Mariano Jose Maria Bernardo Fortuny - Encyclopedia

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MARIANO JOSE MARIA BERNARDO FORTUNY (1838-1874), Spanish painter, was born at Reus on the 11th of June 1838. His parents, who were in poor circumstances, sent him for education to the primary school of his native town, where he received some instruction in the rudiments of art. When he was twelve years old his parents died and he came under the care of his grandfather, who, though a joiner by trade, had made a collection of wax figures, with which he was travelling from town to town. In the working of this show the boy took an active part, modelling and painting many of the figures; and two years later, when he reached Barcelona, the cleverness of his handiwork made so much impression on some people in authority there that they induced the municipality to make him an allowance of forty-two francs monthly, so that he might be enabled to go through a systematic course of study. He entered the Academy of Barcelona and worked there for four years under Claudio Lorenzale, and in March 1857 he gained a scholarship that entitled him to complete his studies in Rome. Then followed a period of more than two years, during which he laboured steadily at copies of the old pictures to which he had access at Rome. To this period an end was put by the outbreak of the war between Spain and the emperor of Morocco, as Fortuny was sent by the authorities of Barcelona to paint the most striking incidents of the campaign. The expedition lasted for about six months only, but it made upon him an impression that was powerful enough to affect the whole course of his subsequent development, and to implant permanently in his mind a preference for the glitter and brilliancy of African colour. He returned to Spain in the summer of 1860, and was commissioned by the city of Barcelona to paint a large picture of the capture of the camps of Muley-el-Abbas and Muley-el-Hamed by the Spanish army. After making a large number of studies he went back to Rome, and began the composition on a canvas fifteen metres long; but though it occupied much of his time during the next few years, he never finished it. He busied himself instead with a wonderful series of pictures, mostly of no great size, in which he showed an astonishing command over vivacities of technique and modulations of colour. He visited Paris in 1868 and shortly afterwards married the daughter of Federico Madrazo, the director of the royal museum at Madrid. Another visit to Paris in 1870 was followed by a two years' stay at Granada, but then he returned to Rome, where he died somewhat suddenly on the 21st of November 1874 from an attack of malarial fever, contracted while painting in the open air at Naples and Portici in the summer of 1874.

The work which Fortuny accomplished during his short life is distinguished by a superlative facility of execution and a marvellous cleverness in the arrangement of brilliant hues, but the qualities of his art are those that are attainable by a master of technical resource rather than by a deep thinker. His insight into subtleties of illumination was extraordinary, his dexterity was remarkable in the extreme, and as a colourist he was vivacious to the point of extravagance. At the same time in such pictures as "La Vicaria" and "Choosing a Model," and in some of his Moorish subjects, like "The Snake Charmers" and "Moors playing with a Vulture," he showed himself to be endowed with a sensitive appreciation of shades of character and a thorough understanding of the peculiarities of a national type. His love of detail was instinctive, and he chose motives that gave him the fullest opportunity of displaying his readiness as a craftsman.

See Davillier, Fortuny, sa vie, son oeuvre, sa correspondance, Eec. (Paris, 1876); C. Yriarte, Fortuny (Artistes celebres series) (Paris, 1889). (A. L. B.)

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