A Portrait of Spain

MFAH scores masterpieces from the Prado in rare show.

The religious pieces in the show provide us the opportunity to see some notable works by El Greco, a Greece-born painter who settled in Spain and, despite his name, is largely associated with his adopted homeland. Saint Benedict (c. 1577-79) is one such work, a surprisingly humanistic portrayal of the saint that captures his benevolence. The Veil of Saint Veronica (c. 1586-95) is another eye-catching painting that depicts the legend and is memorable for what it doesn't include — a crown of thorns and Veronica herself, instead focusing on Jesus's serene face.

And then, like a chill in the wind that leaves goosebumps, there is a sudden, noticeable shift; Spain is ushered into modernity. Leaving behind the piety of the religious paintings, you encounter works by the likes of Mariano Fortuny (Elderly Nude Man in the Sun, 1871) and Eduardo Rosales (After the Bath, 1869) that employ a loose, painterly, expressive style that looks back to artists like Velázquez and Ribera who came centuries before them while also looking forward to a new Realism.

On the same token, Aureliano de Beruete's impressionistic landscape The Wall of El Pardo (1911) is almost shocking in its departure from the neoclassical and Baroque styles that are dominant throughout the Prado show. De Beruete was one of the first Spanish painters to identify with impressionism and was a major advocate of painting en plein air. This was a plea that fortunately did not go unheeded, as the utterly breathtaking landscapes at the very end of the show, right before the telltale gift shop, demonstrate.

Elderly Nude Man in the Sun  by Mariano José Maria Bernardo Fortuny y Carbó employs a loose, painterly, expressive style
© Photographic Archive, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Elderly Nude Man in the Sun by Mariano José Maria Bernardo Fortuny y Carbó employs a loose, painterly, expressive style

Location Info


Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston

1001 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77004

Category: Museums

Region: Kirby-West U


Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado

Admission to the exhibit requires a separate timed-entry ticket. Viewing hours are 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through March 31. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit the museum's Web site or call 713-639-7300. $12 to $18.

If at this point you feel like the show could use a heavy dose of Goya madness, you'll be pleased to find a whole room devoted to three late-18th-century/early-19th-century print series done toward the end of his career: Los Caprichos, Los Disparates and Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War). These prints were most likely done for the artist and his friends and lack the rich color, impressive scale and superior technical skill that many of the preceding works, including Goya's own court-commissioned portraits, convey. But these small studies are quite revolutionary in their comment on social and political realities as they depict the ugliness and grotesqueness of human folly and fear through black-and-white images of war, witchcraft and asylums. By this point, if you've grown weary of the dozens of realist royal portraits and religious narratives, however skillful, that have preceded, Goya can shock you awake just yet.

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