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Fortuny painted this picture of a victorious bullfighter saluting the crowd while he and his family were living in Granada in southern Spain from 1870 to 1872. Aside from the visual spectacle of bullfights, he was attracted to traditions that survived in contemporary Spain.
It is not possible to say if we are looking here at a specific bullring or one that Fortuny has imagined. However, the painting does show his lively brushwork, which anticipates Impressionism, and his skilful use of strong colours, which are tempered by delicate pinks and turquoise.
Fortuny has placed us close to the action within the bullring itself, not among the audience, and slightly below the matador, whose raised arm and jubilant face stand out clearly against the bright sky that fills the upper half of the picture. In contrast, the lower half is filled with the aftermath of the bloody fight that has just ended.
Images of men and bulls have been found as early as Palaeolithic rock art, including cave paintings in Spain. More recently, bullfights have been a staple of Spanish painting since Goya, whose album of 33 etchings of bullfights, the Tauromaquia (1816), became an important source for Gérôme and Manet in the nineteenth century, and for Picasso in the twentieth.
The Spanish artist Fortuny painted this picture of a victorious bullfighter saluting the crowd while he and his family were living in Granada in southern Spain from 1870 to 1872. Aside from the visual spectacle of bullfights, Fortuny was attracted to traditions that survived in contemporary Spain. This attraction was itself an aspect of costumbrismo, a cultural movement that promoted the literary and artistic portrayal of everyday Spanish life and customs. Initially based in Spain in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, costumbrismo spread more widely, particularly in the Spanish-speaking Americas, and continued into the twentieth century.
Costumbrismo combined Realism’s focus on actual places and activities with aspects of Romanticism, particularly its emphasis on dramatic action and expression. The publication in 1842 of The Spanish Drawn By Themselves (Los españoles pintados por sí mismos) – a serialised anthology of ‘types’ depicted in verse, prose and illustrations – was an early, and influential, example in print. Not surprisingly, costumbrismo was associated with the rise of nationalism in nineteenth-century Spain, which culminated in the formation of the First Spanish Republic (1873–4), just a few years after Fortuny painted this picture.
Fortuny often painted matadors and picadors, who were readily identifiable Spanish ‘types’ and also a popular subject with foreign purchasers of Spanish art. Although he had previously painted bullrings in Barcelona and Seville, it is not possible to say if we are looking here at a specific bullring or one that he has imagined. However, the painting does show Fortuny’s lively brushwork, which anticipates Impressionism, and his skilful use of strong colours – for example, the vibrant blood-red of the matador’s cloth, which contrasts with the black bull. These bold colours are tempered by delicate pinks and turquoise, which recall Rococo painting (including early Goya) and Delacroix, who was also an important early influence.
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