Fashion and the Fine Arts in Carmen de Burgos’ Avant-garde Novel, La mujer fantástica

I’m going to start the new year with a post on my most recent article, “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-Garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantástica (1924)”, which was published in the open-access journal Ciberletras in December 2017. I was excited to publish this article in that format, as it allowed me to easily include hyperlinks to the images that were so fundamental to my analysis of Burgos’ narrative.  But I still wanted to post a bit about this work here on my blog, where I can include the actual images and also highlight some of my main points for those who may not read the full, 20-page-ish article! I began this article as a conference paper on Burgos’ portrayal of fashion (la moda) in this novel, and I wrote a post about the artist who designed its cover last year. But as I did further research on La mujer fantástica‘s numerous references to painting and the fine arts, I expanded the paper to argue that, in fact, this novel “becomes a paragon of the contradictory, hybrid nature of avant-garde activity in Spain,” given its detailed descriptions of fashion and urbanity, coupled with its playful, if not somewhat “elitist,” references to the fine arts. In particular, I was struck by mentions of 19th-century portraiture and the Second French Empire, a historical and cultural era that seems the antithesis of the Spanish Avant-Garde of the 1910s-20s (a contrast apparent even in the stylistic differences between the cover of the 1924 novel and the 19th-century portraits I will discuss below).

Original cover of “La mujer fantástica” (The Amazing/Fantastic Woman) by Carmen de Burgos (1924), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

To frame my discussion of the artists referenced in the novel, I used the concept of ekphrasis , particularly “allusive ekphrasis,” which is a more subtle way of connecting the literary (words) to the visual (images). In the context of Spanish literature, for example, Frederick de Armas has identified a variety of types of ekphrasis that create nuanced literary portraiture and communicate complex meanings. Armas defines “allusive ekphrasis” as an instance in which “the novelist simply refers to a painter, a work of art, or even to a feature that may apply to a work of art. This becomes ekphrasis only in the mind of the reader… who can view the work in his memory and imagination” (22).  This technique, or referential description, I argue, was particularly appealing to Carmen de Burgos, who had expressed disdain for lengthy, unnecessary narrative descriptions and preferred instead the visual cues of theater that prompted the imagination (El arte de ser mujer 129). Moreover, in his recent dissertation, Brian Cole identifies allusive ekphrasis as a common feature of Spanish avant-garde novels, emphasizing that “the reader is expected to have background knowledge of these artists in order to fully understand what the author communicates” (146). Cole’s research focuses exclusively on male writers, but as a contemporary, Burgos certainly fits within the aesthetic and chronological categories he identifies.

In La mujer fantástica, Burgos employs an allusive ekphrasis on the very first page, describing the appearance of three young women as they prepare for an evening out: “Las tres eran bonitas, graciosas; parecían tres damitas del Segundo Imperio, escapadas de un cuadro de Winterhalter” / “All three were pretty, beautiful; they resembled three young women of the Second Empire, as if they had escaped from one of Winterhalter’s portraits” (5). The image of a group of women in a Winterhalter painting likely alludes to one of his most famous works – and one of the few he created of a group of women – that of the Empress Eugenie and her ladies-in-waiting (below):

“Empress Eugenie and Her Ladies-in-Waiting” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1855). Image via Palais de Compiegne (c) RMN-Grand Palais.

For the informed (educated!) reader, this brief description is heavily weighted with visual imagery and historical/cultural contexts that both clarify and complicate the subsequent representations of women in the novel. The artist to which Burgos makes reference – Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73) – was a German painter known for his portraits of European royalty. He was especially renowned as the painter of the French Courts during the Second French Empire of the mid- to late-nineteenth century (1852-70), a historical fact Burgos recognizes within her ekphrastic language. Moreover, his  legacy is closely associated with his portraits of women and it is intimately connected to fashion ad the diffusion of his era’s most fashionable trends. Two of his most famous paintings are Empress Eugenie and her Ladies-in-Waiting (1855) (above) and the royal portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (or “Sisi”, as she was known) in 1865 (below). Readers familiar with Winterhalter would therefore be privy to a clear image of the appearance of the women described in Burgos’ opening chapter; while readers unfamiliar with the reference would still understand the plot and description, but in a less nuanced manner (in my article I note that this divide recalls Ortega y Gasset’s claim, which has been criticized as elitist, that arte nuevo would divide the public into two groups: those who understand and those who do not).

“Empress Elisabeth of Austria” (“Sisi”) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1864-65). Image via Wikimedia / Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot, Vienna.

While both Elisabeth (“Sisi”) an Eugenia were admired for their beauty and poise, Empress Eugenie – a Spanish countess-turned French Empress upon her marriage to Napoleon III – was revered for her refined sense of fashion a exquisite taste in clothing. At several moments in her novel, Burgos explicitly compares her protagonist (Elena) to the Empress Eugenie and, as I argue, these ekprhastic associations serve as a means of portraying the protagonist’s fascination with fashion trends, make-up, and wardrobe in terms that do not reduce these habits to mere feminine frivolity, but rather position them as modes of artistic expression and female identity formation. Eugenia in particular was an exceptional historical figure, and her death in Madrid in 1920 inspired Burgos to publish a short biography of the Empress this same year: “La Emperatriz Eugenia: su vida”. In this text, Burgos not only highlights her political influence, intelligence, Spanish heritage, but also makes a point to celebrate her style and fashionable taste in a separate chapter, “The empress and fashion”. Here, she links Eugenie to her predecessor, Marie Antoinette – in terms of feminine royal power and aristocratic fashion – a connection that the Empress herself had chosen to highlight through a commissioned Winterhalter portrait in which she models 18th-century dress (below).

“Empress Eugenie in 18th Century Costume” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1854). Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Relative to my study of the representation of women in the novel, in her research on Empress Elisabeth and the “visual culture of femininity,” Olivia Gruber Florek argues that 19th-century aristocratic portraiture, which has traditionally been cast aside as archaic and unrelated to modernism, is in fact the very point of departure from which multiple meanings and ambiguous modern identities may be conveyed (5). This is particularly the case for women, who were able to exercise some degree of autonomy over their appearance in these works of art by selecting their clothing, hairstyle, and approving final versions of the paintings. Empress Eugenie, for example, frequently wore elaborate dresses designed by Charles Frederick Worth, the English designer who dominated the Parisian fashion scene during the second French Empire and is considered the father of haute couture. Taking into account the historical and cultural markers informing Burgos’ initial novelistic reference to Winterhalter’s paintings (via allusive ekphrasis), as well as the explicit mentions of Empress Eugenia throughout the La mujer fantástica, I suggest that Burgos calls attention to the artistic value of (female) fashion in an historical context. Not only does she foreground its centrality in Winterhalter’s paintings, but she traces a trajectory from the royal empresses immortalized in museums, to modern women who, amidst early 20th-century reverence for French fashion and the art of haute couture, continued to pursue fashion as a means of self-expression and identity formation.

“Empress Eugenie in Court Dress” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1853). Image via Wikimedia. This was one of the most widely copied and circulated images of Eugenie in the 1850s (Kessler-Aurisch 14-16).

Just as the empresses of the 19th century European empires exercised control over their ideal presentational images through fashion choices, beauty practices, and commissioned portraits that would memorialize their likeness in museums of fine art on a global scale, so too does Burgos’ mujer fantástica curate an “ideal image” to put forth to her world. Elena’s daily toilette routine and dress selection are described as “su arte” in the novel, and this language is consistent with Burgos’s claim in El arte de ser mujer (1920) that fashion is itself an art form on par with music and painting (38).  In the conclusion to my article, I argue that in La mujer fantástica Carmen de Burgos creatively embeds her continued defense of fashion (la moda) through allusive ekphrasis and a markedly avant-garde style that redeems the realist impulses of the nineteenth century by reconsidering their representational pluralities. In the process, she challenges the notion that avant-garde literature necessarily represents an abrupt break from or rejection of the past, validates fashion and make-up as non-traditional, feminine artistic mediums, and establishes a cultural and historical trajectory of women’s “artistic production” through fashion and self-representation.

I’ve tried to summarize some of the main points of my article, but I’ve omitted many examples from the novel and my research in order to make the is post a bit more concise. It’s worth noting that there are MANY instances of allusive ekphrasis in this novel, many of which I discuss in my full article, and once I delved into the details of these references I became quite distracted – and excited – by the additional layers of meaning that they each conveyed in this new literary context. In fact, with the novel’s frequent allusions to painting, portraiture, and sculpture, I state that Burgos essentially “creates a bona fide art museum in narrative form.”

What other early 20th century Spanish novels – especially written by women – feature fashion or the fine arts (especially via ekphrasis) prominently in either characterization or plot development?


Armas, Frederick de. “Simple Magic: Ekphrasis from Antiquity to the Age of Cervantes.” Ekphrasis in the Age of Cervantes. Edited by Frederick A. de Armas, Bucknell UP, 2005, pp. 13-31. (Amazon)

Bender, Rebecca M. “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-Garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantastica (1924).” Ciberletras 39, Dec. 2017. n.p.

Cole, Brian M. “Ekphrasis and Avant-Garde Prose of 1920s Spain.” Dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2015. Theses and Dissertations-Hispanic Studies, UKnowledge. Proquest.

Burgos, Carmen de. El arte de ser mujer. 1922. Biblok, 2014.

—. “La Emperatriz Eugenia. Su vida”. La Novela Corta, año 5, no. 240, 15 Jul.1920, n.p.

—. La mujer fantástica. 1924. Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2010, <>. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Florek, Olivia Gruber. “The Modern Monarch: Empress Elisabeth and the Visual Culture of Femininity, 1850-1900.” Dissertation, Rutgers University, 2012. Proquest.

Kessler-Aurish, Helga, et al, editors. High Society. The Portraits of Franz Xaver Winterhalter: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2015.

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Urban Spain through Literature: Literary Maps of Madrid and Barcelona

Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows I am a bit obsessed with maps – I’m either wandering around following my route via Google Maps, attempting to get my bearings and update what I refer to as “my internal GPS” (I’m generally very good with directions!), or I’m in the car paging through the good old-fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas, studying distances, reading population statistics and other trivia, and generally marveling at the massive scale of the midwestern and western US states. I realize now that two of my favorite souvenirs are maps! I wrote about the illustrated map of Mexico I purchased from a Mexico City kiosk last summer, and in this post I’m going to discuss my FAVORITE souvenir from my FAVORITE city, which I framed and hung in my office: a Literary Map of Madrid. A student visited my office at the beginning of the semester and asked me about it, and we spent some time reading some of the quotes, most of which I had only skimmed over a few years ago when I bought it. But paying closer attention to the map and its contents made me want to do a bit more research and find out if I could purchase additional copies. Good and bad news at the end of this post…

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

So who created this literary geography of Madrid? Artist Raul Arias designed the original Literary Map of Madrid in 2008 for a digital project, and in 2013 it was printed and sold in limited quantities in only two local Madrid bookstores  (I purchased mine at one in Malasaña that summer). The mapa literario is composed of quotes from famous (mostly Spanish) authors about the city, and their words are placed in roughly the urban area to which they refer — Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Pío Baroja, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Benito Pérez Galdós, Mariana José de Larra, and Ernest Hemingway all make appearances.  Below I’m pointing out two of the quotes from this map that I particularly enjoy — both from Ramón Gómez de la Serna and both dating to the late 1910s to early 1920s.

Madrid es no tener nada y tenerlo todo (Madrid is having nothing and having everything)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Una pedrada en la Puerta del Sol mueve ondas concéntricas en toda la laguna de España  (A stone thrown in the Puerta del Sol creates concentric waves in the entire lagoon of Spain)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Unfortunately, as is often the case with most objects or texts documenting Spanish literary or cultural history, some of my favorite female authors — Carmen de Burgos, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Margarita Nelken, each every bit as famous in their day as Ramón or Galdós — do not appear anywhere on the map, despite their prolific writing about the modernizing capital. Women are (again!) underrepresented in this 21st-century depiction of urban and literary history, as it seems Soledad Puértolas and Esther García-Llovet are the only two autoras to have made the cut. To do justice to their writing on the city, I decided to feature several additional literary quotations from some of these absent women. And because I love vintage photographs of early 20th century cities, I’m including additional pictures of Madrid from about the same time period as the quote I selected.

