Thursday, March 25, 2010

Museum Visit: The Prado

I visited the Prado 15 years ago with my sister, and have wanted to return since.  I think it might be my favorite museum I've ever been to, with the Guggenheim Bilbao a close second.

The level of craftsmanship here is MIND BLOWING: paintings that took 20 years to complete.  Handcarved wood frames the size of a city bus.  Not to mention the painters' exquisite understanding of composition and light.  Any photographer can learn a ton from the work of Velasquez, El Greco, Titian, Rubens, and Goya.  These guys had it down cold.

I loved these works by Velazquez not just for their mastery, but for the subjects.  He was like an 18th century Diane Arbus, finding the strange ones on the fringe of society.  Who doesn't like obese naked midgets with metal hair and moustaches?

Apparently this work by V is the most popular work in the Prado.  I love the composition, and all the negative space he included:

Also, lots of paintings of important people on horses.  I thought these were especially cool -- seeing how they paint the muscle tone and hair on the horse, and how the clothes are insanely reflective and intricately embroidered.  What a pain the ass to paint!  I would love to make a photo that looks like this:

Since my last visit, I read Robert Hughes' biography of Francisco Goya.  Goya had an extraordinary life as an artist, painting mainly for Spanish royalty, and doing it long enough that he eventually got ballsy enough to paint people (kings! queens!) as he saw them, not how they saw themselves.  Check out this goofy bastard:

And check out how modern this composition is.  Dude was waaaaay ahead of his time:

Goya lived to be 82 years old, which was quite an achievement in the 18th century.  Although toward the end of his life, he suffered from mental illness, nervous breakdowns, and eventually went deaf, possibly from the lead in the pigments that he worked with for 68+ years.  Let's hope that Photoshop doesn't have the same effect.

Goya's paintings grew darker and more sinister as his attitude and health deteriorated.  But this resulted in some of the most intensely beautiful paintings ever done, and in some ways gave birth to the expressionist movement.

Ok this is a dark subject, but it's still colorful.  Look at his killer (sorry) use of light here:

But it gets way darker from here, as Goya slowly goes insane and deaf.  Nothing like a scene from an 18th century insane asylum to cheer you up:

Or how about Saturn devouring his son?  Good times!

And finally, this terrifying masterpiece, which will be forever burned into my poor brain:

Goya's Black Paintings are tucked away in the back of the Prado, in a beautiful gallery with soft light and black trim throughout.  It is hands down the most powerful art space I've ever seen.  Here is a shot of the above painting before the guard busted me:

Ok, this is a long post.  Now I need to get back to work slowly driving myself insane as I continue my lifelong pursuit of photographic truth.....

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