Photo credit: The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
This portrait was painted in Mexico in the late 18th century. The sitter is wearing a white fichu (a small triangular shawl) and covered with a larger yellow shawl. The image on the brooch is based on the widely copied ‘Nuestra Señora de la Soledad’ (Our Lady of Sorrows) by Gaspar Becerra (1520–1568). The hairstyle consists of a pouf, which was popular at that time.
It is thought to have been painted in a studio, as the quality of the hands and the background are far from the face’s quality. Maybe the professor retouched the face and the apprentice painted the rest of the portrait.
I would be so grateful if someone could provide any information about the author as well as about the sitter.
Art UK comments:
The collection purchased this work as by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) with the title ‘A Portrait of the Artist’s Mother’. It was acquired along with two letters, dated 8th October 1776, supposedly written by Goya, which refer to a portrait of this subject. They are now believed to be fakes.
According to the NICE Paintings record, correspondence from Xavier Bray of Dulwich Picture Gallery (October 2012) suggested that it may have been painted by 'a Spanish artist working in Mexico City and associated to the Academy de San Carlos', perhaps Francisco Folch de Cardona (1744–1808).
Provenance: D. Fernando Baron; purchased by Duque del Infantado, Madrid, around 1925; Mr W. T. Russell, Kent, 1933; purchased by Mr B. Averkieff, 1937; J. B. Manson, 1940.
Exhibitions: El Arte en Espagña, Barcelona, 1929, cat. no. 3093.
Publications: Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and miniatures in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Cambridge, 1952, p. 54 (as by Goya).
I can find no mention of Francisco Folch de Cardona working outside of Spain, where he worked in Valencia, Murcia and ultimately in Madrid as portrait painter to the court of Charles IV. He appears to have been a rather mediocre artist, probably not up to a face as sensitively rendered as the one in the picture under discussion.
The hypothesis I am working with is that it is a portrait painted in Mexico, probably by the apprentice and the teacher. I do not consider that it is someone training at the Academy of San Carlos since they entered with better skills in drawing, which is incompatible with the perspective mistakes as the background work.
I think the portrait is located somewhere in Mexico where the image of the Virgen de la Soledad by Gaspar Becerra was worshiped, probably Puebla or Oaxaca.
What is the evidence for this picture being painted in Mexico? The image on the brooch is of Spanish origin by a 16th century Spanish painter-sculptor, and the source work was a carved image lost during the Spanish Civil War. Similar images are found and venerated throughout Spain. In other words, what evidence establishes that this picture was not painted in Spain?
There is another question to be asked: If the supposed Goya letters used to support the attribution to him were fakes, is it not possible that the painting itself is also fake? That is to say, could the painting have been made expressly to deceive, possibly in the first quarter of the 20th century, so it could be sold as a latter 18th century Goya?
Fatima, am I right that you think the closest parallel for the image of the Virgin on the sitter's brooch may be a depiction from late 17th-century Puerto Rico? Do you have a link to this image please? Jacinto notes the Spanish origin and remarks that similar images are found and venerated throughout Spain.
The fichu seems to have been worn widely in Europe and the Americas in the 18th century, but are the yellow shawl and elaborate hair bow recognisably Mexican?
There appears to be a vaguely similar hair bow in the Colonial School, 18th century, 'Life-sized waist length portrait of a young society bride ...' on Mutual Art. Someone should be able to find better comparisons in due course.
The original source image for that on the brooch and other such images in Spain, Puerto Rico and Mexico, which was not a painting but a devotional sculpture by Gaspar Becerra, can be seen in two photographs from the earlier part of the 20th century taken in Madrid, where the image was kept until it was destroyed in 1936:
In other words, unlike the Virgin of Guadalupe, this is not a Virgin peculiar to Mexico but one whose iconography is of Spanish origin, although the type had come to Spain from France by way of Elizabeth of Valois, the French queen of Philip II of Spain.
The painting in question may still have been made in Mexico, but the brooch does not prove that, which is why I asked earlier what the evidence was for a Mexican origin. I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the first person mentioned in the provenance history in the NICE Paintings entry, D. Fernando Baron, who presumably sold the painting around 1925 to a Spanish nobleman, was either Mexican or based in Mexico, but even that per se does not establish where the painting originated.