The first is from Carmen de Burgos‘ short novela, “El veneno del arte” (1910), and was pronounced in the text by a bohemian artist, nostalgically singing the praises of the city that most inspired him after having just returned after traveling throughout Europe.

No hay como Madrid en el mundo. Las demás ciudades sirven para pasar una temporada, en Madrid, la vida… (There isn’t another like Madrid in the world. Other cities are fine to spend a time, but in Madrid, one’s life.) — Carmen de Burgos

Madrid, 1910 (Calle de Alcala and the future Gran Via). Image via

The next quote is from one of my favorite books, the 1917  urban novel La rampa, which was also written by Carmen de Burgos. This particular passage refers to the transformation of the city during Carnaval, or La Verbena del Carmen, and it could be placed just north of the city center on Fuencarral and Hortaleza Street, up through the area known as Cuatro Caminos. The narrator in this text distinguishes the urban Verbana del Carmen from those festivals that took place outside the city center. To illustrate this aspect of La rampa I have chosen paintings – one of a rural Verbena celebration in the San Isidro meadow outside of Madrid, created by José Romano Gutiérrez-Solana between 1908-15; and the second of the same Verbena del Carmen referenced in Burgos’s novel painted by Maruja Mallo in 1927. See my previous post for more details on Mallo’s Verbanas.

La verbena del Carmen se introducía en la ciudad, penetraba en ella, era como una invasión de alegría y de regocijo… No era como las otras verbenas apartadas del centro, en un emplazamiento algo alejado. Esta verbena corría por las calles, con la alegría contagiosa que se propaga como el reguero de una traca… (The Virgen del Carmen Carnival entered the city, penetrated it, it was like an invasion of happiness and celebration… it wasn’t isolated from the city like other Carnivals, in somewhat remote locations. This Carnival ran through the streets, with contagious happiness that spread like the tail of a firecracker)
–Carmen de Burgos

A more rural, carnival setting, just outside the city center: “Verbena en la pradera de San Isidro,” by José Gutiérrez-Solana, 1908-1915. Image via Artnet.

The urban Verbena del Carmen, that took place directly in Madrid’s city center. “Verbena” by Maruja Mallo, 1927. Image via Museo Reina Sofia.

The third quote I’ve included below is from Margarita Nelken’s 1923 novel La trampa del arenal, which also takes place in central Madrid. In addition to general references to Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Calle Princesa, and Moncloa, several streets from the traditionally lower- and working-class, castiza neighborhoods of Lavapies and Embajadores, just south of the city center, are specifically mentioned by name. The street references in this text not only evoke a very particular urban atmosphere and encourage the reader to “map” the action of the narrative, but they also function as a means of characterizing the protagonists in terms of their social class. Salud, for example, is a social climber from this area of the city – “ni artesana ni burguesa” – who manages to obtain a job in a wealthier neighborhood. Yet as she walks home to her poorer neighborhood at night, the narrator establishes a parallel between the divided city center and the doubling or splitting of Salud’s identity:

Al volver a su casa por la noche, en cuanto bajaba la Concepción Jerónima y se internaba en el mundo que todavía no había dejado de ser el suyo, experimenta la desazón del que está a punto de perder la esencia misma de su existencia…  (Upon returning to her home at night, as soon as she went down Concepción Jerónima Street and entered that world that was still hers, she experienced the unsettling feeling that she was about to lose the essence of her existence)
— Margarita Nelken

The working-class neighborhoods of Lavapies contrast sharply with the rapidly modernizing city center in the Madrid of the early 20th century. Phot of a Plaza en Lavapies, circa 1920. Image via Twitter @SecretosdeMadrid.

Finally, Matilde de la Torre‘s description of entering the city by train from Asturias in 1936, from her memoirs of her years serving in the Republican Courts from 1936-38,  is beautiful and poetic… but it is also followed immediately by uglier, darker references to incipient, brutal Spanish Civil war: smoke is also visible from afar as a result of recent artillery shots and bombings… large trucks transport dead bodies through the city streets at night… and families are divided as the men leave to fight and protect the city by day, possibly not returning at night:

La ciudad se presenta de repente a nuestros pies, como sábana urbana que se tendiese bajo nuestra caída del cielo. (The city appeared suddenly at our feet, like an urban sheet thrown out below our fall from the sky) — Matilde de la Torre

Madrid, 1936

Now that I’ve retrieved these words for this blog post and located them within the map composed of male authors, maybe I’ll do a mini crafting project in my office one of these days and add these lines to my framed “Mapa literario de Madrid” with a few elegant neon post-it notes!!!! Returning to the Literary Map, when I was searching for information on the Mapa Literario de Madrid last week, I discovered that Arias had also created a new Literary Map of Barcelona just this year (2017), and it is currently available in bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid, along with the reissued Literary Map of Madrid. The Barcelona map, modeled after the shape of Antoni Gaudí’s mosaic salamander in Barcelona’s Parc Güell, contains quotes — in both Spanish and Catalan — from 34 authors, including Jaime Gil de Biedma, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, and Jacint Verdaguer. I appreciate the more symmetric shape and layout of this map, and also the addition of landmarks like the Sagrada Familia and Torre Glòries (or Torre Agbar).

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

You can purchase each poster-size, 24 x 36-inch map via La Central’s online store by simply typing “mapa literario” into the search box.  The GOOD news is that copies are available for under 13 euros, which is about what I paid for mine in Madrid 4 years ago. The BAD news is that shipping to the US is an additional 25 euros. So the “Literary Maps” of Madrid and Barcelona can be obtained relatively easily, but with a hefty international shipping cost that puts the purchase of one map at around $45.00 US, which makes them something of “investment posters” if you also plan to frame these rather large images. Although buying the two together reduces the impact of that flat-rate shipping… hmmm… this actually sounds like a good start to my standard Christmas-shopping practice — one item for me, one as a gift…!

Do you have any favorite literary quotes about Madrid or Barcelona – particularly from women writers? Have you read any of the many “urban novels” set in these Spanish cities – which ones?


Carmen de Burgos. “El veneno del arte” in La flor de la playa y otras novelas cortas. Ed. Concepción Núñez Rey. Editorial Castalia, 1989. pp. 219-70.

—. La rampa. Stockcero, 2006.

Margarita Nelken. La trampa del arenal. Editorial Castalia, 2000.

Matilde de la Torre. Las Cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil. Madrid 1936, Valencia 1937, Bacelona 1938. Ed. Francisca Vilches-de Frutos. Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2015.
** I reviewed this book for Feministas Unidas and blogged a shorter, illustrated version of that review here in early 2017.










Posted in Art, Feminism, History, Literature, Modernity, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Illustrating Spain’s Silver Age of Literature: Carmen de Burgos, Ramon, and “Bon”

I’ve been working for several months now on an article on Carmen de Burgos’s 1924 novel La mujer fantástica (The Amazing/Fantastic Woman), and my research has been focused a lot on European art history and the diverse visual imagery that Burgos evokes throughout the text. I started my research examining the representation of fashion in the novel, as I originally presented a paper at an April conference on Fashion in Hispanic Literature at Lehman College in New York City. But as my research on fashion evolved — especially as a result of exploring the concept of “fashion-as-art” that Burgos articulates in her 1920 conduct manual El arte de ser mujer (The Art of Being a Woman) I found myself delving more and more into Spanish and French art and art history. Outside of the actual narrative text that I have been analyzing, I became especially curious as to the design of the book’s cover (below), which features a colorful, mirrored portrait of a woman. However the upside-down, reflected image differs slightly – or inversely – from the original upright model, who is depicted as a blonde woman wearing a yellow shawl over a red top.

Original cover of “La mujer fantástica” (The Amazing/Fantastic Woman) by Carmen de Burgos (1924), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Given the colors, the doubling effect, and the “alternative” reflection, not to mention the fact that the cover dates to the height of Avant-garde literary and artistic activity in 1920s Spain, I immediately thought of Picasso’s famous cubist-style painting, “Girl before a mirror, although this particular masterpiece was completed 8 years later in 1932.

“Mujer delante del espejo” (Girl before a mirror), by Pablo Picasso, 1932. Image via

While I’m intrigued by what a detailed comparison might offer in terms of better understanding early 20th-century representations of womanhood (by men!), especially noting the disjuncture between an image (or self-image) and reality, I needed to learn more about the artist behind La mujer fantástica’s cover. The signature, “BON,” is clearly visible in the upper left-hand corner of the cover and, as I began reviewing the Burgos novels available for electronic download from the Biblioteca Nacional de España and Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes,  I noticed the same simple signature, printed in capital letters, on several Burgos novels published by Editorial Sempere (Valencia). These equally attractive and intriguing covers were actually what led me to focus on (become distracted by?) the cover-art of La mujer fantástica. So, after doing a quick search for an artista with the name or pseudonym  “Bon,” I landed on Roman Bonet Sintes, or “Bon” (1886-1967), a Barcelona-born artist who created comics, caricatures, political posters, advertisements, and numerous illustrated covers for popular magazines (revistas), journals, and books, in Spain and also in the United States (1927-29).  Below are examples of covers for three other novels by Carmen de Burgos that were included in the library’s collection. The novels can be downloaded as PDFs, and the cover pages save nicely as JPEG images — I’m thinking they may make nice “decor” for my new office this year… !

Cover of “Nueva cocina práctica” (The New Practical Kitchen) by Carmen de Burgos (1925), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Nacional de España, where it is catalogued as “La cocina práctica” (The Practical Kitchen) (1920).

Carmen de Burgos (1867-1932) wrote several cookbooks and instructional manuals for women during the early years of her career and through the 1920s. Prof. Rebecca Ingram has done some fascinating research on the purported conflict between Burgos’s socially compromised fiction (like La rampa, for example) and her more “frivolous” texts dedicated to traditional women’s issues and concerns such as cooking (above), fashion, and beauty (below). Ingram argues in a recent article that Burgos actually “uses the same techniques in her cookbooks as she does in her fiction to capitalize on the ‘frivolous’ nature of the genre and embed in it a serious critique of the social roles allowed to women.”  This echoes earlier critiques and analyses literary scholars have made of Burgos’s beauty manuals, like El arte de ser mujer, which can be regarded as much more than mere frivolities, given the way in which Burgos creates a discourse of irony and self-reflection (see Prof. Ana María Díaz Marcos‘s study on fashion in Spanish literature, La edad de seda).

Cover of “Tesoro de la belleza” (El arte de seducir) (Treasure of Beauty (The Art of Seduction)) by Carmen de Burgos (1924), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Below, the cover for La malcasada (The Unhappily Married Woman) is obviously metaphorical, as it depicts men watching a rooster fight. Dolores, the symbolically named protagonist of this novel, finds herself unhappily married to an abusive man who became increasingly angry and violent after their marriage. The novel aims to illuminate and criticize the ways in which marriage could become a veritable prison for women, particularity within the cultural and institutional codes still prevalent in traditional, rural Spanish communities. A new edition of this 220-page novel was recently released by Renacimiento (2016), and several literary scholars have described this novel as one of Burgos’s “most autobiographical,” as she, too, had escaped an abusive marriage in the rural village of Almería before relocating to Madrid with her young daughter (bio).

