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Raimundo de Madrazo, Master of Strokes

Raimundo Madrazo - The Love Letter
Birthday Wishes, ca. 1880

Born on the 24th of July, 1841 in Rome, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta was a Spanish realist painter. Coming from a long line of painters in the family, Raimundo moved back to Spain and studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, then in Paris under Léon Cogniet. Raimundo stayed in Paris most of his life and like his family did mostly portraiture. Raimundo is distinctly unique from most in the way he paints fabric and drapery...elevating the women of his era in their beautiful shimmering dresses like very few artists in history. Despite this interesting niche Raimundo was a brilliant portrait painter of both men and women. Look closely in his brushwork and the influence of Velázquez is unmistakable, yet Madrazo has an ability to make those strokes dance.

In Birthday Wishes above, the narrative is clear: a woman reads a card addressed to her from an admirer while holding a bouquet of flowers. The background was a green underpainting that Madrazo covers with a muted, smoky violet tone. I love the way Madrazo paints her coat with those turquoise strokes and that ruffled white trim. Look closely at the veil that she is leaning against on the chair: here Madrazo weaves in yellow-greens, muted purples and blues with a descriptive, chalky texture of a veil. But it is her delicate face and her ambiguous expression, painted in smooth tones that is arresting. What is she thinking? Madrazo leaves us to wonder, and her peacefulness is hypnotic. The model is his muse, Aline Masson...

detail, Birthday Wishes

Reverie—The Letter, ca.1870

Another theme with love letter and flowers, and yet here Madrazo creates a very different sensibility. The woman seems distraught by the way she holds the letter in her hand with the envelope tossed on the floor. Standing against a piano, we can easily make out the musical notes on the sheet music. The pink wall behind her seems to allude to romance yet the surroundings indicate a disruption to her musical studies. Look at the shimmer of her skirt with those muted purple shadows. The shawl is painted in yellow ochre yet totally natural. Madrazo is clearly a painter of thinking subjects with real emotions and not just pretty faces.

Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta - Spring Beauty - 81.408 - Indianapolis Museum of Art
Spring Beauty, ca. 1800's

This is a lovely portrait in a warm light that bathes the sitter. Look at the background trees and foliage and see the Impressionism in those strokes, as if painted by Monet. Her face and skin are depicted with the usual confidence of Madrazo, and the floral patterns of her blouse up close, are juicy brushstrokes of tinted colours that seem to have no challenge for Madrazo, yet from a distance appear to be highly ornate. Madrazo's delicate use of shadows here is so subtle yet worthy of attention: under her chin, under the rim of her blouse on her chest, the small shadow on the basket handle on her left arm, and the shadow of her dress on the ground. Love the warm yellow highlights on her skirt. This is a painter's painting.

El grabador Bernardo Rico, por Raimundo Madrazo
El grabador Bernardo Rico, ca. 1870
This is an astounding portrait of Spanish engraver Bernardo Rico, brother of the Madrid painter Martin Rico. The loose brushwork of the hair is hypnotic, especially in the eyebrows. The penetrating gaze, deep skin tones and warm highlights of the forehead and nose reveal a sold structure with those dancing strokes that seem to glide across the form. The coat is a series of broken blue-grey strokes and the background seems like a raw sienna painted wistfully on top of a bright underpainting of uncertain color. This painting could be a required study for all aspiring portrait painters, and stands up proudly to any artist, from any period.

Retrato de Rámon de Errazu
Ramón de Errazu, 1879

A well-respected patron of hispanic artists, this portrait of Ramón de Errazu was a wealthy collector and friend of Madrazo. This rather tall, even lanky man is painted here with grace and elegance. Madrazo paints the background in a curious, smoky green grey that seems to oscillate toward the right hand side of the canvas. Errazu is serene and yet with an intent, confident gaze. Look at how Madrazo reveals a red underpainting that shows in the beard and jacket. Love the subtle pin stripes of those pants, and crispness of his shoes. I saw the original at El Prado in Madrid in 2014 and I remember being transfixed by this curious and interesting portrait of an intelligent young man.

RAIMUNDO DE MADRAZO Y GARRETA - Después del baño (Museo del Prado, Madrid, c. 1895)
Después del baño, ca. 1895
This breathtaking nude of his favourite model, Aline Masson reveals Madrazo's ability to change techniques to suit the subject matter with ease. Her skin has an ethereal glow. Note how he uses subtle yet bright greens in the shadow areas while the highlights are a warm smooth texture. Look at how he scumbles dark green into the background. Her clothing off to the side has those thick Madrazo strokes with confident highlights that only he seems to do effortlessly. Love how even the wooden floor beneath her feet indicates spilled powder. And the pink glow of the sofa, especially those yellow-grey highlights beside her arm show the bravura brushwork of a master.

Raimundo Madrazo - Salida del baile de máscaras
Salida del baile de máscaras, ca. 1885

Switching gears here Madrazo paints a nocturnal street front scene. Love the glow of the lights framing the entrance. And the horse-drawn carriage has a green glowing shadow. In fact, that green reveals itself across the building and fades into the darkness off the right of the screen. The painting has a simplicity and presence that is enjoyable to watch.

Raimundo Madrazo Princess in the gardens of Versailles
A little princess in the gardens at Versailles, 1905
Painted in his later period where he lived in Versailles, here Madrazo depicts a scene that seems to come out of a literary novel. Incredible detail in the costumes and Madrazo's attention to body language and facial expression demonstrate his thoroughness and storytelling ability. Look at the clouds above, painted loose and thick. The trees are also fuzzy in the distance yet the foreground is a study of leaf shapes and color values than actual leaves. Absolutely beautiful.

María Hahn, esposa del pintor, por Raimundo de Madrazo
María Hahn, esposa del pintor, 1901

As the title says she is the wife of Madrazo, depicted in superb rich detail. A kind, warm face in a dress that is a bravura display of all that Madrazo's brushwork offers us a painter who is not intimidated by detail whatsoever and tackles it with juicy strokes that mesmerize. Note how the background is a dark value with bits of warm tones that oscillate once again. Madrazo is perceptive enough to notice that the background is not merely an element but sets the stage for the subject. Stunning.

Retrato de señora (Raimundo de Madrazo)
Portrait of a lady, 1899

Not sure of the identity of this woman, but Madrazo paints her with elegance and confidence. Look at that background! It seems to oscillate as if one of his fabrics. Warms flicks of the brush across a purple-blue backdrop and suddenly she seems to float against it. Her skin is pale yet confidently rendered. Love the calm assurance in that face. This is work of a true painter.

Madrazo had a great instinct for painting that is beautiful to observe, the more the better. Madrazo's genius was in not only understanding brushwork, not only using it effectively, but making those strokes breathe. He may have lacked the range and sensitivity of Casas or Rusiñol, but Madrazo was a the truest poet of the brush in the modern world.


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