If you’re strolling through the Huntington Art Gallery during the next few months, look for a visiting Spanish nobleman up on the second floor. An imposing portrait of Vicente Maria de Vera de Aragon, Duque de la Roca (ca. 1795) by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes is on temporary loan from the San Diego Museum of Art. Goya was the most highly sought portraitist in Madrid, active around the same time as England’s preeminent portrait painters Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney.
In an unusual pairing in the gallery, the portrait is displayed alongside a 20th-century abstract painting by American artist Robert Motherwell titled Capriccio (1945), part of The Huntington’s own permanent collection. Why the juxtaposition? “Motherwell was profoundly interested in the work of Goya,” explains Catherine Hess, curator of European art at The Huntington. “He appreciated the Spaniard’s emotionalism, warm palette, heavily applied black paint, and freely handled brushwork, aspects that also appear in his own paintings.”
Both artists also were deeply distressed by political oppression in Spain—albeit at different historical moments—and created work that explored and criticized such oppression. Hess speculates that the title of Motherwell’s work may be a reference to Goya’s famous Los Caprichos—a dark and melancholy series of prints that condemns the follies of Spanish society.
To complement the Goya loan, a small exhibition of 10 Goya prints (including selections from Los Caprichos) will be on view in the gallery’s Works on Paper Room. “Dreams, Disasters, and Reality: Goya’s Prints from The Huntington’s Collections” opens Saturday, Oct. 1 and continues through Jan. 9, 2012. The Goya portrait will remain on view throughout the run of the print exhibition.
Captions: Vicente Maria de Vera de Aragon, Duque de la Roca (ca. 1795) by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1812), courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art; Capriccio (1945) by Robert Motherwell (1915-1995). Oil on bone board. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, purchased with the Connie Perkins Fund Endowment and Gift of the Dedalus Foundation.
Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.