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The Spanish Soul at the Guggenheim

Two views of children: Juan Pantoga de la Cruz's in 1607 (left) and Pablo Picasso's in 1950.
Two views of children: Juan Pantoga de la Cruz's in 1607 (left) and Pablo Picasso's in 1950.

What makes the Guggenheim exhibition “Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History” so exceptional exceeds even the astounding wealth of masterworks assembled from private collections and museums ranging from Madrid’s Prado and Reina Sofia to the Cleveland Art Museum. It lies in the arrangement of the 140 paintings in thematic groupings that bypass chronology in order to focus on timeless qualities of Spanish history and culture.

The works spans half a millennium. Yet to view them alongside others that may be separated by centuries but are connected by content and sensibility is to see great art transcending its moment of creation.

And so, representatives of the avant-garde like Picasso, Dali, Miró, and Gris, once thought to have been totally divorced from the tradition of Spain’s “Golden Age,” are revealed to be as grounded in the dark richness of the Spanish soil as are El Greco, Zurbaran, Velázquez, and on to Goya.

In the section devoted to “Monstruos,” for example, Velazquez’s 1643 naturalistic portrait of the dwarf “Don Sebastian de Morra” appears beside Picasso’s 1959 surrealistic “El Bobo” – different approaches but a common subject and an expressive humanity. In the section devoted to “Bodegones” (materials found in pantries or still life objects), Cotán’s 1602 depiction of root vegetables on a windowsill and Miró’s 1920 painting, of a table laden with foods, a rooster and rabbit, share not only content but a disturbing starkness and vivid geometric patterns.

The other groupings focus on Monks (popular subjects during the Counter Reformation for their ascetic spirituality); Landscape (newly discovered in the Golden Age), Nudes, Childhood, Knights and Ghosts, Crucifixions, The Fallen, Flyers, and themes relating to women: The Domestic World, Women in Public  Weeping Women, Virgins and Mothers, and Ladies. As each segment winds its way up the Guggenheim spiral, it is preceded by a clear and beautifully composed statement that prepares the viewer for the historical and cultural context of the paintings and the transcendent connection of one to another.

As we had previously seen many of these works in their homes at the Prado, the Reina Sofia, the Cathedral of Seville, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, it was a welcome pleasure to view them here in New York in the Guggenheim’s inspired setting and in this unique arrangement that melds the centuries in its evocation of the Spanish soul.

“El Greco to Picasso” runs until March 28, 2007 at

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York City

Curators: Carmen Giménez and Francisco Calvo Serraler

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Photos by Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Gemäldegalerie  (Cruz) and Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, Geneva Picasso © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York (Picasso)

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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