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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Enrique Simonet

The Beheading of Saint Paul.,1887, Enrique Simonet
One of the personal benefits of exploring and writing about art on a daily basis is the fact that I come upon art and artists that I would never encounter otherwise. There are so many, of course, that I couldn't begin to list them all, but in most cases, subsequently seeing their names and/or their work brings to mind often incidental elements from the artist's life and his or her career that serve to broaden my contextual scope of all art. Such studies allow me to compare (and contrast) artists of a given nationality, a given type of art, a given era, a given style, a given content area. Art encompasses all these elements, and the ease in which they can be interrelated adds both breadth and depth to a person's study of all things creative. In the case of Enrique Simonet, the nationality is Spanish; he painted mostly religious or Moorish subjects; He lived from 1866 to 1927; his style was impressionistic (well, sort of), his content was most often New Testament biblical.

Anatomy of the heart, 1890, Enrique Simonet
Enrique Simonet, Self-portrait, 1910.
One of the difficulties in studying art from the past is that fame is fleeting. An artist who may have been quite successful in exhibiting and selling work during his or her own lifetime is often quickly eclipsed and forgotten in the decades following their death. That's the situation with Simonet. His style went out of style, his content (with a couple exceptions) became passé; his persona was not in any way memorable. Add to all this the fact the Modern Art gained such complete dominance over so much which came before it, that, like so many outstanding artists of his era, Simonet was overwhelmed by "newness." When he's remembered at all, it's for basically only two works, his rather gruesome The Beheading of Saint Paul (top) from 1887, and his Anatomy of the Heart (above), from 1890. Both are known today, not because Simonet painted them, or that he painted them particularly well (although there's no faulting his technique), but because they startle our sensibilities--anatomical parts are shown separated from their bodies.

El Quite (The Removal), 1897, Enrique Simonet
There is little subtlety in either painting. Simonet was Spanish and subtlety is not a common trait among a vast majority of Spanish artists. Simonet's El Quite (The Removal, above) from 1897 depicts not the typically Spanish bullfight but the gory aftermath as two matadors struggle to distract the bull long enough so that their fallen comrade can be safely removed from the field of combat. To help in further placing Simonet within the broader context of art past, present, and future, he was born in Valencia, but spent much of his life in Malaga, a lovely coastal town in the South of Spain which my wife and I visited briefly just this past spring.

He Wept over It, 1892, Enrique Simonet, Christ weeping over the city of Jerusalem. Simonet may have been the first painter to ever portray Jesus wearing black,
though in the context of Christ's state of mourning, it could be seen as appropriate..
Head of Jesus Deep in Contemplation,
1891, Enrique Simonet
Apparently young Simonet's initial childhood inclination was to study religion, which would account for his devotion to such content in many of his paintings as seen in his Head of Jesus Deep in Contemplation (left), from 1891. However, Simonet abandoned religion to devote himself to painting. Despite being Valencian and studying at the Saint Charles Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Valencia, Simonet moved to Malaga where he continued his studies and joined a group of friend who later became the essential core of Malaga school of painting. Around 1887 Simonet's work earned him a grant to study art in Rome. It was there in 1890 that Simonet painted the work considered his major masterpiece, The Anatomy of the Heart (top), which brought him great international recognition. With the financial rewards of his growing success, Simonet went on to travel over much of Italy, visited Paris, as well as Palestine, where he gained renewed inspiration for some of his later religious works.

Dance of the Veils, 1896, Enrique Simonet
Perhaps as the result of his travels, Simonet's painting content broadened as well to include a number of scenes depicting Moorish scenes such as his Dance of the Veils (above),  from 1896. Simonet went on to become a professor of Studies and Forms of Nature and Art, at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. In 1911 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. In the early 1920s Simonet was director of the Private Paular for landscapers. It was during this stint that Simonet showed his painterly skills in handling nature, as seen in his The Cascade of the Hiruela (below), from 1921-23. Enrique Simonet died in Madrid in 1927 at the age of sixty-one.

The Cascade of the Hiruela, 1921-23, Enrique Simonet.


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