The exhibition features pieces that are being shown for the first time in Spain.

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The exhibition features pieces that are being shown for the first time in Spain. Marilú Báez

The ten jewels among the treasures of the Abelló Collection at the Centro Fundación Unicaja Málaga

Works by Rembrandt, Raphael and Richter never exhibited before in Spain hang in this exhibition that covers five centuries of universal art

Francisco Griñán

Friday, 17 May 2024, 11:39


Choosing the treasures of the Abelló Collection is not easy. Especially because this private collection has brought these great masterpieces to Malaga, as the very title of the selection on display at the Unicaja Foundation Cultural Centre announces. Of course, the two artists who are the alpha and omega in the name of the exhibition, From Raphael to Bacon, cannot be missing in this list of selected oil paintings, to which we add other jewels with the help of the curator, Conchita Romero, to complete the ten essential pieces of universal art - some of them never exhibited in Spain before - which hang in the rooms of the old Episcopal Palace until 18 August.

  1. 1

    Raphael: Portrait of Valerio Belli (1517-20)

Marilú Báez

Among the works exhibited for the first time in Spain is this work by Raphael, a brilliant portrait painter, as this small, exceptional work shows. The profile of the goldsmith, carver and friend of the artist, Valerio Belli, is silhouetted against a neutral green background, richly dressed and with a serious attitude of maturity. The work has a number of minor flaws in its execution: the contour of the face was originally softer and then the profile was brought forward and the nose was highlighted. The figure was also holding an object, perhaps a medal, in his right hand before being altered by the artist. The delicate and masterly quality of the brushstrokes in this small portrait show the appreciation and friendship between the two artists.

  1. 2

    Maestro de la Leyenda de la Magdalena: Portrait of Isabella of Austria (1506)

Marilú Báez

The Maestro de la Leyenda de la Magdalena is named after a polyptych on the apocryphal story of Mary Magdalen (1515-20). His hand has been identified, without reaching a definitive conclusion, with the work of Pieter van Coninxloo or Bernard van der Stockt. In this panel the artist depicts the daughter of Juana La Loca, the Infanta Isabella, who covers her hair with a black headdress with stylised gold-embroidered 'Y's that may refer to the Infanta's name. She is also adorned with a necklace, with links in the shape of a daisy, in allusion to her aunt and guardian, Margaret of Austria. Another portrait of the Infanta, attributed to the Maestro de la Leyenda de la Magdalena, is kept in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków.

  1. 3

    Rembrandt: Portrait of a Young Woman with a Black Cap (1632)

Marilú Báez

The masterpiece that serves as the cover of the exhibition is this Rembrandt, a recent acquisition from the Abelló Collection that is being exhibited for the first time in Spain. This work is highly sought after by museums all over the world and has the added interest of the person portrayed: Elisabeth van Rijn, sister of the Dutch painter himself. This oil painting also has a history of its own, as it was seized by the Nazis and returned to its rightful owners after World War II.

  1. 4

    Francisco de Goya: La Cucaña (1786-87)

Marilú Báez

In 1786, the Duchess of Osuna commissioned Goya to paint a series of canvases on popular themes for her palace El Capricho (Madrid). La Cucaña' depicts the popular pastime of climbing up a long, greased pole in order to reach the prize tied at the top. The other paintings in this set, El Columpio, Asalto a Una Diligencia, Procesión de Aldea, Apartado de Toros, La Caída and La Conducción de Una Piedra, are scattered in private collections or are unlocated. The Duke and Duchess of Osuna were patrons of the arts and maintained a close friendship with the Zaragozan painter, who was a regular participant in their illustrated gatherings.

  1. 5

    Vincent Van Gogh: Head of a Peasant Girl (1884-85)

Marilú Báez

Van Gogh mentions in his letters his 'head studies', in which he shows the 19th century interest in the science of physiognomy, which is based on the fact that the character of people defined the features of the face. Head studies are a subject on which he worked incessantly, acquiring, as in this case, an extraordinary characterisation without a hint of romantic idealisation of the person depicted. All these experiments with faces culminated masterfully in his famous canvas The Potato Eaters.

  1. 6

    Modigliani: The Cellist and Portrait of Constantin Brancusi (1909)

Marilú Báez

A very unique work that represents a true 2x1 of Modigliani, an artist who recycled his canvases and who here painted on both the front and the back. The exhibition shows both sides, with The Cellist on the front, a musician who was the artist's neighbour, whom he catches with his eyes closed, conveying bitterness, emotion and mystery. On side B, he depicts the sculptor Brancusi, whom he met shortly before this portrait and paints in melancholy blue tones, his head down and, once again, with his eyes closed. Once again, the mystery.

  1. 7

    Salvador Dalí: Leda Atómica (First drawing, 1947)

Marilú Báez

Another timely rescue from the Abelló Collection which, after disappearing for more than 60 years, is exhibited for the first time in Spain this drawing which is inspired by the myth of Leda and the swan. The legend tells that, on the same night that this woman married the king of Sparta, the god Zeus took the form of a swan and possessed her. From both unions two eggs were produced: from one of them hatched Castor and Pollux (the Dioscuri) and from the other, the beautiful Helen and Clytemestra. According to the artist, he and his partner Gala were the reincarnation of the former and, for this reason, he makes his muse and companion the main character in this drawing.

  1. 8

    Gerhard Richter: Abstraktes Bild (1983)

Marilú Báez

Another piece on display for the first time in Spain is this abstract work by the German artist Gerhard Richter, in which he uses brushes, rollers and palette knives in a vigorous and gestural manner. A piece that is the product of planned spontaneity, in the artist's own words: "My work is never the product of chance, it is not fortuitous, it is planned, but always surprising. I am often astonished to realise that chance is much better than myself".

  1. 9

    Miquel Barceló: 536 Kilos (1990)

The figure of the crater / oval-hole, with which the painter represents the bullfighting scene, is used in other compositions such as in his series of Constelaciones, because this figure is as much in keeping with the circular movement of the stars as the movement of his bullfighting paintings. What interests Barceló is to show the traces, the trajectory and the curved gestures of the bull and the bullfighter, which are a pretext for investigating space, lines and geometry. The way he depicts the bull is very unique since, despite the fact that the title indicates that the bull weighs more than half a tonne, he captures it in a surprisingly ethereal way.

  1. 10

    Francis Bacon: Three Studies for a Portrait of Peter Beard (1983)

Marilú Báez

Bacon paints the American photographer of the title whose work caught his eye. The Irish artist chose the triptych format because he considers that a structure of a central body and two lateral wings gives the work stability, although this intention contrasts with the sensation of movement he achieves with the distortions and smudging on the face, as if the figure were taking a photograph and moving at the moment of the 'click'.

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