ARTES CEEH Scholarship Report |’“Fancy pictures”? The British Reception of Murillo, 1650-1900′, Alexandra Millón Maté (PhD Candidate, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

My research stay in England and Scotland lasted 45 days between September 1st and October 15th, 2021. During this time, I have had the privilege of visiting more than sixty institutions, public and private, where I have been able to study the History of the reception of genre painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville, 1617-1682) from the middle of the 17th century to the end of the 20th century.

In order to optimize the stay and make the most of the resources obtained thanks to the scholarship, I established three study sections that I will list below.

A. Identification and documentation of copies, versions and reproductions of original works by Murillo.

With some exceptions, I have had direct access to both the original works and the copies and the “after Murillo” versions, which in many cases were not on display. In the same way, I have been allowed to collect all the available documentation on them physically or electronically, depending on the COVID prevention policies of each institution.

B. Study of the repercussion of Murillo’s genre painting on local artists.

Based on the existing bibliography on the subject, mostly dedicated to Reynolds and Gainsborough’s Fancy pictures, I have been able to expand the list of artists who paid homage to Murillo from different social, political and cultural spheres throughout more than three hundred years of history.

C. Study of historiography and artistic criticism dedicated to the Murillo ́s genre painting and his “followers” between the XVIIth and XXth centuries.

From the arrival of the first works to private collections in England in the mid-17th century, until the inauguration of the first public collections in which his paintings could be seen, Murillo captured the attention of a new public outside his horizon of expectations generating an abundant artistic literature that has been partially studied.

During my stay I have been able to expand my knowledge by resorting to other less canonical sources for artistic historiography such as the non-specialized press, private correspondence, travel diaries, guest books or copyists’ books where, chance allowed to register some interesting comments on genre paintings.

Objectives achieved.

The objectives achieved throughout the stay have exceeded initial expectations. Despite some unavoidable obstacles derived from the pandemic and the measures for its prevention, I have been able to access or obtain documentation electronically in 75% of the institutions that had planned. Thanks to this, I have been able to gather a large documentary base, in many cases unpublished, that I will use in my doctoral thesis in various ways:

First, I am going to create a series of “collecting maps” of Murillo’s genre paintings in Great Britain in order to graphically expose the history of the collectionism of these paintings.

Second, I will contribute some unpublished data to the history of collecting some of these paintings and propose a hypothesis about the possible provenance of Four Figures in a Step (Kimbell Art Museum), unknown until the 1820s.

Third, I will add a new section in my thesis dedicated to the role that Murillo’s paintings played in European academic circles, contrasting the British model with others more focused on the study of his religious painting, as is the Spanish case.

Finally, I hope to be able to take advantage of other parts of the information gathered during the stay in future publications. I think it would be very interesting, for example, to review what we know about Sir David Wilkie’s trip to Spain. The information on this artist’s journey has been published in a fragmentary way and it is still possible to contribute to its study thanks to the collections kept in the National Library of Scotland, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Collection Trust.

Something similar happens with the fondness for Murillo shown by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In both cases, there are numerous testimonies of their admiration for the Spanish artist that have been collected mostly by artistic historiography almost anecdotally. However, I believe that greater depth can be added to the matter if we insert Murillo into the artistic debate of the moment and analyse his role, and that of his “followers” in national collections.

Personal assessment of the learning and training achieved and acknowledgements

The experience and information acquired throughout this research stay has been unique in my academic career. Until now, I had not had the opportunity to dedicate myself fully to research, and it has clearly been a gratifying and tremendously motivating experience in a difficult moment in which I have had to postpone the deposit of my thesis, due to institutional closures caused by the pandemic in the last two years.

Fortunately, all the contacts made, all the knowledge acquired on the functioning of the bibliographic and documentary collections, as well as the collections visited, will help me in the future to continue with my PhD research and other works.

I must express my sincere gratitude to the ARTES association and the CEEH for the support and trust they placed in my project. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to conduct this research abroad, as it would not have been possible without your help.

I hope to rise to the occasion and to be able to translate all my appreciation into work that expands our knowledge of Murillo’s work and his contribution to British artistic culture.

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