Cover of “La malcasada” (The Unhappily Married Woman) by Carmen de Burgos (1923), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

As an immensely popular artist during Spain’s “Silver Age” of literature (1898-1939), Bon (Roman Bonet Sintes) was a recognizable figure among the intellectual, bohemian artistic circles of Madrid and Barcelona. Regarding this literary boom of the early 20th century, in their new volume Kiosk Literature of Silver Age Spain. Modernity and Mass Culture, which I’m very excited to read, Profs. Jeffrey Zamostny and Susan Larson have collected a variety of essays that explore this boom in mass cultural production by analyzing the era’s Kiosk literature. Generally published weekly, these often pocket-sized books or booklets had attention-grabbing cover art that allowed them to be quickly sold in urban kiosks at relatively low prices. In fact, Zamostny states in his Introduction that by 1916, literature had become the least expensive form of entertainment in Spain — full-length novels could be purchased for the equivalent of a ticket to a bullfight or the theater, but a novel would occupy more of a reader’s time and afford them the benefit of reselling it or creating a personal library (33-34). I would add — based solely and entirely non-academically on me imagining myself as a literature-loving consumer in 1920s Madrid — that novels such as those included in this post would also allow the reader to amass a sort of personalized, popular art collection, in addition to their individually curated library.  For example, collecting and compiling some of the work of Bon — only one of the numerous popular illustrators of the time — has allowed me to create a sort of virtual art exhibit here.

To add to and complement the artwork Bon created for Carmen de Burgos’s novels, I’ll end this post with a few examples of the cover-art Bon also created for Burgos’s companion, the more widely celebrated and studied representative of the Spanish Avant-garde, Ramón Gómez de la Serna.  On the website dedicated to Bon and his work, numerous examples of cover-art designed for popular magazines and novels are featured under the era, “Etapa cartelista, 1920-29,” and while none of Carmen de Burgos’s novels or novellas appear, several penned by Ramon are highlighted. Below are four of these covers, which not only provide a more thorough overview of the style of cover-art Bon produced for popular literature, but they also illustrate the similarities in terms of the literary production of the long-admired Ramón and the long-ignored/forgotten Burgos.

Cover of “El novelista” (The Novelist) by Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1925), designed by Bon. Image via

Cover of “La malicia de las acacias” (The Malice of the Acacia Trees) by Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1923-24), designed by Bon. Image via

Cover of “Gollerias” (Delicacies) by Ramón Gómez de la Serna (192?), designed by Bon. Image via

Cover of “El circo” (The Circus) by Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1917), designed by Bon. Image via



What are some of your favorite vintage novel covers? Do you judge a book by its cover when making a purchase, like early 20th-century Spanish consumers may have done?
(*I will admit that I tend to consider/become influenced by cover art*)


Burgos, Carmen de. El arte de ser mujer (1920). Biblok, 2014.

—. La cocina práctica. Valencia, Sempere, 1920 (1925?). Madrid: Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, 2016.

—. La malcasada. Valencia, Sempere, 1923. Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2010.

—. La mujer fantástica. Valencia, Sempere, 1924. Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2010.

—. Tesoro de belleza (El arte de seducir). Valencia, Sempere, 1924. Madrid: Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, 2016.

Díaz  Marcos, Ana María. La edad de seda. Representaciones de la moda en la literatura española (1728-1926). Servicio Publicaciones, UCA Universidad de Cadiz, 2006.
** The final chapter on the 20th century, including Burgos, can be read or downloaded here via the Biblioteca virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

Ingram, Rebecca.Escritora-ama de casa?: The Political Tactics of Carmen de Burgos’ Culinary Writing.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 2017, pp. 1-13.

Zamostny, Jeffrey and Susan Larson, editors. Kiosk Literature of Silver Age Spain. Modernity and Mass Culture. Intellect and U of Chicago P, 2017.






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In Praise of “Real Books”: Velázquez and the Filtered Reality of Spain’s Siglo de Oro

This week I read a post from the Smithsonian Insider blog on Why Museums and Libraries Are More Relevant than Ever, which is an exceptional read in a time when continued funding for the arts and humanities has suddenly been jeopardized. The title of the post (and the content) echoes many of the thoughts I’ve been having over the past few years — and especially the past six months or so — about “traditional sources of information“. In this era of Google, Wikipedia, and 24/7 internet access, it’s becoming more common each year that my students are unfamiliar with or unable to find materials in the actual brick(limestone!?)-and-mortar building on campus known as the library. When I require “traditional sources” (aka – books and academic journals, not internet blogs, travel sites, or Wikipedia) for final papers and projects, I’m often met with (a) bafflement and confusion, (b) emails asking if a certain website is “ok for the final,” or (c) the hastily-arranged meeting a week before the end of the semester meant to reassure students that their purely internet-based bibliography is in fact acceptable (hint: it’s not!). But students are not the only ones who tend to over-rely on the internet for their main sources of information — I catch myself doing it at times, too! In fact, information is so readily available to us, from so many different instantaneous online sources, that it’s easy to think that we’ve “found everything” about a certain topic simply after spending 5, 10, or maybe 20 minutes perusing a variety of Google results at our desks or on our phones.

Hale Library, Kansas State University… unfortunately, a much less-visited site than Image via K-State Global Campus.

In addition to the article’s mention of libraries and museums, I also love bookstores, particularly USED bookstores, which are a treasure-trove of information created during a pre-internet world. The historical and cultural perspectives in mid- and early-twentieth century books, for example, are often dramatically different than our own contemporary views. This past summer I posted about finding an early edition of Havelock Ellis’s The Soul of Spain here in my Manhattan bookstore, The Dusty Bookshelf  (which was tragically destroyed by fire a mere 2 weeks ago). Last fall semester I stopped in again and found vintage 1969 copies of Time Life Books’ The World of Velázquez (1599-160) and The World of Goya (1746-1828), in impeccable condition with both black-and-white and color images, as well as illustrated protective sleeves. As I was paging through the Velázquez book, within the margins on one of the last pages I found this gem featuring Carlos II,  the last Habsburg ruler of Spain who left no heir to the throne. A product of generations of Habsburg endogamy (i.e. incest), Carlos II was not only impotent, but also, it is said, mentally and physically deranged — a symbol of the decline of the once-powerful Spanish Empire. Yet of all the descriptions I’ve read of this particular “Bewitched” (hechizado) Habsburg King, I definitely think this (somewhat problematic…) caption is my favorite — Dale Brown and the 1969 Time Life Books editors sure had a way with words… “ulcerated,” “scrofulous,” “ricket-ridden,” “distemper” and “misbegotten” — all in one short caption!

Carlos II, “el hechizado,” gracing page 175 of “The World of Velazquez”. Image mine, via Time Life Books.

I also discovered several other images and details that I hadn’t found anywhere online, one of which was by chance as I was procrastinating preparing for my Spanish Culture class dedicated to the legacy of “Don Quixote,” both within Spain and globally. To take a break from historical readings, I had assigned a short essay from the LA Review of Books that was published just this past December (2016) prior to the spring semester: “Oh, Sancho: The Ongoing Ride of Don Quixote in American Politics” by Colby College English professor Aaron R. Hanlon. In his essay, Hanlon discusses the relevance of the term “quixotic” (quijotesco)  in contemporary U.S. politics, asserting that it can be applied to candidates across the political spectrum, from Trump to Clinton to Stein. He identifies two reasons for this, citing articles that refer to each candidate in these particular ways:  “quixotic signals two things in particular about political actors: a foolhardy attempt to do something impossible, or a delusional comportment not compatible with the exigencies of real life.” Moreover, he proposes a third element of “quixotic,” derived from his analysis of particular episodes of the novel in which “Quixote has a way of severing rationality from fact. He represents a failure of empiricism — an unreliability arising not from the absence of rationality, but from the stubborn complexity of perception.” What I appreciated about this essay was (1) his critique of all political parties and all voters, along with his recognition of their (and his own) biases, (2) the close attention he pays to literary representation and the impact of fiction, and (3) the fact that his analysis essentially led him to predict the #AlternativeFacts  phenomenon — which now has a Wikipedia page, by the way —  before it became a media sensation in late-January.

“Dumb Quixote”, 2015

But back to my Velázquez book…. As I was paging through it, I noticed this fascinating early modern political cartoon depicting King Felipe IV and his válido Conde-Duque de Olivares as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza respectively (below). This image was also placed in the margins of the text as a somewhat tangential illustration to accompany a description of courtly life and politics when Velázquez was the official painter of the Court (1630s-40s). Since I had already selected a few Don Quixote-themed contemporary political cartoons to share in class (one above), I was excited that I happened to find one that dated to 1641… without deliberately looking for it. I am a bit curious, however, as to why the artist made Olivares resemble a lion! I’m sure there are tabloid-esque archives that could shed light on this particular “artistic” rendition of the King’s Favorite, as I know Olivares was a frequent object of ridicule for both his failed policies and lofty endeavors, as well as his increasingly unstable mental capacity later in life (he died in 1645).

Image mine, via Time Life Books, p. 62.

While I cannot decipher the entirety of the 17th-century script that appears below these sketches, the caption in the book reads as follows: “In a rare gibe at Philip IV, a political satirist based his cartoon on the most popular piece of literature of the day, Miguel de Cervantes’ picaresque novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, the adventures of an aging knight and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. The cartoon, which surreptitiously appeared in 1641, shows Philip as Don Quixote [right] and his First Minister, Olivares, as Sancho [left]. This dangerous satire — men were jailed for less — equates Philip’s costly and futile wars with Quixote’s windmill-tilting crusades” (Brown 62).  Though I take some issue with the description of Don Quixote as a picaresque novel, the caption does highlight important aspects of the social and political climate during the later years of Spain’s Siglo de Oro.

The entirety of Velazquez’s first portraits of Felipe IV – the first was painted over, and the second image is a third attempt at refining the King’s appearance. Image mine, via Time Life Books, p. 13.

Finally, I also appreciated the unique organization of different paintings throughout the book. In fact, the attention to the placement and layout is similar to one of the things I love most about museums — the way in which certain images or objects are juxtaposed with others, creating a unique narrative that is often absent from electronic sources or random Google Image-results. Above and below are two sets of images showing Velázquez’s numerous royal portraits of Felipe IV. The below set of four images shows the evolution of the King’s portraiture throughout his reign. Their side-by-side placement makes for an excellent comparison of Velázquez’s depiction of the king, particularly in terms of the artist’s evolving style. The first two images were painted when the king was only 19 years old (these are details from the full-size portraits above). In the first we see that Felipe IV “was in fact a rather ugly man” (Brown 14); in the second, Velázquez had painted over the earlier unattractive version to create a more idealized view of the king. Here, his features are narrowed and softened which, according to Brown, makes him “a handsome young ruler indeed” (14). The third image of the series is from 1626, and the caption notes the further refinement of Felipe’s features and the addition of a “luminous, pearl-like complexion with the inner glow of saintliness” (15). Finally, the last portrait dates to 1632 and, again in the dramatically poetic words of Brown and his editors, “It is not just a portrait of a man, but a vision of a king” (15). While it is relatively easy to find these images online, you will not be able to find such a carefully curated side-by-side comparison… (well, I suppose now you can, since I just posted it here…!).

Details from Velazquez’s numerous portraits of Felipe IV in the early 1600s. Image mine, via Time Life Books, pages 14-15.

In studying these images, I cannot help but think of Velázquez as providing the Royal Family with their own set of early-modern-Instagram filters… perhaps a fun class activity would be to name Velázquez “filters,” or create a social media account for Felipe IV and Olivares… hmmm, maybe next year! Now that I think of it,  Instagram seems to fit quite well within Baroque tendencies (which surged during a time of economic crisis in Spain), as  it more subtly plays with perspectives and alters our view of reality (ex: Don Quixote), rather than outright editing, deleting, or adding to what exists… like Photoshop. I think this “fun” comparison has now given me another topic to explore and research!

Still trying to improve my graphics… Image (obviously) mine.

I have not yet had time to read the entire World of Velázquez, and I have barely turned the pages of The World of Goya, but finding such useful information in this nearly 50-year-old book has already renewed my interest in acquiring older, traditional sources for use in my literature and culture classes. It also justifies my habit of buying so many books!

