When I was in Spain in the summer of 2018, one of my friends welcomed me to her home in Pontevedra, where I stayed for a few days to explore this region of Galicia for the first time. She was eager to show me her city’s museum, El Museo de Pontevedra, and I was especially impressed with the art collection. Comprised of largely Galician (Gallego) artists, I discovered several new Spanish/Galician painters whose works I had not seen or read about before. One of my favorite paintings (below) was by María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso (1927-2009), who was born in Vigo. I was struck by the contrasting dark-neutral shades of grays and browns used for the background and the child’s carriage with the bright white, impressionist-style representation of the child sleeping. I found the painting both beautiful and disturbing, as the dark shades and stark barren, somewhat foggy landscape give it an extremely somber, almost eerie appearance. In fact, when I first saw it, my reflex was to turn away, as I thought the child was dead (!).
A similar aesthetic can be seen below in the painting of Fuente Alonso’s mother — the vaguely sketched features marked with heavy brush strokes, the almost excessive use of white paint for the skin, and the gray-brown, almost hollow eyes make this another painting that screams at the viewer to give it a second look. Evocative expressionist details, which were a key feature of Fuente Alonso’s paintings, are especially evident in this portrait. But at the same time, the neutral palette of grays, browns, and whites both tones down the painting’s potential to communicate any extreme emotion and quells the emotional response of the viewer.
It’s taken me over a year to get to posting these images, and in my search for more information on María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso I was surprised to find very little. In fact, very few of her paintings are even available online — only a few still-lifes and landscape paintings are featured on the website of the Galician institution, Afundación: Obra Social ABANCA, and its galleries. I was unable to find any additional details or information regarding these four paintings, and I could not even find higher quality images than these four photos I took at the Museo de Pontevedra in July, 2018. I’m grateful that the museum allowed photography, as I left there with a wealth of new ideas and resources to incorporate into my courses on Spanish Culture or Literature, and also with beautiful images of Fuente Alonso’s impressive work that I can share here on the blog. The above paintings of “sleep”, both from the 1960s, would pair nicely with a course on postwar literature (literatura de la posguerra), especially with women’s literature (Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet, for example). Below, I especially love the contrast of muted greens and violets, the balance of the objects and open space, and the somewhat Victorian style evoked by, “The Cat in the Armchair”, which is much less eerie that the first two portraits above.
Finally, the below photograph I took of one of Fuente Alonso’s later works (2003), and the meta-artistic element is what caught my attention. I’ve been teaching a course at K-State on AP Spanish Literature for the past four years (which prepares grad students and undergrad Spanish/Education majors to teach high school AP Spanish Literature), and one of the six key themes of the AP Exam is “Literary Creation,” or “Metaficción“. This concept is visible in many traditional texts, like Don Quijote and Lazarillo de Tormes, but it is especially highlighted with the Latin American Boom of the 20th century — Borges, Cortazar, Fuentes, etc. The AP Exam also encourages and requires text-image comparisons — which I think is fantastic — and the below painting offers a new take on some of the more recognizable masterpieces I have seen appear on the exam preparation materials (Velazquez, Dali, M.C. Escher, etc.). It’s also a work by a woman, and female-authored texts are still sadly underrepresented on the AP Literature list, even in 2019. For example, Fuente Alonso’s “Tribute to Leonardo. Painting is a mental thing” (below) would pair nicely with Julia de Burgos’ poem, “A Julia de Burgos,” which also deals with women’s literary creation.
After spending time searching internet blogs, Google scholar, and my library’s databases, the most “extensive” information I could find on Fuente Alonso was still just the short biography from the Afundación website, which is only available in Spanish and Galician/Gallego. I’m translating (adapting) excerpts below so that there is at least SOME information about this unique painter available in English… I also really appreciate the detailed, almost literary descriptions of Fuente Alonso’s painting style. I do, however, plan to check out a few REAL BOOKS from my library or Interlibrary loan in the next few weeks — likely not until winter break — as the Afundación website does provide a bibliography that includes books on Galician painting that I have not consulted.
BIOGRAPHY: “[Born in Vigo, the] Daughter and granddaughter of great architects, Maria de la Fuente Alonso lived in an artistic environment from her infancy, which undoubtedly influenced her personality an interests. From 1945, she would spend long periods of time in Madrid, where she worked in the studio of the painter Julio Moises, which was an excellent learning experience for in terms of her working with color and precise lines in drawing. In 1953 she began to participate in art collectives, traveling to Paris in 1955 to discover masters of cubism like Picasso, Bracque, and Gris. She expanded her traveling to the Netherlands, studying Rembrandt and Verner, and then through Italy to learn about Sironi and Morandi. Her interest in mural painting led her to complete some important large-scale works that helped her discover her own personal artistic expression, largely through expressionism. In 1961 she won the Critics Prize (premio de la Crítica) for her individual exhibition in Madrid’s Ateneo, which confirmed her as one of the greatest female Spanish painters of her era. She continued her travels and in 1964 she married the painter Máximo de Pablo, and she won several national prizes in the following years. In the late 1960s she left Madrid and moved to Levante, a small town of salt lakes and fisherman, although she continued periodically visiting Madrid and her native city of Vigo, where she would exhibit her work. [continued below…]
[continued… ] ARTISTIC PRODUCTION: [Maria Victoria Fuente Alonso’s] work appears in numerous museums in Galicia and Spain, Europe and the Americas. She created effervescent scenes, with objects that were both concretely determined, yet also so interconnected that they appear almost gelatinous. Atmosphere… objects… everything is fused and confused in an ambiance of golds, ochres [dark yellows], and softened carmines. Her inventive portraits demonstrate a formidably disciplined drawing (clear lines), yet at the same time a great deal of freedom. This technique of hers is vital, exquisite, and truly masterful. Perhaps the most outstanding of her works are the Still Lifes, which have been elevated to the category of “imagined landscapes.” There is nothing more transparent than her glass windows, almost immaterial; yet also nothing more authentic that her fruits, which almost seem to dissolve themselves in their own juices. Despite all this, softness never really appears. On the contrary, in Maria Victoria de la Fuente’s paintings everything is energetic, firm, and expansive, even the expressionist moods. This painter from Vigo is, without a doubt, one of the greatest of contemporary Spanish painters.”
[The above translation/adaptation from Spanish to English is mine].
What other little-known (Spanish) painters have you come across in museums? What are some of the smaller, more local museums (in Spain) that have most impressed you? I’m always looking for new places to visit!