Finding myself for a few days in my home town of Valencia last week, I took the opportunity to go round most (if not all) the city's main art museums and revisit the permanent collections as well as checking out some of the temporary exhibitions. In this post and my next one I'll try to summarise what I saw and what's on offer for the art lover over the Summer months (I apologise in advance for what I may have missed as my time in town was limited and I was busy visiting friends and family!).
Most of the city's art displays are located around the historic city centre (crammed with visitors every Summer) and within easy walking distance of each other, which is handy as the old town is definitely worth visiting on foot. It was good to see that the city and regional authorities are making a concerted effort to promote the local art scene, as information on museums and galleries (including activities and exhibitions) was readily available throughout the city and the major institutions have now a reasonably-developed online presence (all of which has not necessarily been the case in the past, a shame given that Valencia has a lot to offer for its size in terms of visual arts).
In terms of 'traditional' (as opposed to, say, 'modern') art forms, and painting in particular, the first stop for the aficionado is undoubtedly the Fine Art museum (Museu de Belles Arts de València). Past the huge history and symbolist paintings in the entrance hall is one of the gems of the institution, the beautiful collection of large altarpieces and other paintings from the 1400s onwards (coinciding with the trade-fuelled, late-medieval 'golden age' of the city and the region), executed by the likes of Joan Reixach, Gonçal Peris, Vicent Macip, Pere Nicolau, Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina, Nicolau Borràs or Joan de Joanes. The collection of Spanish and European art from later centuries includes the recent addition of a number of beautiful Piranesi etchings and a small but truly impressive room containing works by El Greco and Juan de Pareja, two small but gorgeous Velázquez paintings (including a self-portrait), and a few pieces by a personal favourite of mine, José or Giuseppe de Ribera (1591-1652), a Naples-based painter often dismissed as gory and lurid but who was a truly outstanding draughtsman and anatomist with a command of light and dark worthy of Caravaggio. The visit continues along a lively room devoted to portraitist Vicente López Portaña (1772-1850) leading up to another impressive small room with a handful of Goya paintings, including the arresting portraits of etcher Rafael Esteve and painter Francisco Bayeu. The 19th and 20th century section happened to be closed for reorganisation but I was able to visit the rooms devoted to the work of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), a hugely gifted draughtsman and colourist known for his free, impressionistic use of paint and who (as I found out when I started painting in England) has remained an almost-universal reference for artists working (like Sorolla himself) in comparatively traditional figuration.
Always in terms of 'traditional' painting, an easily overlooked gem in the city's museum line-up is Casa-Museu Benlliure, the former home of painter José Benlliure Gil (1858-1937), preserved (mostly) as it was when occupied by him and his family. The painter's major works are not kept here but a number of portraits and other pieces (including beautiful sketchbook work) by him and his son José Benlliure Ortiz (1884-1916) are on display in the Casa-Museu. An unmissable part of the visit is Benlliure's perfectly preserved, massive studio (big enough to accommodate the huge-format history and mythological paintings in demand at the time), located in a separate building at the back of the property's inner courtyard and complete with North-facing window, curtains and screens to veil and direct the light, and the massive panoply of weapons, clothing and other accessories used as props in Benlliure's compositions.
I was just able to squeeze in two visits to temporary exhibitions focused on 'traditional' painting; The first, to IVAM Centre del Carme (see my next post for details on the institution), where the exhibition Los Objetos Hablan (Objects Speak, 24/06 to 25/09/2016) presents a selection of paintings from Museo del Prado in Madrid (including pieces by the likes of Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Francisco de Zurbarán, Goya, Raimundo de Madrazo, Sorolla and Ignacio Pinazo) where the objects depicted tell a story as meaningful as that of, say, a portrait's central figure; and the other to Museu Valencià de la Il.lustració i de la Modernitat (MuVIM, Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity) where the exhibition Pinazo: Del Ocaso de los Grandes Maestros a la Juventud Artística. Valencia 1912-1927 (14/07 to 16/10/2016) provides a snapshot of drawing, painting and graphic design in the region at a time in the early 20th century when Sorolla's generation was being enriched by new names and new artistic trends. I was particularly keen to visit this exhibition as it is one of a number programmed to commemorate the centenary of the passing of another personal favourite, Valencian painter Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench (1849-1916), a retiring individual but a portraitist of huge expressivity; However, the exhibition provides context rather than showing any of his major works (even though the small drawing section features beautiful works on paper by him and other artists). It is worth mentioning that Pinazo's former home in the nearby town of Godella is now another Casa-Museu which may be visited by appointment (incredibly, that one is on my to-do list yet!).
In the second part of this post I will focus on the 'modern' stuff I saw whilst in Valencia (not that I managed to cover everything, as I said and despite my best efforts!).