What are some of your favorite “traditional” resources? How do you encourage students to visit the library and avoid over-relying on the Internet?


Brown, Dale, and editors. The World of Velázquez (1599-1660). Time-Life Books, New York, 1969.

Hanlon, Aaron R. “Oh, Sancho: The Ongoing Ride of Don Quixote in American Politics.” Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), 28 December 2016.









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Matilde de la Torre and the Republican Courts in 1930s Spain

Last fall I was asked to review Las Cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil. Madrid 1936, Valencia 1937 y Barcelona 1938 for Feministas Unidas Inc., a non-profit Coalition of Feminist Scholars in Spanish, Spanish-American, Luso-Brazilian, Afro-Latin American, and U.S. Hispanic and Latino Studies. This book is a compilation of the written memories of influential Spanish politician and writer Matilde de la Torre (1864-1946), who was one of the first female representatives in the Republican Spanish Courts prior to and during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Torre actually penned these accounts of during her exile in Mexico after the civil war, making them a curious mixture of memoir, autobiography, and historical analysis. This  new edition was edited and organized by Francisca Vilches-de Frutos, professor of literature and history at Madrid’s Consejo Superior de Ivestigaciones Científicas, who provides a detailed and well-researched introduction to Torre’s writings.  Since my review was recently published in the Spring (2017) Feministas Unidas newsletter (which is available a a PDF from the Feministas Unidas website), I wanted to create a brief companion blog entry to summarize portions of my review and to discuss a few of my favorite parts of this book. Additionally, given my interests in the development and growth of Spanish cities in the early 20th century, especially the gendered nature of many spaces within these cities, I will also include images of the urban spaces – from the 1930s –  in which these proceedings took place. Finally, there is very little published on Matilde de la Torre in English, and I hope this post will help introduce this political and literary woman to a broader English-speaking audience.


Matilde de la Torre’s reflections on the republican court proceedings in 1930s Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona.(Catedra, 2015). Image via Amazon.







.                                                                                                  . .                                                                                                  . The recovery of Spain’s historical memory is a defining characteristic of contemporary literary, scholarly, and even popular endeavors, and the recent appearance of Torre’s Las Cortes republicanas… fits well within this trend. In fact, given that republican voices – especially those of women – were some of the first to be silenced under the Franco regime, the recovery and analysis of republican women’s literature and memoirs are of utmost importance in terms of articulating the diversity of Spain’s collective social memory. This book is divided into three sections, each of which details the court proceedings in a different city – first Madrid (1936), then Valencia (1937), and finally Barcelona (1938).  The first section, dated October 1, 1936, describes  Las Cortes de Madrid, which took place at the Congreso de los diputados (pictured below).  In the opening pages Torre relates her arrival to Madrid by train, her initial impressions of the changed city – “‘this Madrid,’ right now, so unrecognizable” – and the impassible tension and uncertainty that had become a part of daily urban life in Madrid during the way (65-70). (For images from this time, see my previous post “The Memory of War in Madrid“). From this session, Torre recalls the vote on the Basque statute (89), the “privileging” certain autonomous regions over others (90), and an impassioned speech by José Antonio Aguirre  (92-95).

Madrid: Congreso de los diputados. Bibliografia fotografia 14 July 1931. Arrival of the provisional government for the opening of the constituent courts.

Madrid: Congreso de los diputados. July, 14 1931. Arrival of the provisional government for the opening of the constituent courts. Image via

The second section of the book is dated September 30, 1937, and recounts the Courts sessions in Valencia at the Gothic style Lonja de la Seda building (pictured below), which is today a popular tourist attraction in Valencia. Before narrating these proceedings, Torre notes that this is the first time since the 19th-century Republican Courts in Cadiz that the proceedings would occur under “enemy bomb” (105). Of note from these Valencian proceedings are the pages detailing the discourse of Dolores “Pasionaria” Ibárruri, representing the communist party (124-27), and the disquieting debate as to whether Spain was truly at war or merely in “a state of alarm” (135-39), which Torre summarizes both dramatically and a bit sarcastically: “We are only alarmed. And so,then, ‘this’ is not war. ‘This’ is nothing more than human slaughter/carnage; an inhumane madness; a planetary scandal…” (139).

1932 - La Lonja, Valencia. Image via Valencia Historia Grafica:

1932 – La Lonja, Valencia. Image via Valencia Historia Grafica:

Finally, the third and longest segment outlines the Barcelona Courts session on September 30, 1938 that took place in the recently restored Monasterio de Sant Cugat (below). It is clear from the tone of Torre’s recollections in this third section that the political situation had become increasingly unnerving; fear and mistrust are perfectly captured when the politicians pause their discussions upon hearing a low humming sound that causes them to fear a possible aerial attack (193-94). While the description of these proceedings are riddled with the words “resistance” and “resist,” the chapter also contains extensive details on the architecture and restoration of the Monastery. Both before and after the proceedings, as well as during a lengthy break in the middle, Torres takes time to describe with appreciation the cultural and intellectual history evoked by the details of the building’s architecture, as well as the ironies of Republicans meeting in a church (“iglesia”).


Monasterio San Cugat, Barcelona, early 20th century. Image via Archivo Zerkowitz ( Take some time to visit that site and check out the fantastic gallery of images, especially those prior to the 1950s.

From literary and cultural perspectives, many of Torre’s least political observations are the most fascinating, revealing her personality and adding a bit of levity to what could otherwise become dry descriptions of parliamentary proceedings. For example, at one point Torre celebrates the “magnificent Rolls Royce” that chauffeured her to the palace (109), personifying the luxury car with a voice and personality: “Now I serve that woman representative, who I just left at the door of the palace” (111). Later, as one session concludes, Torre observes with admiration the new “style” of fellow diputada Margarita Nelken who, on this particular day, had exchanged her trademark hand-held spectacles for “some beautiful glasses that give her a certain doctoral look” (137).  Her wit and flare for language and writing are apparent in the Barcelona sessions when she cleverly refers to those representatives in disagreement with Juan Negrín as having been “bitten by the Negrinofobe virus” (191).


Today: Monasterio de Sant Cugat, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Image via

The interdisciplinary nature of Torre’s memoirs as primary sources will interest scholars of 20th-21st century Spain, particularly in terms of the Spanish Civil War, democracy and dictatorship, and the perspectives and experiences of republican politicians, female representatives, and exiles. And as Vilches-de Frutos states, analyses of Torre’s documents will allow us to better understand the experiences of those republicans who attended the Courts sessions between the tumultuous years of 1936 through 1938. It also affords us nuanced portraits of several of the most important republican political leaders of the time, like Juan Negrín, Diego Martínez Barrio, Indalecio Prieto, and Dolores “Pasionaria” Ibárruri. Torre’s words capture the most relevant facts of these three Courts sessions and, together with the hint of irony and humor with which she imbues her text, afford us valuable insights into individual attitudes towards democracy, the parliamentary institution, the Spanish Civil War, government actions and interventions in times of conflict, and the limits of political power.

Today: Palacio de las Cortes, Congreso de los diputados. Madrid. Image via wikipedia.

Today: Palacio de las Cortes, Congreso de los diputados. Madrid. Image via wikipedia.

If you have time, check out my full review over at Feministas Unidas, Inc and consider becoming a member of the organization, which seeks to create and sustain a national network of feminist scholars in the fields of Spanish, Spanish-American, Luso-Brazilian, Afro-Latin American, and U.S. Hispanic Studies. They publish a multidisciplinary journal, Ámbitos Feministas, each Fall. According to their website, their objectives are to join these scholars and advocates together to strengthen the intellectual environment in which they work by means of: exchange of ideas and information; cooperative research projects; organization of conferences; preparation and presentation of papers and panels; gathering and dissemination of bibliographical data; interchange of classroom materials and methodologies; assistance with publication; career counseling and mentoring; contacts with feminist scholars in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America; and other appropriate joint intellectual endeavors. Membership is affordable at only $10 for graduate students and instructors, $15 for Assistant professors, and $20 for Assistant or Full Professors.  You can also follow Feministas Unidas updates on their Facebook page.


Chica, Miguel Angel. “Matilde de la Torre, el compromiso de una mujer pionera.” El diario, 8 October 2016.

Torre, Matilde de la. Las Cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil. Madrid 1936, Valencia 1937 y Barcelona 1938. Ed. Francisca Vilches-de Frutos. Madrid: FCE, Cátedra del Exilio, 2015.

Vilches-de Frutos, Francisca. “Matilde de la Torre (1864-1946) y las cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil Española.” Anales de la literatura española contemporánea , vol. 40, no. 1, 2015, pp. 453-478.








Posted in Feminism, First-wave spanish feminism, History, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food, Art, and Eroticism? Gala’s Meals in Salvador Dalí’s Cookbook

Still looking for the perfect gift for someone who appreciates cooking and cookbooks, art and photography, or somewhat obscure Spanish cultural history? Good news! Just this October I learned that Taschen would publish a new edition of Salvador Dalí’s Rare, Erotic Vintage Cookbook, Les dîners de Dalí, or Gala’s Meals, released on November 20, 2016. This is the first re-printing in over 40 years and considering the high quality, it’s quite reasonably priced at $59.99; at Amazon as low as $32. I pre-ordered my copy from Barnes & Noble for about $32 + free shipping, and it arrived the first week of December in all its gold-covered, surrealist splendor. Originally published in 1973 – in a limited quantity of only 400 – this fantastic cookbook fuses Surrealist art and photography with high-end French recipes containing ingredients rare in our contemporary American cuisine, such as calf’s head, small frog legs, lung, larks, and white blood sausage. The 2016 reprint features all 136 recipes in 12 chapters, each specially illustrated by Dalí and organized by meal courses, including everyone’s favorite part of a dinner party – aphrodisiacs!? The illustrations and recipes are accompanied by Dalí’s extravagant musings on subjects such as dinner conversation, “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge” (Taschen) and the smell of a simmering wine-based gravy, “Watch it! The aroma is somewhat pungent!” (Les dîners, p. 202).


Salvador Dali posing with his elaborate tablescape in one of the first few pages of Les dîners de Gala.

It was actually about a year or two ago I discovered Les dîners de Gala on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog, the post I linked to above, “Salvador Dali’s Rare, Erotic Vintage Cookbook“. Somehow, I had never seen this cookbook before, which surprised me given that I have amassed shelves upon shelves of books on Salvador Dalí, and I have visited virtually EVERY museum dedicated to him or his work – in Spain (Figueres, Cadaqués, Púbol),  London, and St. Petersburg, FL. For anyone who follows my blog, in the past three years I’ve written about Dalí’s Spanish Civil War paintings, his portrayals of the Catalonian landscape, his Christmas Cards, and his post-World War II posters warning of venereal disease. I even own a copy of the edition of Don Quijote de la Mancha that he illustrated in 1945, a work of art itself. But somehow I had never seen Les dîners de Gala, and I promptly made it my mission to find a copy. Unfortunately, before this year, the 1973 copies were extremely rare and way out of my price range. For those of you who are true bibliophiles, the Manhattan Rare Book Company has a signed first edition for “only” $4,400.00… you can also find copies on Amazon ranging from $500-1,000. Still, these prices were well beyond what a Spanish professor can afford to pay for a book, so discovering this new edition was very exciting. And like any good holiday shopper, I immediately bought it for myself!


The cover of Les dîners de Gala (Gala’s Meals), released by Taschen in Nov. 2016. Image via Amazon.


Photograph of Dali (left) from his coookbook, Les dîners de Gala. Image via Fuet Magazine.

