Tuesday, 12 February 2013



Murillo and Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship.

We have often admired Murillo's paintings in the past, a few can be seen at Dulwich Picture Gallery, in the National Gallery and in the Prado, Madrid. Now we have the opportunity to look at a large collection of them, on view at Dulwich Picture Gallery, in South London.

We attended a lecture last week given by the curator of this new exhibition, Dr Xavier Bray.   Then we walked round the exhibition and admired the lovely oil paintings, some borrowed from the Louvre, the National Gallery and other collections, both in the UK , Europe and the USA.

The canon of Seville Cathedral, Justino de Neve, was a close friend and sponsor of Murillo and included in his collection of 160 picture was 18 Murillos including a portrait which is in this exhibition. Most of the painting though, are of a religious nature.

When de Neve met Murillo he was as at the height of his career, producing art works for churches, convents and other religious establishment, but he had previously that worked for an individual.  He had trained in Seville and had set up an Academy of Drawing. It is possible that he met Velazquez in Madrid but he did not travel anywhere else and remained in Seville all his life.  

He was a perfect Catholic propaganda painter, said Dr Gray, He painted lunettes for the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca in Seville, which was opened in 1665. However, many paintings did not remain in situ, a lot were stolen by the French during the Napoleonic War, particularly by Marechal Soult and his followers. Soult stole the Immaculate Conception, which was then later swapped by Franco with the regime of Petain, for an El Greco. This lovely painting now hangs in the Prado but you can see it at the moment in Dulwich.

There was a terrible plague in 1649 when half the population of Seville died, which might be the reason that after that date Murillo's work showed peaceful images of the Infant Christ as well as the Lamb of God, possibly because images of hope and love were needed, rather than paintings of  scenes of suffering such as the Cruxificion. In fact all the paintings we saw were tranquil and inspired feelings of serenity.

The Hospital of the Venerables was built as a home for poor priests, suffering as a result of the crisis caused by the plague.  This building is still there in Seville. Murillo painted several lovely works for this institution. Justino de Neve had planned to move there in his old age but he died before that was possible

de Neve had a private collection of works including The Flower Girl and one titled Summer, of a young man, both on loan from the National Gallery.

There are two small works painted on obsidian, a dense black material from Mexico, in which Murillo used the black background as an integral part of his work.

The two paintings of beggar boys, or street urchins, which is owned by Dulwich, have been well cleaned and we were shown them, before and after.

Dr Gray pointed out the loose, luminous style of later Murillos, called 'estilo vaporoso', a free and expressive manipulation of the medium of oil paint.

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