Abelló collection: works never seen before in Spain on show in Malaga

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Marilú Báez

Abelló collection: works never seen before in Spain on show in Malaga

An exhibition of stunning masterpieces on loan to Unicaja Foundation in Malaga is running alongside Anna Gamazo's pioneering photography

Francisco Griñán

Friday, 17 May 2024, 13:11

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As soon as you walk in you come across a Greco, flanked on one side by the intense, contemporary red of a Richter painted some four centuries later, then a couple of steps further on there is a Murillo that is quite unique in Spain as it is not his typically religious scene, but a still life with people.

Wherever you look, it is difficult not to relish and be surprised by the treasures among one of the best private art collections in the world, that of businessman Juan Abelló, who has selected 62 of his masterpieces for the From Raphael to Bacon exhibition in Malaga. It was officially opened last Tuesday at the Unicaja Foundation's cultural centre in the old bishop's palace by the Cathedral.

Any great museum in the world would pay well to acquire this exhibition that, for the first time in Spain, is exhibiting these highly-prized works of world-class, international artists. Not only this, but the show is completed by an exhibition of another of the great collections of the Abelló family, that of photography acquired by Anna Gamazo Hohenlohe entitled: Hispanic America On The Move. That particular exhibition also presents work by the must-have photographers of the snapshot moment - people like Horacio Coppola, Alberto Korda and Marucha.

The first floor of the former bishop's palace is taken over by these treasured pieces of world-class art from the last five centuries, a montage that breaks away from the usual chronological or thematic discourses to seek a dialogue between these wildly different works of art, as explained by Conchita Romero, curator of the From Raphael to Bacon exhibition; Masterpieces from the Abelló Collection. Thus, the bullfighting scene of a Goya painted on tinplate confronts the yellows of Barceló's bullfighting abstraction. Then the charcoal of a Van Gogh portrait rivals with the drawing of Gala by a young Dalí. This Dalí piece is one of the most important works of art for this exhibition in Malaga because, following its acquisition by this art-collecting family, it is the first time that it can be seen in Spain after being missing for six decades.

To feature the long-lost work of this genius Catalan artist is not the only first in this exhibition. On show for the first time in Spain is the Raphael mentioned in the exhibition's title. The painting itself is called Portrait of Valerio Belli, a small, classically circular portrait in which he shows some regret for painting the character, a personal friend of Raphael, in a delicate manner. Also on show for the first time in Spain is Portrait of a Young Woman with a Black Cap, a Rembrandt that is one of the latest acquisitions by Abelló. It is, of course, not only a masterpiece, but there is also quite a bizarre history to it, as it was previously seized by the Nazis.

Stolen by Göring

It was Hermann Göring, Hitler's deputy chancellor, who 'appropriated' this work of art that belonged to a Dutch Jew. At the end of the Second World War, the Monuments Men recovered the painting and it was returned to its rightful owners, then that family subsequently sold it. Four years ago, this unique oil painting, which is actually a portrait of Rembrandt's sister, Elisabeth van Rijn, came back onto the open art market. The drawback to this opportunity was that it was in London when the Brexit axe was about to fall, which would have multiplied its value. The Abelló family went to see the painting in situ and, once they were standing in front of it, it was clear to them what needed to be done. This world-class art treasure was auctioned for 18 million euros - before the UK's divorce from the EU - and is now on exhibition in Malaga for the first time in Spain. The work also stars in the poster for this iconic exhibition.

Alongside these names and outstanding pieces of art, the exhibition features more than fifty other essential artists, including Gauguin, Degas, El Españoleto, Sorolla, Romero de Torres, Toulouse-Lautrec, Canaletto, Modigliani, Gris, Picasso, Braque, Pissarro, Miró, Miralles, Antonio López, Warhol, Tapies, Rothko and Matisse. Almost all the pieces were acquired at auction or from other collectors, except for one commissioned from Guillermo Pérez Villalta - Ronda by Moonlight - a singular view of this town to the west of Malaga province, which is set against another work by Dalí of some ruins in the shape of a skull where the hollowed-out eyes and mouth look much like the openings on the bridge that straddles the Tajo gorge.

From colour to black and white

Along with these masterpieces, the ground floor of the building is exhibiting another outstanding collection, that of Anna Gamazo de Hohenlohe. She was the one who inspired Juan Abelló and his wife in their art purchases. An avid collector of photography herself, Anna shows her personal, more artistic side with what she selected for this exhibition 'Hispanoamérica en movimiento' (Hispanic America On The Move).

Visitors to the gallery can view images by great photographic artists such as Horacio Coppola, Alberto Korda, Adriana Lestido, Luz María Bedoya, Johanna Calle, Helen Zout, Claudia Donoso, Rosa Gauditano, Carla Rippey, Milagros de la Torre, Paz Errázuriz, Rosario López and the Cuban photographer María Eugenia Haya, nicknamed Marucha, among others.

It is a journey through 101 photographs, mainly in black and white, although there are also some in colour and which, according to the curator Alexis Fabry, is characterised by two lines of argument: "The crossover between low and high culture in such a way that these photographs are open to popular culture, something that is valued in the current context but which was not the case decades ago" and the fact that many of these photographers were self-taught artists "who do not have the pressure of being in the firing line to deliver nor the very academic training so present in Europe, which leads them to a greater freedom compared to what we find in the West".

Some pictures are a chronicle of the 20th century through photography, such as Korda's image of a Cuban man standing on a rather different viewpoint during the revolution: 'El Quijote de la farola'. A work as masterful as those on display until 18 August on the upper floor, bringing to Malaga art treasures never before seen in Andalucía and Spain.

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