Now that I have my own copy and have been able to examine every page and start reading the recipes and commentary, I wanted to do a bit of research to find out more about this book. Popova’s post – like almost any other Spanish or English blog post or article covering the cookbook – is largely a compilation of recipes and excerpts from the text, including several high quality images of the book’s phenomenal artwork and photography. While much of the artwork is colorful, ambiguous, and surreal in its juxtaposition of food, household objects, animals, and the human body, there are other sketches that appear a bit disturbing upon closer examination – at least for inclusion in a cookbook. Several illustrations include “creatures” that appear only partially human, leaning more toward the imaginary realm of gnomes or nymphs. Look closely – or not so closely! – and phallic imagery and nudity abound. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not accustomed to seeing artistic renditions of gnome penises when I’m preparing dinner! Not that I’m complaining (#lol) as this odd fusion of food, art, and eroticism, which Popova rightly points out in the title of her post, inspired me to do a bit more research. So, for this post, in addition to discussing Les dîners de Gala in more detail, I also want to delve into Dalí’s view of gastronomy – food, cooking, and elaborate dinner parties – as art forms aiming to capitalize on sensory pleasures.

Illustrate your cooking projects with... a frustrated gnome and his penis? Image via Brainpickings

Illustrate your cooking projects with… a frustrated gnome and his penis? Image via Brainpickings


A sample spread of Dali’s recipes – Toffee with pine cones and Fruit Cream – combined with an illustration of a half-gnome, half-hardware(?) creature, rolling atop a nude, decapitated woman. Image via Taschen.

First, I tried to find some background information on the cookbook, but there has not been much written in terms of critical articles or even general commentary in Dalí biographies. I did find a recent short review of the new edition of Les dîners de Gala by Diane Smyth,  “Taschen serves up Salvador Dalí’s characteristically queasy 1973 recipe book in all its lurid glory,” which does an excellent job of contextualizing this publication within the broader scope of Dali’s varied literary and artistic production. I was particularly struck by her description of a peculiar dinner party thrown by Dalí and Gala in California in 1941:  “Dalí and his wife Gala were known for their lavish dinners – you can find online footage of their 1941 Dizzy Dalí Dinner, when Gala bottle-fed a lion and the guests were served live frogs” (Smyth 11). Taschen’s description of the cookbook also draws attention to the artist’s “opulent dinner parties… [that] were the stuff of legend.” Of course I had to immediately search for this “Dizzy Dalí Dinner,” which I easily found on YouTube. Below is a short video of the dinner, followed by a transcript I typed up.

Transcript: Mr. Salvador Dalí gives a party. The Spanish painter of surrealism dresses Mrs. Dalí in a unicorn’s head – just to start things off. As hostess, she presides from a red velvet bed. The party is a benefit for refugee artists, and costumes are supposed to represent the guests’ bad dreams. Artist Dalí wears ear flaps, representing anatomy. A puzzled guest, Bob Hope, sees the fish course served in satin slippers… presumably the fish is sole. Soldier Jackie Coogan and Mr. Hope see the main course – the party is surrealism, but them frogs is real! [*Frogs begin to jump off Bob Hope’s dinner plate…*]

I soon discovered that the party was actually called “La noche en el bosque surrealista” or “The Night in the Surrealist Forest,” and took place in the Hotel del Monte in Monterrey, California as a benefit dinner for European artists exiled or displaced as a result of the Second World War. In addition to Smyth’s description, it’s also noteworthy that Gala was dressed as a unicorn, lounging on a velvet bed, and that guests – including celebrities like Bob Hope, Alfred Hitchcock, Bing Crosby, and Ginger Rogers – were asked to wear costumes representing their dreams (Weyers 48-49). Details and photographs of the planning and preparations for the party can be found in the short book, “A Surrealistic Night in an Enchanted Forest” by Barbara Briggs-Anderson and Julian P. Graham (2012); the first two chapters are available free with Google Books.  Below is an image and recipe from Les dîners de Gala featuring a “Bush of Crayfish in Viking herbs”, followed by a surrealist rendering of a similar pile of prawns, designed in such a way as to evoke classical Spanish art, namely Velazquez’s Las meninas or other portraits of women of the 17th century court.


Recipes from Les dîners de Gala. “Bush of Prawns.” Image via Taschen.

This illustration in Dali's cookbook is somewhat reminiscent of Velazquez's renowned Las meninas. Image via Taschen.

This illustration in Dalí’s cookbook is somewhat reminiscent of the central figure in Velazquez’s renowned 17th-century portrait, Las meninas. Image via Taschen.

One thing that stuck out to me in this video is the fact that the main fish course was served in a shoe – satin slippers. Coincidentally, I had just seen a Buzzfeed “article”, “The worst things hipsters did to food in 2016“, and there were TWO instances (#12, #13) in which American restaurants served their food in a shoe – first in a shoe-shaped serving dish, then in a glass tennis shoe. While it made me laugh to think of how many “listicles” Dalí might inspire today – “22 dreams that will blow your mind” or “18 things that should NOT have a penis” – it also made me think about how we come to label and categorize aesthetic and cultural trends or movements like “surrealism” and, um… “hipster-dom” or “hipster-ism”? Were surrealists, in fact, early hipsters? Trusty Wikipedia suggests that the hipster’s origins can be traced to the 1940s… While this comparison is still a leap, or at the very least a hasty


Gala dressed as a unicorn, accompanied by a lion cub and served by Dalí. 1941.

generalization, the two groups certainly overlap in their underlying philosophies boadting the rejection of “popular taste” or skepticism towards so-called “mainstream” or “high-culture.” Importantly, though, by the 1940s, some critics and historians argue that Dalí had strayed from surrealism in the traditional sense, moving more towards a full-fledged, self-promoting, kitschy aesthetic in which “excellent taste was the last thing that concerned a painter whose aim… was to cretinize the public” and make money by linking his name to commercial products (Gibson 430-31). Gibson’s observation holds true in terms of the California dinner party as, despite Dalí’s professed fundraising intentions, the elaborate decorations and excessive cost of the “Surrealist Night in the Enchanted Forest” caused it to be a huge economic failure, incurring a debt that cancelled out the money raised (Meyer 49).

Returning to the cookbook, as I mentioned, I have not been able to find as much background information on its production as I had hoped. Even Ian Gibson’s immense biography of Salvador Dalí, The Shameful Live of Salvador Dalí, contains no mention if its existence. In a general article on forms of artistic expression through food, however, Garcia López and Lapeña Gallego trace the evolution of “kitchen art” in modern Spanish culture, pointing out that within the surrealist movement, food was extremely present in the work of Dalí. They observe that food – especially breads, eggs, milk, fish, and meat cutlets – served as symbolic strategies or expressive metaphors meant to capture the painter’s almost obsessive fascination with gastronomy as an art form (“…su fascinación hacia la gastronomía, a la cual consideraba un arte”).  Below are three images from Dalí’s cookbook that reveal the artist’s fascination with the aesthetic and expressive potential of food.


Art from the cookbook Les dîners de Gala. Image via Fuet Magazine.


Morphing pheasants from Les dîners de Gala. Image via Taschen.


An expressive culinary collage found in Les dîners de Gala. Image via Taschen.

Finally, Euronews has a short Spanish video promoting Dalí’s “new” cookbook, featuring an interview with Michelin Chef Sergio Humada, who insists that the recipes are uncomplicated classics, many of which can be made at home (with some advanced preparation in terms of procuring rare ingredients, of course). The video ends with brief comments from Montse Aguer, the director of the Museo-Teatro Dalí in Figueras, who emphasizes the importance of food as a recurring theme in Dali’s work: “Dalí associated eating with his being (persona), the act of which gave him new meanings… he also related gastronomy to the history of art”. A Dalinian creation made by altering an anonymous Flemish painting hangs in the background as she speaks. I’m including this oil painting composite, entitledCuant cau, cau (sic) orWhen it falls, it falls,  below the final image from Dalí’s cookbook as a way of closing this post. The painting was created during the same years as the cookbook – 1972-73 – and according to the guidebook for the Teatro-Museo, “the soft (and edible) matter… converts the culinary elements of the picture into a lucid and foreboding nightmare of the physical disasters of death” (Giménez-Frontín 88-89).  This final room of the museum was meant to be an homage to Francesc Pujols, a Catalan writer (poet) and philosopher “whose baroque thought and intuition always awakened Dalí’s interest an respect” (88). In fact, the various animals carcasses, lobsters, vegetables, and long tables adorned with elaborate plates and dishes in this oil painting perfectly complement the photogenic meals and tablescapes of Les dîners de Gala. Surprisingly, I was unable to find a high quality image of this painting online, so I am including a photograph taken from my 2001 museum guide. Real paper books still serve a purpose!


Recipes from Les dîners de Gala. Image via Taschen.


“Cuant cau, cau” (sic) or “when it falls, it falls” (1972-73). Composite oil painting displayed in the Teatro Museo-Dali (Figueras, Spain). Image mine, from p. 88 of the Teatre-Museu guidebook (Tusquets/Electa Art Guides, 2001).

What are your favorite cookbooks? Do you appreciate them more for the recipes, the photography and artwork, or for the narrative? Have you read any history or criticism of “Gala’s Meals”?


Briggs-Anderson, Barbara and Julian P. Graham. Salvador Dalí’s ‘A Surrealistic Night in an Enchanted Forest. BookBaby, 2012. Google Books Preview

Dalí, Salvador. Les dîners de Gala. Trans. Captain J. Peter Moore. Taschen, 2016.

Garcia López, Antonio and Gloria Lapeña Gallego. “Arte y cocina: Nuevas formas de expresión artística a través de los alimentos.” ASRI Arte y Sociedad. Revista Investigación, no. 5, oct., 2013, n.p. PDF via Dialnet.

Gibson, Ian. The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí. Faber and Faber, 1997.

Giménez-Frontín, J. L. Teatre-Museu Dalí. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí. Tusquets/Electa, 2001.

Smyth, Diane. “Taschen serves up Salvador Dalí’s characteristically queasy 1973 recipe book in all its lurid glory.” The British Journal of Photography, Dec 2016, Vol.163 (7854), p.11. Link to December issue.

Weyers, Frank. Salvador Dalí. Vida y obra. Trans Carmen Colominas y Montserrat Sánchez. Könemann, 2000.

















Posted in Art, Spain, Surrealism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Celebración Cervantina / Cervantes Celebration” at K-State

2016 – This year marks the 400th anniversary of the deaths of two extremely influential literary figures: renowned English playwright William Shakespeare and celebrated Spanish playwright and novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who most know best as the author of one of the most famous novels ever written, El ingenioso Hidalgo de Don Quixote de la Mancha. The novel (volume I) was first published in 1605 ; ten years later, in 1615, Cervantes was compelled to publish a second volume, inspired to do so only after another writer took it upon himself to (inadequately) write a sequel to Cervantes’ pre-copyright-laws Don Quixote.  To commemorate Cervantes on the anniversary of his death, the Kansas State Spanish Club, for which I am the advisor, organized a “Celebración Cervantina / Cervantes Celebration” in order to provide the campus community with an opportunity to learn about Cervantes, Don Quixote, and 17th-century Spanish reading and writing practices.


Posing with Spanish Club officers and guest speaker Dr. Mirzam Pérez after the Nov. 10th event.

As the Folger Shakespeare Library notes, just as Shakespeare left an indelible mark on the English language, Spanish has been referred to as “la lengua de Cervantes,” – the language of Cervantes. This is due not just to the inventiveness of Cervantes’ writing, but also to its orality – a topic that our guest speaker would discuss at length. To read Don Quixote is to engage deeply with the act of storytelling in many forms, from chivalric romance, folktales, and satire, to the pastoral and the picaresque traditions.  To celebrate this influential Spanish writer, our Spanish Club organized an event which would allow Spanish students and the campus community to come together to learn, read, and discuss the reading and writing practices informing Cervantes’ Don Quixote, one of the first modern novels. The event consisted of a lecture by Dr. Mirzam Pérez, Associate Professor at Grinnell College, entitled, “Read Me a Story, Mr. Cervantes! Reading and Writing Practices in Early Modern Spain”. The presentation was followed by a Q&A session, and a brief collaborative reading activity organized by Spanish Club that gave attendees an opportunity to engage with the written text… while enjoying cookies and coffee, of course!


