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Alegoría de Carmen (Allegory of Carmen)
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Sobre el objeto

Federico Beltrán Massés\nCuba 1885-Barcelona 1949, Alegoría de Carmen (Allegory of Carmen)\nSigned F. Beltran Masses l.r.\nOil on canvas\n128 by 246.5cm., 50½ by 97in.
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notes

Painted circa 1916, Allegory of Carmen presents an erotically charged interpretation from the fourth and final tragic act of Bizet's opera Carmen. After declaring her love for matador Escamillo, the beautiful gypsy Carmen is cruelly stabbed by her jealous ex-lover Don José. Taking the opera's original storyline and adapting it to his symbolist aesthetic, Beltrán Massés produced one of his most poetic and monumental compositions.

Born in Guaira de la Melena, Cuba, where his father was the Spanish military envoy, Beltrán Massés moved to Barcelona in 1899 where he studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes. It was perhaps his motherland that partly inspired Beltrán's subject choice in the present work; far from being of Hispanic origin, the songs in Carmen derive from native Cuban music. The artist's iconography reflected the concurrent reaction to modernity embodied in a taste for the elegant and exotic, celebrated by artists such as Ignacio Zuloaga (lot 183) and Julio Romero de Torres (lots 181 & 197). This late Symbolism, based on early Art Deco, reintroduced the culture of myths, theatre, and bullfighters - symbols of a decadent society - and employed the use of allegory.

The artist's increasing international recognition, aided by exhibitions in major cities including Paris, London, New York, Venice and Barcelona, and the controversy surrounding Beltrán's Desnuda de Mirabella depicting a Marquesa in sordid circumstances, brought him into contact with leading figures in literary and artistic circles such as critic José Francés. It was not long before Beltrán was introduced to the renowned dancer Tórtola Valencia, of whom he painted several portraits, who was considered to be the incarnation of the modern woman. The poet Goy de Silva claimed she represented 'the rebirth of worship of beauty in literature and art' (quoted in La Esfera, 1 July 1916).

Rich in voluptuous curves, the present work embraces these themes, probably with Valencia as the muse, combining Beltrán's passion for finding beauty in the most tragic and ugly things. Harking back to Goya, Beltrán was impassioned by fantasy and eroticism. Sapphic nuances are subtly connoted by the proximity of the women supporting the female nude. Conversely, structurally the composition bears comparison with scenes of the pietà when Christ's body was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb. The actresses take the place of the angels, while the musicians and bull-fighters look on from the position of the disciples. The artist's subversion of the sacred image of the pietà was designed to shock the viewer, the spent body of Christ having been replaced by the erotic frontal pose of a female nude.

The interplay of religious and mythical iconography was characteristic of Beltrán who combined them in one aesthetic, much as he did with his notions of good and evil. Close comparisons can be made between the present work and Romero de Torres' La Gracia, painted just a few years earlier than the present work and sold in these rooms in 2000.

Silvio Lago described the 'serenity of composition' in Beltrán's works, which were 'charged with light and force' (Silvio Lago, 'Federico Beltrán Masses', La Esfera, Madrid, no. 92, 2 October 1915). The bright palette, with its blood-red tones and 'decadent' blue sky, relate to Beltrán's first nocturnal compositions from 1914. The vibrancy, dynamism and subverted narrative of Allegory of Carmen, one of the artist's most masterful creations, set Beltrán apart from his contemporaries and positioned him as a leading figure of the Spanish avant-garde.

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Federico Beltrán Massés

dimensions

128 by 246.5cm., 50½ by 97in.

provenance

Mount Street Antiques, London

Sale: Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 1988, lot 236

Purchased by the present owner in 1993


*Tenga en cuenta que el precio no se recalcula al valor actual, es el precio final real en el momento que fue vendido.

*Tenga en cuenta que el precio no se recalcula al valor actual, es el precio final real en el momento que fue vendido.


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