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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Art and social change in Spain (1885-1910) – Museo del Prado | 21.05.-22.09.2024

Editors’ Choice

This exhibition is a unique opportunity to approach the artists’ interpretations of the profound social changes in Spain between 1885 and 1910. After a long period in which history painting predominated as the main inspiration, it is now social themes that analyse the changes in Spain during this period.

Image above: An infirmary during a visit by the chief physician 1889, oil on canvas, 290 x 445 cm

The variety of techniques and creative registers of the almost 300 works, many of which have never been exhibited before, makes it possible to show the wide range of artists‘ responses to the challenge of depicting the changes in the society of their time in aspects that have hardly been dealt with so far, such as industrial and women’s work, education, illness and medicine, industrial accidents, prostitution, emigration, poverty and ethnic and social exclusion, colonialism, strikes, anarchism and workers’ demands.

Although the origin of this exhibition project lies in the importance of the Prado’s collections of social painting, which reflect the production associated with the various National Fine Arts Exhibitions, visitors can admire outstanding works by Regoyos, Sorolla, Nonell, Gargallo, Picasso, Gris and Solana, among other artists, thanks to the generosity of almost one hundred public and private lenders.

DEEDS NEWS Kunst und sozialer Wandel in Spanien (1885-1910) - Museo del Prado
The Friend (In Cordoba) 1901 Oil on canvas, 146 x 200.5 cm

The exhibition, curated by Javier Barón, head of the Department for the Conservation of 19th Century Paintings, offers the visitor the opportunity to approach a phenomenon, that of social art, which is relatively short – barely twenty-five years at the crossroads between the 19th and 20th centuries – but full of allure.

Between the liberal governments of 1885 and 1910, Spain, like Europe, underwent a decisive change towards the modernisation of the country. Artists were no longer concerned with historical themes, but with the life of the time, so that their works became eloquent testimonies to these changes. Influenced by photography, Spanish painters strove for objective representation and adopted a naturalistic style similar to that prevalent in France and other countries, but with a particular identity in some works thanks to the study and justification of Velázquez as a prestigious reference. Many of them were exhibited at the National Fine Arts Exhibitions, a large number of which were acquired by the State. The Museo Nacional del Prado owns the most important group of social paintings in Spain. Twenty of these mostly large-format paintings form the centrepiece of the exhibition, the first that the institution has dedicated to this theme, which is so important due to its presence in the collections, but is barely represented in the permanent collection and is therefore insufficiently known. In addition to painting, the exhibition also includes sculpture and graphic art as well as photography and film, which had the strongest influence on the image of the era.

The themes selected for the sections of the exhibition cover various aspects of contemporary life, including those that have received little attention due to their lack of beauty, perceived lack of decency, apparent triviality or perceived lack of interest. These included industrial and women’s work, education, illness and medicine, industrial accidents, prostitution, emigration, poverty, ethnic and social exclusion, colonialism, strikes, anarchism and workers’ demands. Other long-standing themes such as labour in the fields and at sea, religion and death were seen in a new light and are therefore also part of the selection.

DEEDS NEWS Kunst und sozialer Wandel in Spanien (1885-1910) - Museo del Prado
The Promise, after the Storm, Asturias 1903 Oil on canvas, 218.5 x 362.5 cm

The exhibition analyses the diversity of interpretations of all these themes, the interrelationship between different techniques such as photography, illustration and painting, and the crisis of the naturalistic system of representation after the triumph of its most important authors such as the brothers Luis and José Jiménez Aranda, Vicente Cutanda, Joaquín Sorolla, Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas.

The heyday of the first social art was between the Paris World Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900, at which two Spanish painters, Luis Jiménez Aranda and Joaquín Sorolla, were awarded the Medal of Honour. Although they continued to be cultivated by other artists until 1910, the naturalistic proposals were replaced by other, more expressive ones. At the same time, Velázquez’s influence waned and was gradually replaced by that of El Greco among the artists who saw themselves as innovators and responded to the changes in Europe. The first and most important example was Darío de Regoyos and, after 1900, Francisco Iturrino, Ricardo Baroja, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, Isidre Nonell, Evaristo Valle, Joaquim Sunyer, Pablo Gargallo, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and José Gutiérrez Solana. Ignacio Zuloaga and Julio Romero de Torres also worked according to very personal approaches that paid more attention to certain aspects of the art of the past and new directions. The filmmaker had exhausted the possibilities of depicting life to the extreme, so the artists eschewed large formats and objectivity in favour of a radically modern approach that took account of the revolution that Post-Impressionism had triggered in Paris. Painters, sculptors and graphic artists, among them many Catalans and Basques, found a suitable way to develop their proposals with greater freedom and outside the academy. The fact that they continued to work on the same themes as the naturalists allows the exhibition to show the diversity of approaches to these themes in a short period of time, which is therefore of great interest and importance.


Exhibition dates:
Tuesday, 21 May to Sunday, 22 September 2024

Opening hours:
From Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 20:00
Sunday and public holidays from 10:00 to 19:00

From Monday to Saturday from 18:00 to 20:00
Sunday and public holidays from 17:00 to 19:00


Museo del Prado
28014 Madrid


General admission 15 €
7.5 € reduced

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