Dr. Pérez speaking at Kansas State’s “Celebración Cervantina / Cervantes Celebration”, Nov. 10, 2016. Here talk was titled: “Read Me a Story, Mr. Cervantes! Reading and Writing Practices in Early Modern Spain.”

Last year, 2015, marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of Don Quixote (1915), and for this I published a short post about Miguel de Cervantes as a contemporary “Internet sensation”, given how frequently he had been appearing in Spanish news outlets and the social media feeds of my Spanish-professor friends. I discovered that the Spanish  National Library had digitized a first edition of the novel – Quixote Interactivoso that readers around the world can browse the digital pages as if they had a printed copy of the original text in their fingertips. I highly recommend watching the short video – which I’ll include below – before checking out the digital text; it does a great job of highlighting features that you may overlook if you try to navigate the Spanish text on your own. For example, you can choose to read the original text in centuries-old Spanish script, or you can opt to view a modernized version with updated Spanish spelling and typography. The modern version would be especially useful for teaching a course on the Quixote. The text is also searchable, and you can share or email select pages, chapters, or the entire book.

As Dr. Pérez noted in her lecture for our Cervantes Celebration, “Despite a proliferation of written texts during Cervantes’s time, a preference for the oral tradition still permeated early modern society.” Thus, she explained, authors were aware of the importance of oral traditions and were inclined to create prose works that would be heard on a large scale (rather than merely read). One of the most fascinating pieces of evidence  that Dr. Perez used to illustrate her argument was the 1611 dictionary definition of the verb “to read” – “to utter in words what is written in letters” (Tesoro de la lengua castellano, by Sebastian de Covarrubias). Below are a few photos from this even at Kansas State University last week, which was sponsored by K-State Libraries, the Student Governing Association (SGA), the Department of Modern Languages, and Spanish Club. I’ll also post the fliers made to publicize the lecture across campus. I was very proud of the officers in Spanish Club who took the time to help secure funding, create fliers and bookmarks, introduce the speaker, set up refreshments, and lead the interactive reading activity.


Dr. Pérez speaking to Kansas State students in Hale Library’s Hemisphere Room. About 100 students attended form various departments across K-State.


K-State students reading selections of Don Quixote aloud after Dr. Pérez’s lecture on reading and orality in 17th century Spanish literature.


Poster publicizing the event, designed by junior Spanish minor Kristen Jones.

Hopefully Spanish Club will be able to organize a similar event next year, although I don’t think there is a particular “noteworthy” anniversary to be celebrated in 2017… is there? Suggestions? I suppose this means we can be creative and honor the Spanish, Latin American, or Latino author of our choosing, if we decide to maintain our “literary” theme.


Frontspiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Via Folger Shakespeare Library.

Have you read or taught Don Quixote, in Spanish or in English? What are some of your favorite chapters or selections to teach or to read?




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Walking Around Scarecrows and Scarefishes: Surrealist Angst in Maruja Mallo and Pablo Neruda

One of the things I love about teaching and analyzing Spanish literature is that each time I (re)read a text for a new class or course, I end up interpreting it differently depending on what else I happen to be reading or researching at that time.  This week in my graduate seminar on AP Spanish American Literature (syllabus) we analyzed and discussed Pablo Neruda’s 1935 poem Walking Around.” As I had been reading quite a bit about the avant-garde Spanish painter Maruja Mallo (I wrote my previous post about her 1920s Verbenas (Carnivals)), I discovered a few fantastic connections between one of her unique series of paintings from the early 1930s and the grotesque, surrealist imagery of Neruda’s poem. As I find it especially fruitful for students to analyze poetry alongside a visual, I was particularly enthused about these similarities. I’ve done this type of analytical activity before with poetry and art dealing with the Spanish Civil War, specifically comparing a poem by Vicente Aleixandre and Picasso’s Guernica.  This time, the final lines of Neruda’s poem called to mind one of Maruja Mallo’s most well-known surrealist paintings, Espantapájaros (Scarecrows) (1930) – part of her series Cloacas y campanarios (Sewers and Belfries), exhibited in Paris in 1932. This series – a stark contrast to her colorful Verbenas from only four years earlier – is characterized by a dark, monochromatic aesthetic that transmits an eerily pessimistic and destructive sentiment:

"Espantapájaros" (Scarecrows), Maruja Mallo, 1930.

“Espantapájaros” (Scarecrows), Maruja Mallo, 1930.

Espantapájaros made quite an impact in Paris in 1932, and it was in fact later purchased by André Breton, the French writer and filmmaker who essentially founded and defined the surrealist movement in 1924 with his “First Surrealist Manifesto” (Primer manifiesto surrealista -PDF).  Mallo’s Espantapájaros, while not conforming to the precise tenets of surrealism as Breton laid them out, nevertheless exhibits several surrealist traits: the juxtaposition of random, often ordinary objects, the use of dreamlike imagery (especially landscapes), and a sort of liberated chaos that results from the free, disconnected flow of the individual’s unfiltered subconscious thoughts, desires, or fears.  Mallo has stated that this series represents her only true “surrealist moment” (Mangini 171). In these paintings, the dark landscape evokes death and desolation, while the somewhat ghostly, skeletal figures demand the viewer’s attention amidst a scattered array of random, broken objects. I immediately thought of these murky, dilapidated scarecrows when I read the final stanza of Neruda’s “Walking Around” – the last four verses of the poem read:

“paso, cruzo oficinas y tiendas de ortopedia,
y patios donde hay ropas colgadas de un alambre:
calzoncillos, toallas y camisas que lloran
lentas lágrimas sucias

I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards where there is clothing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts that cry
slow dirty tears

(English translations of “Walking Around” are from Robert Bly. I’ve modified a few.)

A second, very similar painting – Espantapeces (Fish Scarers, or Scarefishes), below – also formed part of Mallo’s Cloacas y campanarios (Sewers and Belfries) series. This “pathetic and startling sub-aquatic scenery, composed of strips and shreds of cloth, with ruminant skulls and knives stabbing the background” (Gandara 24), received several awards in Barcelona. Like Espantapájaros, Espantapeces presents shadowy, grotesque imagery that finds parallels in “Walking Around” – specifically Mallo’s skulls, animal skeletons, and cavernous underground setting mirror Neruda’s references to death, suffering, and a dark subterranean landscape:

No quiero seguir siendo raíz en las tinieblas,
vacilante, extendido, tiritando de sueño,
hacia abajo, en las tripas moradas de la tierra,
absorbiendo y pensando, comiendo cada día.

No quiero para mí tantas desgracias.
no quiero continuar de raíz y de tumba,
de subterráneo solo, de bodega con muertos,
aterido, muriéndome de pena.

I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don’t want so much misery.
I don’t want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

"Espantapeces", Maruja Mallo, 1931

“Espantapeces” (Fish Scarers / “Scarefishes”), Maruja Mallo, 1931

While these two paintings – Scarecrows and Scarefish – are most similar in their depiction of decomposing, “scarecrow-like” figures covered in tattered rags, the other paintings in Mallo’s series continue to illustrate themes of death, destruction, and deterioration against a barren, gray wasteland.  Bones, skulls, and rubbish piles abound.  Antro de fósiles (Fossil Den), below, for example, is a large-scale painting featuring arcade-style arches in the background, while a pair of human skeletons stand out amidst the toads, broken barrels, and mushrooms that populate the rust-colored, toxic earth of the foreground. The arches framing the upper portion of the painting suggest an abandoned urban setting, or perhaps a forgotten civilization in ruins…

"Antro de fósiles" (Fossil Den), Maruja Mallo, 1930

“Antro de fósiles” (Fossil Den), Maruja Mallo, 1930. Image via

…which leads to yet another connection to “Walking Around,” as Neruda creates a nauseating visualization of modern city shops and locales:

Sucede que entro en las sastrerías y en los cines
marchito, impenetrable, como un cisne de fieltro
navegando en un agua de origen y ceniza.

El olor de las peluquerías me hace llorar a gritos. […]

Y me empuja a ciertos rincones, a ciertas casas húmedas,
a hospitales donde los huesos salen por la ventana,
a ciertas zapaterías con olor a vinagre,
a calles espantosas como grietas.

And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs. […]

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin

This darker, more pessimistic, and often existential vein of surrealism became especially prominent in the 1930s. This was an era marked by general social and political unrest on a global scale – the first World War had left world powers divided, social revolutions were springing up across Latin America, the stock market crash in 1929 sparked the decade-long Great Depression in the US, and Spain was suffering from great political instability an the downfall of its monarchy and dictatorship… indeed the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) was looming on the horizon. Artists responded, remedying their angst and disgust by rejecting traditional aesthetic and moral values that had brought the world to its current place. Surrealism offered a perfect expressive outlet – Breton had defined it as “pure psychic automatism,” a process by which thoughts are expressed without the intervention of reason, logic, or moral or aesthetic preoccupations. Under this paradigm, chance, locura (craziness), dreams, and subconscious desires – no matter how absurd or offensive – were celebrated. Salvador Dalí’s painting, Melancolía (Melancholoy), although created later in 1945 after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, is an example of the way in which Surrealism allowed for a new way of interpreting reality that would take into account the most violent, irrational aspects of man’s psyche.


“Melancolía” (Melancholoy), Salvador Dalí, 1945. Image via

Returning to Mallo’s paintings, however, it is telling that Neruda lived in Spain from 1933-35 (Barcelona and Madrid). Having met Federico Garcia Lorca in Buenos Aires in 1933, Lorca introduced Neruda to his intellectual and artistic circle in Madrid – a group that included Rafael Alberti, César Vallejo, and Miguel Hernández. As Mallo and Alberti had begun “a passionate, if Bohemian relationship” (Havard 93)  in 1926 that would last until 1931, it is likely that Neruda became familiar with Mallo’s work as well. While many have pointed to the mutual influence of Mallo and Alberti, fewer have examined connections between Mallo and other poets of this time – especially those like Neruda whose primary place or residence or study was not Spain’s cultural nucleus, Madrid. Juxtaposing Mallo’s and Neruda’s works affords us a more complete and complex understanding of those early twentieth century Spanish and Spanish American artistic movements that were becoming increasingly transatlantic in scope.

Robert Havard’s book on Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain, for example, discusses at length the ways in which Mallo and Alberti collaborated and shared similar approaches to the role of (surrealist) art in general. Considering the sordid side of Spanish surrealism, Havard’s book includes a chapter on scatology and eschatology, which itself dedicates a section to “Maruja Mallo and Eschatology” (92-104). He notes, as I have above,

"Tierra y excrementos" (Earth and excrement), Maruja Mallo, 1932

“Tierra y excrementos” (Earth and excrement), Maruja Mallo, 1932. Image via

that with Sewers and Belfries “Maruja turned from the apparent gaiety of her initial paintings to the haunting theme of left-over objects lying on the ground […] depicted in dark-toned paintings, virtually devoid of colour” (95). Two paintings in Mallo’s series, Tierra y excremento (Earth and Excremet) and Sapos y excrementos (Toads and Excrements), are explicitly named after human or animal waste, emphasizing her view that the earth and modern society, particularly the contrast between urban Madrid and the barren landscape of the city’s outskirts, were becoming veritable wastelands.

