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Murillo Landscapes, Portraits, And Drawings

( Originally Published 1882 )


IT was not, however, for convents and churches only that Murillo painted. Bermudez says that there was scarcely a good house in Seville that did not possess some memento of his skill. He excelled as a painter of landscapes, a branch of art rarely practised in Spain. He was at first mistrustful of his powers, and requested Ignacio Iriarte to execute his backgrounds in a series of incidents in the life of King David, which he was commissioned to paint for the Marquess of Villamanrique. The two artists could not agree as to whether the figures or landscape should be done first, and at length Murillo determined to undertake the whole. The rupture which followed is much to be deplored, for they had been intimate friends and had worked together for years. Within the present century there existed, in the Santiago Collection, Madrid, a picture in which the figures were sketched in by Murillo, while Iriarte's landscape about them was finished. The painting is said to owe its unfinished condition to the quarrel Iriate was called the "Claude Lorrain of Spain," and Murillo used to declare that his work was divinely inspired.

Murillo changed the subject of the series which he had undertaken to paint from the life of David to that of Jacob, and completed five large paintings, which were in Madrid until the War of Independence. Two of them, Isaac blessing Jacob and Jacob's Dream, are now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; a third, that of Jacob and Laban's Sheep,* formerly in Lord Northwick's collection, is a magnificent production. Laban searching for his Gods in the Tent of Rachel is at Grosvenor House, in London. The figure of Rachel sitting at her tent-door is the most prominent; on the one side are her father and husband disputing hotly, on the other are seen Leah, the children, and servants.

Murillo's landscapes are pale and grey in colour, lacking that warm light which usually glows upon his canvas ; but they are pleasingly executed, though wanting in vigour. The Aguado Collection, which was sold in 1843, contained a greater number of them than any other. In the same collection were likewise several smaller works illustrative of passages in the life of Jacob. Three of these—the Dream, his Servitude with Laban, and Wrestling with the Angel—have been engraved. The Dream represents a wearied traveller who has lain down to rest by the side of some quiet water, and has fallen asleep. His staff and other equipment for his wanderings lie on the ground. Sleep has come over him, and in his dreams he sees a shining ladder, reaching from his pillow to the skies, upon the steps of which are two rows of angels, the one ascending to Jehovah, the other descending to whisper in the ear of the weary one. Their feet scarcely seem to touch the steps of the ladder. So calm is the scene, so motionless the foliage, so unruffled the surface of the water, that no sound would seem to be audible but the rustling of the angel wings.

Murillo was no exception to the rule that all Spanish artists are good portrait painters. The few which he executed are of the highest merit, and show that he had profited by the time spent under the renowned Velazquez. There was formerly in the Louvre among Louis Philippe's Galerie ERspagnole a full-length painting of the stern Inquisitor, Don Andres de Andrade, accompanied by a mastiff, as little to be admired for beauty as his master. Mr. Sanderson, of Belgrave Square, has a likeness of an intimate friend of Murillo, a lovely woman with auburn hair. At Madrid there are two excellent representations of individual life, an old woman spinning and a gipsy girl. Lord Heytesbury has a fine painting of two women at a window, portraits known at Madrid as the Galician women (Las Gallegas). Mr. Munro had a repetition of the same figures.

If the portraits by Velazquez and Murillo do not equal in interest those by Van Dyck and Titian, it is the fault of the originals. Velazquez had even less choice than Murillo, for he was appointed to the service of the King, and his time was employed in painting the grandees of Philip's degenerating court, while Murillo had all the world of Seville to choose from. There are in the Spanish galleries but few female portraits, for artists had little or no opportunity of portraying high-born ladies, who were guarded by jealous husbands and severe duennas and surronded by wasiting-women and dwarfs. The style of dress, more over, was conducive to pictiorial effect; the ladies wore immense hoops, long-waisted bodices and their hair was fizzed out until heads were of an abnormal size, and the colour or their faces the rouge pot.

Drawings, too, by Spanish masters are extremely rare, principally because they were used in the schools in the absence of engravings and models for copies, and were in consequence worn out. The Louvre, however, possesses twenty-three by Murillo, small and neatly finished, chiefly executed in pen and ink, washed over with a solution of liquorice. These, with others, were originally contained in a book belonging to the Count of Aquila, which was sold at his death. Mr. Ford, of Heavitree, had two from the same collection, one of which, a Conception, done in coloured chalks, is probably the finest of the master's extant drawings ; and an excellent St. John and the Lamb ; he had also an impression of the only etching ever done by Murillo, representing St. Francis at the Foot of the Cross.

It was not customary with Murillo to mark his works, so that the authenticity of the monogram attributed to him by some writers is doubtful.

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