The Spanish fashion designer’s approach to his designs was informed by his lifelong love of art sparked by his youthful admiration of the paintings owned by clients of his seamstress mother, in particular the Marquis and Marchioness of Casa Torres, who spent their summers in the Palacio Aldamar (also known as Vista Ona) in Getaría. Three of the paintings on display in this exhibition, and loaned by the Prado, were in that collection: Head of an Apostle by Velázquez; Saint Sebastian by El Greco; and Cardinal Luis María de Borbón y Vallabriga by Goya. The latter establishes a dialogue with a magnificent red dress suit with a short jacket loaned from the Museo del Traje in Madrid. Balenciaga frequently drew on the heritage of his Spanish homeland, going further than adding flamenco ruffles to his dresses and seeking inspiration by re-imagining bull fighters’ jackets. The exhibition explores the influence of four centuries of Spanish painting on the couturier’s work. Zurbarán was one inspiration, his drapery influencing Balenciaga’s bold sashes. In 1939 Velázquez’s portraits of the Infanta Magarita were reinterpreted by the dress designer’s work. Also notable is the interaction between a spectacular blue silk evening gown and cape and the mantle of the same colour seen in The Immaculate Conception by Murillo from the Arango collection. The curator Eloy Martínez de la Pera, has drawn together some 90 examples of Balenciaga’s work alongside 55 paintings, including works by El Greco, Murillo, Goya and the nineteenth-century artist Antonio María Esquivel. Paintings have been lent by the Prado, Bilbao, Seville and Valencia and costumes, some of which have never been displayed before and designs have been lent by the Balenciaga Museum in his hometown in Getaría, and archives in Paris. The exhibition also explores the impact of Philip II’s court making the use of black fashionable for clothing throughout Europe, and how Balenciaga chose to transform it in his own way. As the magazine Harper’s Bazaar wrote in 1938: “at the new Spanish house Balenciaga [in Paris] the black is so black that it hits you like a blow. Thick Spanish black, almost velvety, a night without stars, which makes the ordinary black seem almost grey.”
In the summer of 2019 the museum is presenting an exhibition that connects the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the most admired and influential fashion designer of all time, with the tradition of 16th– to 20th-century Spanish painting.
References to Spanish art and culture are a recurring presence in Balenciaga’s work. The simple, minimalist lines of religious habits or the architectural volume of their cloth are to be found in many of his designs. The billowing train of a flamenco dancer’s dress echoed in the flounces on some dresses, the glinting reflections on a bullfighter’s suit, brilliantly conveyed in the sequin embroidery on a bolero jacket, and the aesthetic of Habsburg court dress echoed in black velvets embellished with jet trim in some creations are just a few examples. Balenciaga constantly studied the history of art and made use of these influences, expressed through his own powerful and unique style, throughout his career, including his most avant-garde period, reviving historic garments and reinterpreting them in a strikingly modern manner.
The exhibition, curated by Eloy Martínez de la Pera, will include a carefully-selected group of paintings loaned from private Spanish collections and public museums, including the Museo Nacional del Prado and the museums of Fine Arts of Seville, Valencia and Bilbao. They will be accompanied by a group of important creations by Balenciaga, some of them never previously exhibited, loaned from national and international museums including the Museo Balenciaga in Guetaria, the Museo del Traje in Madrid and other international institutions and private collections.