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Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Opens From Cezanne to Leger Exhibition as Part of Art on Paper Series
Paul Cezanne, Bathers, Small Bathers, 1897. Lithograph on paper. 29 x 33 cm. Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts.

BILBAO.- The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection contains more than six thousand works on paper, including watercolours, posters, collages, drawings, engravings, paintings and photographs. The figure provides clear proof of the Museum’s enduring interest in the use of art media on a support whose fragility prevents such works being exhibited permanently. Paper is incredibly sensitive to light and variations in humidity and temperature.

Despite this problem, the Museum has launched the ART ON PAPER programme, generously sponsored by BANCAJA, to provide a series of exhibitions devoted, as its title implies, entirely to art on paper. The programme’s objective is twofold: to show the public the Museum’s own collection, or other collections of interest, including the magnificent BANCAJA holdings, and to make the works included available to the public in general and specialists in the catalogues accompanying each exhibition.

To date, the following exhibitions have been staged under the programme:

-Drawings and engravings. 15th-18th centuries. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection (2005)

-Picasso: Box of Regrets. Bancaja Collection (2005)

-Darkness visible. John Martin (1789—1854). Prints and drawings from the Campbell Collection (2006)

-Carlos de Haes. Drawings and engravings. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection (2006)

-Picasso. Suite Vollard. Bancaja Collection (2007)

-From Goya to Benlliure. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection (2007)

-Picasso and Books. Bancaja Collection (2008)

-From Cézanne to Léger. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection (2009)

On this occasion, the Museum presents From Cézanne to Léger. Bilbao Fine Arts Museum Collection, which continues the chronological overview begun in 2008 with From Goya to Benlliure. While the earlier exhibition included a major corpus of works from the 19th century, the latest show focuses more on the study and display of the Museum collection, with drawings, watercolours, gouaches, engravings and works in pastel produced in a period ranging from the final decades of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century.

In the Paris of the final decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, when the city was rightly considered the world capital of the arts, the development of Impressionism and other subsequent movements like Cubism provided a new artistic vision that was favoured by the consolidation of the art market and, as regards works on paper, by major progress in engraving techniques.

But alongside this break with the past, a more academic aesthetic survived, tending to concentrate on carefully composed, precisely drawn studio-produced works on popular and historical themes, together with portraits and landscapes. A number of artists provide good examples of this vein of less experimental art, including, Gonzalo Bilbao (1860-1938), whose production retains the 19th-century taste for picturesque characters and customs.

At the same time, other artists who also channelled their popular art towards a more conservative market were not averse, despite their conventional approach, to dabbling in certain new formal touches. This was the case of Manuel Losada (1865—1949), best known for his pleasing recreations in pastel of a pre-industrial Bilbao.

Together with this popular vision, there emerged a more critical one that was fiercely opposed by the academics. One leading light of the critical view was José Gutiérrez Solana (1886—1945), who presented, as exemplified by the etching and the lithograph included in the exhibition, a stripped, straightforward view of contemporary Spain, heir to the Expressionist tradition of the Spanish school and the turn-of-the-century aesthetic of “Black Spain”, as portrayed by Regoyos and Zuloaga.

It is in this particular context, and despite his international success, that Ignacio Zuloaga (1870—1945, two of whose charcoal portraits of fellow painter Pablo Uranga are included here) was also accused of exalting and intensifying the country’s perceived backwardness.

The survival of the academic tradition distorted the assessment of certain artists whose landscapes developed more in tune with Impressionism and who were not properly appreciated until well into the 20th century. This is the case of Bilbao-born artist Adolfo Guiard (1860—1916), who has nine watercolours and ink drawings in the exhibition. Guiard, whose landscapes shared the Impressionist taste for painting au plein air, according to which an artist didn’t need to move from a particular spot in order to change landscape, endowed his works with a certain symbolic spirituality.

Amongst the most outstanding works in the exhibition are two scenes of bathers by Paul Cézanne (1839—1906), considered the father of modern art because of the influence his ideas about form and colour exerted over later generations of painters. Many of his explorations and experiments were taken up by Cubism, represented here by the works of Louis Marcoussis (1883—1941) and Fernand Léger (1881—1955), the latter with a still-life from his mature period. The diagrammatic outlines of Cubism also influenced Francisco Iturrino (1864—1924), whose drawings often served as preliminary exercises for his paintings.

Together with Cubism’s formal interest in diagrammatic shape and form, other movements, like Expressionism, explored the expressive potential of colour. Expressionism is well represented here in an unusual work by Oskar Kokoschka (1886—1980). Georges Rouault (1871—1958) took mediaeval art as a reference. The exhibition has four prints of Rouault’s Miserere series, considered one of the finest works in 20th century graphic art.

From 1910 on, a host of movements and groups of painters, sculptors, engravers, illustrators, writers, philosophers and poets emerged, all sharing a need for artistic and intellectual exploration. One movement was Constructivism, particularly visible here in the works of Joaquín Torres García (1874—1949).

Daniel Vázquez Díaz (1882—1969) played an essential role in the renewal of Spanish visual arts in this period. The exhibition includes two splendid drawings portraying fellow painters Darío de Regoyos and Aurelio Arteta and three etchings from his The martyred cities series, in which Vázquez Díaz captures the horrors of the wars that so marked this vivid, intense period of European history.

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