Josep de Togores i Llach
Oil on canvas
53 1/2 x 63 1/4 in. (136 x 161 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds from Susan Heldt Albritton, Linda P. and William A. Custard, Gwen and Richard Irwin, the Mr. and Mrs. Walter M. Levy Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas, Cyrena Nolan, and Elizabeth Solender and Gary L. Scott, with additional support provided by The Honorable Janet Kafka and Mr. Terry Kafka, Stacey and Nicholas McCord, and friends of the Meadows Museum; MM.2019.07
Listen to Daniel Ralston, PhD candidate in art history at Columbia University, discuss this work (1:54 minutes)
Josep de Togores i Llach (Spanish, 1893–1970)
Portrait of the Mestre Family, 1927
by Daniel Ralston, Ph.D. candidate in art history at Columbia University
Consider the monkey. Tucked away in the bottom right corner, the stuffed animal stares right out at us, the reddish browns of its fur blending into the patterned border of the rug underneath it. In this somber, even unsettling family portrait, the presence of the monkey—a children’s toy, discarded for the moment, but soon to be played with again—stands out.
The family seems stern and businesslike. Because of the size and relative naturalism of the painting, you feel as though you should be able to engage with them. But they remain distant.
The overall atmosphere is one of formality and rigidity, qualities that Togores imparts to the painting with his strong outlines (look, for instance, at the crisp edges of the family’s shoes where they gather together in the center) and the way that he compresses depth (look at how the family is pushed up close to the picture plane).
The gazes of the parents and their two sons do not meet our own. But the gaze of the youngest child, Blanca, does. Her inquisitive eyes take us in over the curled fingers of her hand as she sucks her thumb.
While the painting gives few obvious signs of familial warmth, the stuffed animal, a cipher for playfulness and childhood, looking out at us like Blanca, undercuts the scene’s frigid decorum.
The monkey also clues us in to the most affecting passage of the painting, the joined hands of father and daughter, the meeting point of the adult’s world-weariness and the child’s innocence. The bond Togores forges in paint between the seemingly gruff father and his towheaded daughter is no less strong for its subtlety.
This portrait is an oil on canvas approximately 4 ½ feet tall by 5 feet wide. The portrait consists of five light-skinned family members: two parents and three children. The colors are mainly shades of blue, black, brown, and cream, and give the portrait a calm and stoic mood.
The mother and father are seated on opposite ends of a cream-colored, upholstered sofa with dark wood frame. Their bodies angle toward the center of the painting. The mother, on the left, looks to your right at an unknown focal point. She is wearing a medium blue satin dress in the dropped-waist style of the 1920s: sleeveless with a long straight skirt ending below her knees. Her dark hair is rolled and pinned close to her head. Her dark lips are pursed into a line, making her emotional expression indiscernible. Her husband on the far right also sits at an angle and stares out into the distance. He is wearing a black suit, buttoned at the stomach, with a white dress shirt and a black bow tie. His salt-and-pepper hair is receding; his brow is slightly furrowed; and his lips are tightly shut.
The eldest child sits between his parents wearing a brown suit jacket and matching shorts. His dark gray socks rise to just below the knee and his legs are somewhat outstretched, allowing the viewer to see the soles of his dark shoes. He has dark brown hair and stares out at an angle. Another figure sits on floor to the far left below his mother. He is wearing a cream suit with matching socks, shoes, and cardigan tied around his shoulders. His hair is a medium golden brown and he has a round face. Again, his solemn and stern face stares off at an angle. Lastly, the infant stands between her father’s legs, her right hand resting in her father’s. She is wearing a short, light-blue dress with visible cream-colored bloomers underneath and cream booties and her golden hair primarily consists of one thick curl on top her head. She is sucking on her left thumb as she stares directly at the viewer. At the bottom right corner of the composition, there is a small, brown, toy monkey lying on its back, also staring directly at the viewer. The family’s body language and grouping suggest intimacy, yet their vacant and multidirectional stares create a slight sense of unease among an otherwise calm and stoic image.