"Sapos y excrementos" (Toads and excrement), Maruja Mallo, 1932

“Sapos y excrementos” (Toads and excrement), Maruja Mallo, 1932

Havard points out similarities in Mallo’s visual representation of a rotting wasteland and Alberti’s poetic verses featuring “junk objects” (95). Both Havard and Mangini emphasize the role that the outskirts of Madrid played in influencing the pair, especially because Mallo lived at one point on the outskirts of Madrid and Alberti would visit her there. The train ride afforded them opportunities to contemplate the state of civilization and man amidst the ruinous decay outside the city: “The austere landscapes on Madrid’s outskirts inspired her, particularly the garbage, the burnt and waterlogged land, the sewers, the broken bell towers, and the rubble, all of which was undergoing the process of decomposition. In the midst of this detritus, Mallo tells us [in an essay on her work] that ‘the presence of man appears among the footprints, the suits, the skeletons and the dead’ (Mangini 163). Tellingly, two paintings in her Sewers and Belfries series were titled Basura (Garbage) and La huella (The Footprint).


“Basura” (Garbage), Maruja Mallo, 1932. Image via


“La huella” (The Footprint), Maruja Mallo, 1929





Finally, the limited palette of grays, whites, and blacks in Sewers and Belfries, together with the general sense of fragmentation, has led may critics to establish comparisons to Picasso’s 1936 Guernica (Gandara 24). Since Mallo’s paintings were created before Guernica, her influence may not have come from Picasso as much as from Spanish painters of the past – notable Francisco de Goya. In fact, in writing today’s post on Mallo’s shocking, “dark paintings” after having just written about her colorful Verbenas, I could not help but think of the way in which Goya took a similar dark, cynical turn during his prolific career – I wrote about this shift and his so-called “Black Paintings” (and the controversy surrounding them) last year. Mangini also points to Mallo’s respect for and admiration of Goya, particularly regarding Los caprichos (Caprices), which Mallo praised for their satirizing of “the corruption and superstition of his era” (164). If Goya’s nightmarish sketches were a source of inspiration for Mallo, then we might consider these surrealist landscapes to be more than mere expressions of angst and disgust; their attention to decay and ruin may be read as a similar critique of modern corruption and uneven modernization.

Several other paintings were included in Mallo’s series, but I have been unable to locate them online – one is titled “Largarto y cenizas” (Lizards and Ashes) and another “Campanario” (Belfry). Gandara describes the former as a “terrifying vision of a reptile skeleton with human hands” and the latter as a symbolic satire (24).  If any of my readers knows where to find these, I’d appreciate any help!

What other Spanish or Latin American artists could be compared to Mallo or Neruda for their creation of grotesque, dark surrealist imagery in poetry, prose, or the plastic arts?



Ballesteros Garcia, Rosa Maria. “Maruja Mallo (1902-1994). De Las cloacas al espacio sideral.” Aposta. Revista de Ciencias Sociales 13 (Dic 2004): 1-34. PDF via ApostaDigital.

Gandara, Consuelo de la. Maruja Mallo. Artistas españoles contemporáneos. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, 1978. Google Books.

Havard, Robert. The Crucified Mind. Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain. London: Tamesis, 2001. Google Books.

Mangini, Shirley. “The Gendered Body Politic of Maruja Mallo.” Modernism and the Avant-Garde Body in Spain and Italy. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Neruda, Pablo. “Walking Around” in Residencia en la tierra II (1935).
PDF for use in class: Neruda-walking-around_poema









Posted in Art, Literature, Spain, Spanish America, Surrealism, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Women and the Avant-garde: Maruja Mallo’s “Verbenas” (Carnivals)

Lately I’ve been returning to the art and literature of the Spanish Avant-garde – the time period that sparked my interest in studying Spanish literary, art, and cultural history more in depth (roughly 1917-1930s). Since I received my copy of an edited volume on the Spanish and Italian Avant-garde, Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy (Routledge 2016) – to which I contributed an article on the 1929 novel La Venus mecánica (The Mechanical Venus) – I’ve been studying the contributions of my colleagues and re-visiting everything I love about this early 20th century era… the chaos, the rejection of tradition, the innovation, the creation of entirely new art forms (surrealism, cubism, futurism, etc.), and, of course, the controversy and scandal that accompanied such aesthetics. Salvador Dalí‘s paintings had always fascinated me, and I’ve written several blog posts about his Christmas cards, landscape inspiration, and public service announcements. Certainly Dalí (along with his renowned contemporaries Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca) is one of the most representative figures of Spanish Surrealism; however the historical focus on male artists fails to honor the legacy of the women who began to break through social and cultural barriers by forging non-traditional paths of their own (aka, any role that was not almost exclusively “wife” or “mother”) as artists, poets, and journalists.

mallo_fosiles 1931_ahorasemanal

Maruja Mallo (left) next to her painting, “Antro de fósiles” [“Fossil Den”], in 1931, alongside Josefina Carabias (right), who is considered Spain’s first full-time female journalist. Image via Ahora (

The above photograph features Maruja Mallo (1902-1995), one of the most talented and controversial painters of the Spanish surrealist scene who participated extensively in Madrid’s artistic and intellectual circles at the height of the Avant-garde. Yet her contributions are only beginning to be recognized in this context. As I continue my research on Spanish women’s literature and cultural contributions during the early decades of the 20th century, I am becoming increasingly aware of my own tendency, on this blog specifically, to write about the most celebrated, recognizable male personalities for my general audience. While I have written twice before about Carmen de Burgos’s novel  La rampa, the tragic execution of the “Thirteen Roses,” and women of the Second Republic, in terms of Avant-garde visual art, my posts have predominantly centered on male artists like Dalí and Picasso. As such, it seems I’m perpetuating the lack of attention given to female artists and the privileging of their already canonical male contemporaries. Ooops. Time for some blogging-reflection…  When a student – or anyone! –  googles “Vanguardia” or “Surrealism(o)”, for example, I’d like for them to find contributions beyond those of Dalí, Lorca, Buñuel, and their male contemporaries. There are already some excellent Spanish articles and blog posts about Mallo — Las amigas de Buñuel, Lorca y Dalí; Maruja Mallo y su ruptura con la pintura tradicional; and Maruja Mallo. Transgresion en la obra y en la vida — however there is little information available in English.

Mallo documentary

Image from the documentary, “Maruja Mallo. Mitad ángel, mitad marisco”, produced by TVE (Television española:

An early sign of her love for masquerade and self-transformation, Maruja Mallo is actually a pseudonym; she was born Ana María Gómez González in 1902 in Viveiro, Galicia, Spain. When her family moved to Madrid in 1922, Mallo studied art and befriended Dalí, who introduced her to Lorca and Buñuel. In fact, in the documentary on her life, “Maruja Mallo. Mitad ángel, mitad marisco,” it is suggested that she embodied the “fourth vertex” of the famous surrealist triangle formed by the artist (Dalí), the poet and playwright (Lorca), and the filmmaker (Buñuel). The title of the documentary is taken from Dalí’s poetically surreal description of his friend: “mitad ángel, mitad marisco” – “half angel, half shellfish.”   Shirley Mangini, who has written at length about Mallo, describes this vanguardista as the most noteworthy singularity of the Spanish Avant-garde, given that she embodied the clash between traditional Spanish patriarchy and the emerging “modern woman” (“Madrid” 52). In fact, some of her antics and costumes – throughout her life – rivaled those of Dali’s in terms of “surreality,” absurdity, and scandal.


Maruja Mallo. Image via


Mallo covered in seaweed (1945)

Today Mallo’s artwork is on display across Spain, in Paris, and in New York. Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum houses “La verbena” (The Carnival, or The Street Fair), which is one of a four-part series of oil paintings exhibited in 1928 that was dedicated to capturing the chaotic, surreal, and often subversive atmosphere of Madrid’s open-air festivals. In this post I will discuss these four colorful paintings, particularly with regards to they way in which they defy the expectations and logic of Mallo’s contemporary Spanish society while exposing a multiplicity of sensations and perspectives on topics such as social class, religion, and the female form. I’ll draw much of my commentary from Shirley Mangini’s  chapter published in the aforementioned Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy, entitled “The Gendered Body Politic of Maruja Mallo” (pp. 151-173). Importantly, Mallo’s Verbena scenes contain subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – sociocultural criticism and satire. These transgressive elements were key components not only of Mallo’s artistic production and the Avant-garde in general, but of her notoriously iconoclastic personality that shattered taboos and challenged the validity of traditional beliefs, values, and practices. Below is the first Verbena, painted in 1927:

Verbena-1927_Reina sofia

La Verbena (1927). [Image via Reina Sofia Museum,

While this rendition of an urban street fair features many familiar components, Mangini notes that the central focus of this painting is clearly two strong female figures: “young, muscular women in tennis dresses, obviously representing Mallo and her athletic friend, Concha Méndez, who was a competitive swimmer. Although their masquerade includes wings and halo-like party hats, their extroverted behavior, unladylike stances, and rowdiness defy these angelic artifacts,” yet their tennis attire suggests an upper-class affiliation  (“The Gendered Body” 159). Mangini’s chapter focuses on Mallo’s depiction of the female body – specifically, on her tendency to represent women as active subjects that defy the male gaze, rather than as passive subjects or muses merely admired for their beauty and sexuality. Mallo’s unique female representation expresses the freedom and autonomy that she believed women deserved – but that was often denied them – as these qualities would enable them to challenge tradition and defy patriarchal law (159). In fact, one of Mallo’s most famous paintings, “Mujer con cabra” [“Woman with goat”], created in 1929, suggests this same tendency towards female liberation in the public sphere.

mujer cabra_El pais

“Mujer con cabra” [Woman with goat] by Maruja Mallo, 1929. Image via

In a second Verbana (below), social class is apparent in the foreground of the painting. The upper-class couple seated on the right is juxtaposed with a working-class couple in costume seated at a table drinking on the left. The bourgeois couple appears stiff, smug, and bored, while their counterparts seem to be more relaxed, enjoying themselves at this particular event (Mangini, “The Gendered Body” 159). Mangini includes a quote from Maruja Mallo in which the artist explains the subversive natures of the Verbenas, or Carnivals more generally: “That is how the parties and popular fairs were… Irreverence and grace, sarcasm and the creation of a society that ascends and confronts a dominating society, converting it and representing it in a world of ghosts and puppets” (150). For Mangini, Mallo’s juxtaposition of the working and privileged classes suggests that “Spanish politics would soon be changing, that the unruly working class […] would soon dominate the public sphere” (“The Gendered Body” 159-60).

"Verbena" (Street fair), 1928. Image via Curiator

Verbena (Street fair), 1928. Image via Curiator

In Mallo’s “Verbena de Pascua” (Christmas Carnival) (below), two rather large women are again front and center, though this time they are not the focal point of the painting. Nevertheless, Mangini notes that their movements and appearance defy social mores, as their “corpulent female bodies prominently fill the space with their ungainly strides and short dresses” (159).  Their dresses – a bit short for the time – imply that they are maids or servants, thus further placing their liberated public behavior at odds with the expectations of their subservient duties within a private space. The reversal, rejection, or interruption of traditional hierarchical structures, order, and law are key concepts of Carnaval, as Mikhail Bakhtin has pointed out. Curiously, Mallo’s Verbenas visually depict these same notions before they were popularized by Bakhtin, and both Mangini and Urioste point out that Mallo’s paintings are perfect pictorial representations of “el mundo al revés,” or “the world turned upside down”. With law and order suspended in Mallo’s worlds, all social classes and age groups share one public space; opposing concepts of the religious and the profane, high and low culture, and the exceptional and the insignificant coexist, and a parodic new image of contemporary society results (Urioste 205).

Verbena Pascua_LeerEs

Verbena de Pascua (Christmas Carnival), 1929. Image via

A fourth festival painting, Verbena Kermesse (below), features a celebration specifically associated with the Church. This particular brightly colored, chaotic atmosphere with a religious basis serves as an excellent illustration of Mallo’s fascination with open-air festivities. Mangini quotes and translates her explanation from Lo popular en la plástica española a través de mi obra (1928-36): “They are a pagan revelation and they express discord with the existing order… On these commemorative dates the street crowds meet. The masses take mythology and the saints as a pretext to enjoy themselves collectively. They feel no veneration for the church whatsoever; rather, they parody celestial order and the demonic hierarchies, masquerading with the elements and attributes of the divine and satanic beings” (158). From this commentary, we might assume that the entire social structure – not  merely the dominant Church-State institutions or upper classes – become the objects of Mallo’s subtle critique.


