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Tag Archives: Spain

Memories of the Museo Del Prado

Visiting the Museo Del Prado was an all day marathon event for me – I was close to the front of the line gained entry just after it opened at 9 am. I had been told that it was impossible to see the Prado in one day but I was determined to prove them wrong. I systematically ticked off room after room on my map. I ate like a marathon runner, lots of carbohydrates and sugar.

That day in Prado I fell in love with the Baroque that day, especially Ribalta, Ribera, Valazeques and Meléndez. Ribera’s paintings of people are so human, wrinkles and all and he paints it all with so much feeling.

I had prepared for this visit by reading Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art by Victor I. Stoichita (Reaktion Books, 1995). The portrayal of internal private experiences, such as visions, in a visual media creates a complex visual grammar distinguishing between the real and the imagined.

An American tourist was laughing out loud at Alonso Cano’s Lactation of St Bernard (c.1658-60). He couldn’t believe what he was seeing the clarity of this lactation porn looks crazy to modern eyes. It is not St Bernard who is lactating but a painting of the Virgin Mary. The American has to point out to me – “She is shooting a jet right into his mouth!”

It was not the craziest painting in the Prado created from the fermented and distilled Catholic thought of the 17th century. That honour has to go to Francesco Rossi Salvaiati’s Sacred Family with Parrot presented by an Angel (1543) – what’s next the teenage Jesus presented with a Playstation by presented by an Angel?

Situated in a couple of the galleries there were coin operated machines, like those old chocolate machines on English train stations, selling little Gallery Guide books for major artists available in English, French, Spanish and German. I bought the guides to Velázquez and Bosch (the Prado is the place to see Bosch).

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

I am particularly taken by Pieter Brueghal’s The Triumph of Death but I wonder what would happen to this zombie apocalypse now that the living out number the dead?

There is a 16th century copy of La Gioconda (aka Mona Lisa) sans the background landscape.

I was disappointed with seeing Goya’s work for the first time, his big brushstrokes were much better in reproduction, but then he did start his career painting the designs for tapestries so they were always, in a way, intended to be reproduced in another media.

By the end of the day my feet were sore, particularly my big toes, something about the way that you move in a gallery – walk, stand, walk… Checking my watch I had twenty minutes to see the last four or five small rooms on the second floor but I was sure that now my eye was well tuned and that I could spot the paintings that were worth looking at. I would look around the room and select one or two paintings for a closer look and then move to the next room.

At 6pm the Prado was shutting but I had completed every gallery and I was exhausted, dizzy and disorientated with a bit Stendhal syndrome. I’d had Stendhal syndrome before so I wasn’t surprised by it. I staggering into a bar and ordered a whiskey. I could remember all the paintings but the wet streets of Madrid were almost unrecognisable.

The next day at 9 am I was back in the Prado again, it was free entry on that day and I walked around looking again at my favourite works. Maybe you can’t see the whole Prado in one day.

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Person of Interest – Salvador Dali

When I was a student at Bendigo High School I found a copy of The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942) in the library. Reading it made my life in Bendigo bearable for two more years. I was aware of Dali’s paintings from earlier art classes, when we had briefly looked at Surrealism, but the reading his book was a great experience at that time in my life. “’Do not commit suicide, for surrealism has been born’, might well be the phrase cried in the night to a desperate civilisation.” This quote from James Gleeson explains my situation in Bendigo as alienated 16 year old yearning to escape from the small rural city. As a solution to adolescent angst Salvador Dali was better than Bowie.

Dali in aerosol in the Collingwood Underground

Dali in aerosol in the Collingwood Underground

Dali’s creation of a surreal self was one of the archetypal images of the 20th Century. Subsequent pop stars, like Bowie, would follow the process of egotistical autobiographical creation, the cultivated image and eccentricities that was Dali. However, Dali is a complex character not just a superficial attention-seeking artist; I understood this when I read his essay on art nouveau, it was the most intelligent and concise analysis of the style I had read. His interest and understanding of both science and mythology are far from superficial.

Dali’s technical mastery of painting and drawing is amazing and is this technique that accounts for much of Dali’s mass popularity. Later I read his book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship (Dial Press, 1948) it was useful to me as a painter but like a book of arcane knowledge you have to be wise enough to see the nonsense scattered amongst true information. But there is more to Dali than artistic technique; he co-wrote with Luis Buñuel, the landmark Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou.

Travelling in Spain I took the opportunity to see Dali’s hometown of Figeros and the museum that he created in his last years. From my travel journal: “ 27/4/2000 I don’t believe it but I made the 7:50am Figeros express and I’m on my to Dali territory. It just shows how easy it is to get around in Barcelona. The weather is a bit overcast and clouds shroud the mountains. I’m still having very strange dreams and waking up a couple of times a night…jetlag? … I was very glad that I visited the Barcelona Museum of Modern Art to understand Dali’s early influences and references… Museum Dali-Gala is full of moving sculptures, coin operated moving sculptures and optical viewers (25 pestas), peepholes and cues of people waiting for a particular view… Fortunately there is a garden to relax in because the crowds are worse than the Uffizi or the Vatican Museum.” It was the most fun museums that I ever visited, if Dali knew how many visitors would come he would have installed a fair-ground cars like a ghost-train.

I really think that Dali believed that art was equal to spiritual salvation. As Gainsborough said on his death bed: “We are all going to heaven and Vandyke is of the company.” Painted on the ceiling (1100 x 575cm) of one of the rooms the Museum Dali-Gala is a vision of the apotheosis of Gala and Dali, the huge feet on their foreshortened bodies is most of what that we mortals can see as they ascend to a Dali heaven. The painting might appear egotistical, grotesque and even kitsch but what of its message: if prodigious artistic talent doesn’t make you immortal then what does?

Over my life I have sometimes tired of all images of Dali that are commonly repeated, the commercial industry built around his art, sometimes he has been too much, but there are so many aspects of Dali that I keep on returning to him as a person of interest.

This is part of a monthly series about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact.


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