By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Five years ago, the Milwaukee Art Museum, N. 700 Art Museum Dr., began working on the exhibition “Americans in Spain.” Little did the museum know, that by the time the exhibition arrived, the world would just be opening up again and exploration would be more poignant than ever.
Last Friday, June 11 marked the official start of the museum’s temporary exhibition “Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820-1920.” The exhibition, which was co-organized with the Chrysler Museum of Art, is on display now until Oct. 3. The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
For the avid traveler, the homebody, the historian and the average visitor, “Americans in Spain” is worth wandering through. The paintings, photographs and etches capture a century worth of history and culture of a country steeped in tradition.
The gallery contains masterpieces on loan from El Prado, copies of famous works by American artists, original pieces by said artists, books, a video of the famous Carmencita and more. The American artists featured in this exhibition include Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri and John Singer Sargent.
Brandon Rudd curated the exhibition, which is split into several sections. One section focuses on the romance and reality of Spain, another is dedicated to the south of Spain which is home to La Alhambra and the Mosque of Córdoba, yet another showcases the laborers of Spain.
Americans had a fascination with Spain, Rudd explained. Fantastical tales and intriguing stereotypes encouraged many to visit Spain when the opportunity finally presented itself.
As such, the exhibition begins with El Prado, the art museum located in Madrid, Spain. As many painters would have visited the museum, so does the exhibition intentionally begin there.
Back in the day, it was common for up-and-coming artists to copy the works of the masters, Rudd explained. Artists, including John Singer Sargent, would visit El Prado Museum and transpose the works before them onto their own canvases.
The gallery explores this history with the “Portrait of Mariana of Austria,” which was painted by Diego Velázquez. Three paintings of the Doña Mariana hang on two walls: the original masterpiece, one by Velázquez’s son-in-law, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo and another by Joaquín Sorolla.
As the gallery continues, it suddenly becomes flooded with light. This section is meant to emulate Granada’s famous architectural landscape La Alhambra. Although not all of the pieces in this section are of the south, some depict Spain’s landscape including images of Segovia and Ronda, the main focus is on Andalucía.
Photographs by renowned photographer Jean Laurent capture the details of the La Alhambra palace, which was rebuilt for the last king of the Nasrid dynasty. The archways, symbols of the Moorish influence, surround the palace and are a part of the gallery’s design.
For many, Spain was the bridge into African countries such as Morocco. “The Moorish Warrior,” by William Merritt Chase exemplify this idea, while capturing the impact the Moors had on Spain’s history and the influence still seen today.
From there the gallery shifts to a focus on the working class of Spain.
Walter Gay’s “Cigarette Girls, Seville” and José Jiménez Aranda’s “Figaro’s Shop” feature the laborers of the 19th century. Each painting is like a snapshot capturing moments in time.
Other paintings by Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri capture the performers and entertainers of the day including Carmencita, a renowned flamenco dancer, matadors or bullfighters and Romani people also known as gypsies.
While the gallery is of Spain, the overarching theme encapsulates American’s unquenchable thirst for exploration and their continued fascination with diving into the relative unknown. This notion is as relevant then as Americans shifted their focus from Spain to Paris, France at the end of the century, as it is now as Americans – and the world – anticipate the next journey on the horizon.
For tickets visit the Milwaukee Art Museum’s website at mam.org.