I suppose the yellow shawl looks "indigenous," but that may be analogous to shawls from India worn by women in Britain during the colonial era. However, I am certainly not familiar with fashions in Mexico at the time or colonial Hispanic portraiture.
Dear Jacinto and Marion,
Thank you very much for your comments; they are all really useful. I will try to answer them one by one.
About the origin, I realized that I could not prove it was Mexican or Spanish based on the suit and hairstyle since both styles are so close and similar due to the Spanish influence in Mexico. Therefore, I focused on the canvas. It cannot be seen in the image, but the canvas was cut so close to the edge and stretched very strongly, which is particular in Mexico because the bedding was really expensive, so they had to stretch it as much as possible. I have also noticed that there is a red background beneath the surface. It was a general practice firstly applying a level of reddish iron oxide. In the catalog of "Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790", it is also confirmed that "many new Spanish painters of the eighteenth century left red contours around their figures", which is also visible in the portrait of the Barber Institute.
About the Virgen de la Soledad, it is true that she was venerated in Spain but also in the colonies. It spread widely across America, Mexico in particular, and became very popular. It could definitely be an image of the Virgin of Mexico or Spain, but I only found two images very close to that of the brooch and they were painted in Puerto Rico and Mexico. The first is the oil on canvas by José Campeche, Puerto Rico 1751-1809 (http://www.mapr.org/es/arte/obra/virgen-de-la-soledad-de-la-victoria). The second is an image painted by Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez, Mexico 1666-1734 (https://figgeartmuseum.org/art/collections/item/mater-dolorosa-nuestra-senora-de-la-soledad-250323/376)
About the acquisitions, the farthest I could go is to 1925, when Fernando Barón and Martínez de Agulló sold it to Joaquín Ignacio de Arteaga y Echgüe, XVIII Duke of the Infantado. I also thought that the painting could have belonged to Baron's family, so I contacted an expert in Colonial History and specialized in genealogy, domumentatión, and heraldry in New Spain as Fernando Barón was III Conde de Colombí. He told me that Baron's ancestors had not been in Mexico. The only possible explanation is that he acquired it.
Also, I have been in touch with Colonial art experts and asked them for their opinions. Even if I cannot say it was painted by someone trained at the Academia de San Carlos, which seems not probable right now, they all agree it was painted in Mexico according to a stylistic basis.
I hope this clarifies the investigation a little more.
Does that mean that Fernando Barón, the first known owner and seller of this picture, was a Spaniard based in Spain?
Fernando Barón was a prominent political figure in Seville and also the equivalent of an MP. He was closely connected to the planning and organization for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 (a kind of world's fair) held in Seville, in which numerous former Spanish colonies participated, including Mexico.
Yes, he was. In fact, he was Comisario Regio at the exhibition. I have been trying to find some papers of his movable heritage to see when he acquired the painting, as well as from who, but I could not find anything. He died without descendants so I do not know where should I look at.
Also, the Academy of San Carlos was apparently established and promulgated by the Spanish authorities, and it was staffed with Spanish artists. That means it is entirely possible that even if this portrait was painted in Mexico and depicts a Mexican woman, the painter could still be Spanish.
I expect the reason the portrait looks sufficiently Goya-like that it could be passed off or taken for a Goya is probably that the artist was Spanish and working in the style then prevalent in Spain.
Absolutely. I also thought that, but the students at the Academy of San Carlos had better skills before entering the Academy. The perspective is wrong and the quality of the ground and the hands have nothing to do with the ones painted at the Academy.
Fatima and Jacinto, Thank you both for adding so much to the discussion. A very helpful contact at Sotheby's Latin American Department in Mexico City has kindly passed our enquiry to one of their experts in this area, so I hope to be able to post her thoughts on it soon. I had earlier sent a message to Ilona Katzew, curator of 'Painted in Mexico 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici', via the enquiries desk at LACMA, but that may take a while to reach her.