Verbena Kermesse (Street Fair in celebration of Church founding), 1929. Image via Alamy

Finally, Fernandez Utrera discusses the possible influence of Salvador Dalí‘s earlier, 1923 rendition of a Spanish Street fair near his rural village of Figueres (Catalonia) – a stark contrast to urban Madrid. While both Mallo’s and Dalí‘s paintings include typical festival attractions like circus performers, games, giant puppets and masqueraders, Fernandez Utrera argues tht the depiction of the “masses”, or the pueblo, is distinct in these artists’ paintings. In Dalí‘s Ferias de la Santa Cruz de Figueres (Santa Cruz Street Fairs in Figueres) (below), individual attendees become lost among the masses, and this homogeneous pueblo occupying nearly three fourths of the painting’s space – appears in opposition to the marginal circus performers (96). In Mallo’s Verbanas, however, Fernandez Utrera argues that the crowds, the general populace, actually disappears behind the exaggerated, parodic representations of “Official Spain”, and thus becomes secondary within, if not eliminated from, the world Mallo creates (96). In this sense, Fernandez Utrera challenges the so-called subversive nature of Mallo’s Avant-garde Verbenas by suggesting that her position as an artist-intellectual (minority) prevents her from adequately representing the vast majority of the Spanish populace.

Dali-Feria Santa Cruz-1922_SalvadorDaliOrg

Ferias de la Santa Cruz de Figueres (Santa Cruz Street Fairs in Figueres) by Salvador Dali, 1922. Image via

Regardless of the explicit or implicit social critiques of these festival paintings, a comparison of Dalí’s and Mallo’s interpretations provides opportunities for ample discussions on gender, social class, and tradition in the context of Spanish modernity. They would be excellent visuals to use in conjunction with early twentieth-century urban literature from Ramon Gomez de la Serna or Carmen de Burgos, for example. I’m planing to dedicate several upcoming posts to Maruja Mallo and other female writers and artists who are often overlooked or forgotten when it comes to the Avant-garde, or the Spanish vanguardia, and the subsequent Generation of 27. Stay tuned…

What are your favorite paintings or literary texts from the early 20th century Avant-garde movements?


Fernandez Utrera, Maria Soledad. “Esencia de verbena: sabor popular y estética de minorías en la pintura de Maruja Mallo.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos 28.1 (2003): 87-102.  JSTOR:

Mangini, Shirley. “The Gendered Body Politic of Maruja Mallo.” Modernism and the Avant-Garde Body in Spain and Italy. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Mangini, Shirley. “Madrid es un Cabaret y Maruja Mallo la protagonista.” Lectures du genre. Numero 11: Genre et caberet: les loisirs nocturnes du corps (2013): 52-65. PDF: (Index, Numero 11:

Mangini, Shirley. Maruja Mallo and the Spanish Avant-Garde. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

Urioste, Carmen. “Violencia discursiva y género: El caso de Maruja Mallo.” Homenaje a la Profesora L. Teresa Valdivieso: Ensayos críticos. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2008. p. 197-209.

























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Summer in Mexico: Monuments, Murals, and Mole, oh my!

It’s summer vacation! My third since starting this blog…  And while the past two summers I traveled to Spain primarily for professional reasons (to present at conferences), I also made sure to plan my trips to include some vacation time. In 2014 I spent time living in Madrid, blogging and exploring the Prado for several weeks before presenting on Almodovar’s La piel que habito in Santiago de Compostela. I concluded the trip by visiting a friend in Oviedo, which marked my first visit to Asturias. Last year (2015) I attended a conference on Spanish cinema in Salamanca where I presented on Las trece rosas, then traveled to Granada to visit a friend before ending the trip in my favorite city, Madrid. This year, however, I had planned a trip to Mexico for purely “recreational” purposes – no conferences, no workshops, and no research! I almost didn’t take my laptop. Since I don’t have a research paper to share this year, I thought I’d post a few pictures from my trip that relate to topics about which I have previously taught and/or blogged.

First, I picked up this fabulous poster (below) that I plan to frame and hang up in my office – Mapa artístico, turístico y cultural de la Gran República de México, designed by Jorge Escudero de Sybaris. I love the details that depict the cultural diversity and vast geographic scale of a country many students in the US, unfortunately, associate with violence, drug trafficking, and [“illegal”] immigration. If you visit Mexico City in the near future, you should be able to purchase one from one of the many kiosks selling magazines, postcards, and – my favorite – individual cigarettes. You can also order a similar poster-map here from Porrua for MX $100 pesos (or about US $5.00), plus shipping. The second image below is a more detailed look at the imagery, including prominent geographical features, states and cities, famous historical events and figures, and regional products and dress.

mapa de mexico_escudero

Image via

Details: Mapa artístico, turístico y cultural de la Gran República de México, by Jorge Escudero de Sybaris. Image mine.

Secondly, I was looking forward to visiting Mexico City’s Palacio Nacional again, specifically to see Diego Rivera’s murals. The construction of the Palace began in 1692 on the site of Moctezuma II’s “new” palace, and the building later became the site of Hernán Cortez’s home and the residences of colonial viceroys. I highly recommend taking the time to see the palace and Rivera’s murals – the structure borders the central Zócalo and admission is free; just make sure to bring your passport or government issued ID to enter. If you are new to Mexican history and Rivera’s murals, I highly recommend paying for a guided tour so that you can better appreciate the historical significance and the complexity of these representations of Mexican cultural history. Unfortunately, on my visit the massive, central mural surrounding the staircase (a triptych containing three panels: “Class Struggle” [left], “The History of Mexico” [center], and “The Legend of Quetzalcoatl” [right]) was undergoing restoration. I was still able to get a nice view of the masterpiece from the second level – but as you can see, my photograph leaves much to be desired. #Fail.

My disappointing photo of Rivera’s three-part staircase mural, including the central “The History of Mexico”, undergoing restoration work.

Embed from Getty Images

The above Getty image shows the left portion (“Class Struggle”) and the central pane (“The History of Mexico”). The YouTube video below does a nice job of describing the different sections of this mural and many of the smaller murals lining the Palace’s upstairs hallway. Additionally, this website provides a detailed but brief introduction to all the murals by Diego Rivera that adorn the interior walls of the Palacio Nacional.

Crossing the Zócalo, directly across from the Palacio Nacional, gold and silver shops line the plaza and surrounding streets. In these stores you can purchase (or sell) all sorts of gold and silver jewelry, chains, watches, etc. Among the religious pendants of crucifixes and the Virgin of Guadalupe, I was struck by several flashy gold representations of “Santa Muerte”. I’ve written on my blog about Santa Muerte as a controversial folk saint of death, so these particular pieces fascinated me. The first one below is holding the scales of justice, in addition to the death scythe and a rather large, “diamond”-studded semi-automatic weapon. There were four different varieties of Santa Muerte for sale at this particular store, and they retailed for 600 pesos, or about US $33.00. As I type this and caption my pictures, I’m starting to regret  not purchasing one… (some pricey ones are available on Amazon).

Four different versions of “Santa Muerte” to go with any ensemble. Image mine.

During our first full day in Mexico City, we walked about 3 miles from the historic center down the Paseo de la Reforma to the Castillo de Chapultapec (Chapultapec Castle). The Castle is surrounded by a large park (Bosque de Chapultapec) and sits on a hill, offering beautiful views of the city in any direction. Each time I visit Chapultapec I think about Rodolfo Usigli’s play, Corona de sombra, which I have taught in introduction to Hispanic literature courses. If I have the opportunity to take students to Mexico in the future, I’d love to design a course on Mexican history that would include this literary text, combined with a visit to Chapultapec, as a means of approaching 19th-20th century Mexican history in Mexico City from the unique “anti-historical” perspective Usigli’s drama offers.

View of Mexico City from Chapultapec Palace. Image mine.

Inside the palace are several amazing murals by renowned Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco — Photographer Margaret Metcalfe has a wonderful site with beautiful photographs of these Chapultapec murals. However, Gabriel Flores Garcia –  who is much less ‘famous’ than Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera – painted the mural that boasts the most dramatic placement on the ceiling above the main stairwell. This mural is dedicated to six young cadets – teenage soldiers between the ages of 14-19  referred to as Los niños héroes – who died defending Mexico City in a battle against the US during the Mexican-American war in 1847.

Chapultapec Castle’s impressive stairwell. A portion of Gabriel Flores Garcia’s ceiling-mural honoring the Heroic Boy Soldiers (Los niños héroes) who died defending Mexico City in 1847 is above; to the left is a portion of Orozco’s mural of the Mexican Revolution. Image mine.

Embed from Getty Images

On our second day in Mexico City we decided to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacan, about a 45 minute bus trip outside the city. We ended up taking a tour that included several stops – first, the Plaza de las tres culturas (Three Cultures Plaza), then the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and finally Teotihuacan. There are many places in Mexico City offering such guided tours and they tend to cost between US $25-50, plus tips. We took a tour offered through the youth hostel off the Zócalo, just behind the Cathedral (Mexico City Hostel).


Plaza de las tres culturas. Here are the remains of an Aztec temple (pre-Colombian culture), a Spanish church (Spanish colonial era), and large modern housing complexes surrounding the square (independent ‘mestizo’ nation). Image mine.


Entering Teotihuacan – view of the Pyramid of the Sun. Image mine.

Archaeologists date the origins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, located about 30 miles outside of Mexico City, to somewhere between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D. The city owes its Nahuatl name – meaning “Place of the Gods” – to the Aztecs, who came upon the abandoned city and its impressive structures in the 14th century. The original Mesoamerican city was an immense urban center, thought to have contained a multi-ethnic population of about 200,000 at its peak (375-500 A.D.). However, archaeologist are still uncertain as to the precise civilization that actually built the city. Regardless, the city’s art, architecture, and religion would influence  all subsequent Mesoamerican cultures, especially the Aztec Empire. Today, the ancient urban center is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it is a must-see if you visit central Mexico. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, at 75 meters, or 245 feet high (although, this is only slightly over half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, which is over 140 meters tall). The smaller Pyramid of the Moon is about 43 meters, or 141 feet tall, and the two structures are connected by a wide boulevard known as the Avenue of the Dead. I’m linking to two websites that provide excellent information about the Teotihuacan and its history: and The Ancient History Encyclopedia. I used images of Teotihuacan when teaching Julio Cortázar’s “La noche boca arriba,” a short story in which the Aztec practice of human sacrifice atop stone temples features prominently.


View of the Pyramid of the Moon from inside the city ‘streets’. Image mine.


Close-up view of the Pyramid of the Moon from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. Image mine.


Awkward academics celebrating from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun – after climbing up 283 quite irregular stone steps! View of the Pyramid of the Moon and the “Avenue of the Dead” behind us. Image mine.

And last but certainly not least….I was able to eat so much MOLE!!!! The sheer variety of mole created in Mexico is astounding, and every restaurant has a different recipe. Below is  my meal from “La casa de las enchiladas,” where you can build your own enchiladas – just pick the tortilla, filling, sauce, and toppings. My three chicken enchiladas, wrapped in blue corn tortillas, were topped with Mole Poblano, Mole Verde, and salsa Encacahuatada, which is a mild chile and peanut sauce. All three enchiladas are topped with onions, cilantro, Oaxacan cheese, and sesame seeds. Combined with a Michelada after our long walk to and through Chapultapec, this was one of my favorite meals in Mexico City.

Lunch from La casa de las enchiladas. Image mine.

Now that I’ve managed some productive procrastination, I suppose it’s time to get back to work planning this weeks’ classes and assignments for my summer literature course.

Have you traveled to Mexico City with students (study abroad), for a conference or workshop, or simply for fun? What are some of your favorite places?
































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