-1959) made a limited number of prints, generally portraits of figures seen from the shoulders up. In these, he employs a style like that of his drawings, working in dynamic strokes that not only describe the sitter’s physical appearance but interpret their character. Another Catalan, Joaquim Sunyer Miró (1874-1956), stands out for his ability to reduce forms to expressive contours and convey atmospheres as diverse as a haunting sense of alienation and the pleasure of a day spent in the park. To heighten the impact of these forms, Sunyer turned to color printing, a new means that artists in Paris had only just pioneered as a vehicle for such vivid effects. Where colored prints had previously suffered from a pejorative connotation, artists now achieved such impressive results that this attitude was dissipating, and Sunyer’s efforts, such as his At the Moulin Rouge of 1899, comprise a significant part of the revival of color printing. The Basque artist Francisco Iturrino (1864-1924) also excelled in this field. After receiving his first training in Bilbao, he traveled to Belgium in 1883 where he joined the Symbolist movement and began to exhibit there and in France. In his prints, he skillfully depicted typical Spanish subjects in a fluid style, recreating the effect of a watercolor or wash drawing.
Concurrent with printmaking in Barcelona, artists in Madrid were producing prints of equal significance. Stunned at their country’s defeat by the United States of America in 1898, Spanish intellectuals had undertaken to define a national identity and revitalize the nation. Their writings touched off a moment of great ferment and creativity, and it is in this context that the art of this period must be studied, particularly since some, such as Ricardo Baroja Nessi (1871-1953), actively participated in the movement. Baroja’s portrayal of people in cafes, urban scenes, and rural life all reflect the concerns of these thinkers, but he presents these images with such visual expressiveness that they become powerful works of art in their own right. Even as he created these prints in response to the issues of his time, he also drew heavily on traditional Spanish models, particularly Goya. Baroja’s ability to work within this tradition to invent such works was to prove influential for an entire generation of printmakers. Perhaps the most striking of these younger artists is José Gutiérrez Solana (1886-1945), whose brooding images of life in Madrid reflect his own fascination with alienation and estrangement. Solana’s work impressed his contemporaries for its visionary quality, offering a nightmare of an unidealized world. Notwithstanding his fame as a painter, his work as a graphic artist merits attention as well. His etchings are always related to his paintings, generally executed after them and almost always via drawings. Like his paintings, their expressive value lies in the powerful use of a forceful, even stolid, line to characterize the image.
Don Quixote in Prints
In addition to works by Spanish artists, the print collection at the Hispanic Society holds an extraordinary selection of illustrations inspired by the famed novel Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). More than four thousand engravings, etchings, and lithographs display a range of techniques and interpretations by artists of all nations with works dating from the mid-17th century to the present. Because their prints reflect changing responses to the book, they provide a graphic history of the novel’s critical reception and its visualization ranging from comic slapstick to a more refined comedy of manners and finally to an idealized romanticization. Among the rarest items are the engravings issued by Jacques Lagniet (ca. 1600-1675) in 1650-1652, which mark the first significant effort to depict the story of Don Quixote in an extended sequence of prints. This collection is further complemented by the Library’s extensive holdings of the novel from the 1605 first edition to the present.