Mariano Fortuny y Marsal
Oil on canvas
27 x 51 1/4 in. (69 x 130 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds from Mary Anne Cree, Mrs. Eugene McDermott, Susan Heldt Albritton, Linda P. and William A. Custard, Gwen and Richard Irwin, Shirley and Bill McIntyre, Cyrena Nolan, Peggy and Carl Sewell, Gene and Jerry Jones, Pilar and Jay Henry, Barbara and Mike McKenzie, Caren Prothro, Marilyn Augur, Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence S. Barzune, The Joe M. and Doris R. Dealey Family Foundation, The Honorable Janet Kafka and Mr. Terry Kafka, the Mr. and Mrs. Walter M. Levy Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas, Stacey and Nicholas McCord, Linda and John McFarland, Catherine Blaffer Taylor, Julie and George Tobolowsky, Cheryl and Kevin Vogel, Diane and Gregory Warden, Natalie and George Lee, Estelle and Michael Thomas, Bethany and Samuel Holland, President R. Gerald and Gail Turner, Kathleen and Mark Roglán, and an Anonymous Donor; MM.2017.03
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Ilona Grunberger discuss this work (3:02 minutes)
Mariano Fortuny y Marsal (1838–1874)
Beach at Portici, 1874
by Ilona Grunberger, Meadows Museum docent
Mariano Fortuny’s masterwork Beach at Portici is a large oil on canvas and it is a prime example of the artist’s singular skill at capturing light in paint. It is of excellent quality and beauty and highlights his increasingly lose and painterly technique as his career progressed; the peaceful clouds of whites, blues, pinks floating in the summer sun, the breaking waves, and the near abstraction of colorful daubs along the bottom edge of the canvas, especially in the lower right-hand corner, which suggest rather than clearly render the Italian countryside in full bloom.
The viewer is presented with an idyllic summer beach scene teeming with color and movement. At left, children play in the sand and in the warm blue-green waters of the Mediterranean. A grounded sailboat in the middle, Ovo Castle stands out on a promontory in the distance, separating sea from cloudy sky. Fortuny has carefully depicted architectural ruins, and to the right of the composition, a heavily buttressed wall, whitewashed and gleaming in the bright Italian sun. It forms a strong diagonal, drawing the eye into the center of the painting while pulling forward the central protagonists of the composition: two finely dressed ladies picnicking among the colorful vegetation, one of whom is Fortuty’s wife, to the right center, Cecilia de Madrazo y Garreta. Rural life is represented in the form of a man riding a donkey cart.
When blown up, we catch some extraordinary details: the lady in the left-center with a blue earring, her hand shielding the brushstrokes of color on her face, the sunlight between her fingers, the play of light in a symphony of whites of the dress and hat, and the ruffled, lacy edge of the parasol. The exquisite palette of the tree in the background makes us believe that the pine needles are there.
Beach at Portici summarizes all that for which Fortuny was so celebrated during his short lifetime and since his death. The painting was hidden for many years from the public, and it is a credit to Mariano Fortuny y Marsal to have the painting on view at the Meadows Museum. It is a jewel in the richly adorned crown of American art collections, his last testament in paint and his artistic legacy.
Hear Rachel Lewis (SMU Class of 2020) read her original poem written in spring 2020 as part of the Meadows Museum's Poets Laureate program.