Marion and Jacinto,
It is being a pleasure talking to you about the portrait; each of your comments is really helpful. Thank you so much for your help as well as for spreading the research to other experts.
I would like to thank Dr Michael Brown, Curator of European Art, San Diego Museum of Art, who is an expert on Mexican portraiture, for his comments:
'Looking at the Barber painting, I immediately thought of José Campeche, who was the leading painter in Puerto Rico in the late 18th century. Please see the portrait in the Thoma Collection (Chicago), which features a similar brooch of the Virgin of Sorrows. I think the Barber painting is from about the same period, perhaps just after 1800. The chair is similar to another portrait by Campeche of 1805.
It would help to have dimensions, support (canvas or panel?), and a condition report that describes the paint surface.
Xavier Bray’s comment about Folch de Cardona is also very relevant. It’s close to his style.'
José Campeche, 'Portrait of a Woman in Mourning', c.1805. The Thoma Foundation. https://bit.ly/2OohAO8
Campeche (1751-1809), a Creole, was partly self-taught but was also taught or influenced by the Spanish painter Luis Paret y Alcázar, who worked in Puerto Rico for some three years in the 1770s. If this picture is by him, it is one of his best portraits, as the emphasis is on characterization as opposed to externals related to the sitter's socioeconomic status.
Campeche's oeuvre consists largely of religious subjects and portraits. Most of the latter appear to be more decorative than psychologically penetrating, but his self-portrait suggests he was capable of a portrait like the Barber picture:
Thank you to Dr Rosario I. Granados, Marilynn Thoma Associate Curator, Art of the Spanish Americas at Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, for her comments:
'I loved the painting and was very intrigued by it but I am afraid I cannot support the attribution to a Mexican painter. The facial features, the bow on top of the sitter’s head, the silk shawl and even the hands, make me think more of a Colonial American painter, in which case the catholic brooch could be related to a New Orleans origin. However, a very similar brooch appears on a painting now in the Thoma Collection attributed to the Puerto Rican artist José Campeche. He was an accomplished portraitist. That is a line of research that could be worth exploring.'
José Campeche, 'Portrait of a Woman in Mourning', c.1805. The Thoma Foundation. https://bit.ly/2OohAO8
It occurs to me that "painted in Mexico" around 1800 covered a lot more territory than it would today, including much of what is now the south west USA, which might account for some of the confusion.
As it happens, there was a prominent and historically significant (for the area) portrait painter in New Orleans during the last two decades of the 18th century who came from Mexico and was trained there. His name was José Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza (c. 1750-1802), and albeit quite competent for his milieu, he was less accomplished than Campeche. Examples below:
Campeche's most important European influence, Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746-1799), was a court painter in Spain who was temporarily exiled to Puerto Rico due to a sexual scandal (he returned to Spain). In other words, his credentials and status were superior to those of the Spanish painters who settled in Mexico and taught at the Academy there. This would appear to be reflected in his Puerto Rican pupil's greater skills as compared to Salazar, who would have been taught by lesser painters at the Academy in Mexico City.
Here is a link to Luis Paret at the Prado, with images:
Campeche, by the way, is more properly known as José Campeche y Jordán, according to Spanish usage (certainly in his day).
As can be seen in the pictures by Paret at the Prado (see link above), he had a certain penchant for a bluish-grey tonality, which seems to be reflected in our picture. This, of course, is subjective and not hard evidence, but it would go with a picture by a Paret pupil.
Why do I think this is a forgery or a fake or whatever the Proper term is. We have a figure that's competently drawn and painted. The face work and the clothing are well done. She is wearing the clothing it's not wearing her. But her hands are drawn to look either like they are arthritic and or clutching the clothing or both. WHY? What client would want that noted in their portrait. We get a peak at the Madonna, to set a time period and if you removed the chair she would appear to be standing. Then we have the chair. I think the artist was channelling Cezanne. Why would the Artist leave the Chair like that. Even if he had screwed it up that bad it's way too easy to fix. Inexplicable weirdness always smells like a lie, to me. Is it worth testing the paint and doing an x-ray?