Thyssen Museum sheds light on Spain’s legendary ‘dark side’
Grim, decadent, lowlife. Prostitution. These are the key words deployed in the introduction to an exhibition of 34 engravings presented in the Sala Noble of the Museo Carmen Thyssen, until September 25. However, rest assured. Recommended for you, if you enjoy decoding Spanish cultural expressions, “Negra es la noche / Black is the night – Solana, Cossío, Bores” is anything but depressing.
This jewel show highlights three artists from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, who marked the interwar period, before the civil war; although originating from the north (collection of the art museum of the University of Cantabria, in Santander), the images on display are far from being cold; Ranging from crisp black and white woodcuts to etchings in shades of gray, they have a dynamic side to them.
Solano imbued his wicked street scenes and seedy interiors with unparalleled dark realism
“España Negra” refers to a time of misery: plunged into misery, devastated by hunger. Represented by the best known of the Thyssen trio, the iconic Madrid genre painter José Luis Gutiérrez Solana (1886-1945), he is masked by the cruelty associated with the ever-present Spanish “black legend” (triggered by the Inquisition , revived under the reign of Franco dictatorship, and still difficult to get rid of…).
Not to be confused with Valencia-born Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) – sun-kissed, blissful high-society ‘king’ (who has a street named after him in the trendy, bustling beach district de Pedregalejo…), Solana, “al contrario”, infuses his petty street scenes and shabby interiors with unparalleled dark realism; reverting to the dark tones of Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters, its unbridled miserabilism has been described as a form of “neo- or late costumbrismo”.
Pagan feasts featuring masked revelers are a recurring theme evoking the carnivalesque imagery of the modern Belgian master, James Ensor, as well as the grotesque masked figures of Goya.
Younger and less famous than Solana, the other two painters highlighted here honed their skills in Madrid and Paris. Born in Cuba to Spanish parents who returned to their native country, Pancho Cossío (1894-1970) grew up in Santander.
In the City of Light, he lightens his palette by developing a brand of post-cubism which could have become his trademark if he had not returned to it; his later figurative canvases, often depicting the everyday life of fishermen, exude a hazy lyricism.
Art scholars remember Cossío as the founder of Santander’s “Ultraísta” movement, drawn to theater and writing; he appeared alongside Dali and Max Ernst in Buñuel’s Golden Age (1930) and promoted Francisco de Goya as an underrated genius.
More disreputable is his post-war reputation as “El Pintor de la Falange”: a former communist, who espoused the far right.
On a brighter note, Francisco Bores (Madrid, 1898-Paris, 1972) illustrated Lorca, whom he had befriended, during early visits to friends and family in Andalusia.
A member of the School of Paris, his signature was curvilinear constructivism.
“Black is the night” is a nod to the painter-musician Darío de Rogoyos (1857-1913), co-author of “La España negra” with the Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren.
The next major Thyssen event is dedicated to Belgium’s contribution to Modern Art. Are you ready for this?