These are busy days for Dr Xavier Bray, the curator of the Murillo exhibition opening soon at Dulwich Picture Gallery. “It has been planned for three years in close co-operation with the Prado Museum in Madrid and the exhibition will come here having been shown first in Madrid last year and this year in Murillo’s hometown of Seville.”
“We are actually rebuilding our famous enfilade which stretches through the whole Gallery and we are installing some mock niches in order to show Murillo’s magnificent large lunettes as they were hanging in his lifetime high under the dome of Santa Maria la Blanca in Seville. We will also be showing Murillo’s famous Immaculate Conception of the Venerables at the end of the enfilade as if it were positioned at a High Altar. We are very excited that the painting will be reunited with its ornate altar frame for the first time.”
Another first is the hanging of the magnificent The Baptism of Christ which will be taken down from its high position in Seville Cathedral for the first time since it was installed by Murillo’s friend, the canon Justino de Neve in 1667.
“It is this special friendship which is the focus of the exhibition,” explains Dr Bray. Neve was his patron and commissioned works for the Cathedral and other religious institutions in Seville. “He was also a personal friend of the painter and had his own private collection of paintings which included 18 Murillos of which one is a rather wonderful portrait of Neve. It is very likely that Neve was the first owner of the much loved Murillo called The Flower Girl which has delighted visitors to the Gallery for ages,but which we now think might be a companion piece to another painting called Summer. We knew there was one called Spring and we think this is the one. It is the first time they will be seen together at the exhibition.”
This is not the only discovery that has come to light during the preparation for this major exhibition. When Noel Desenfans and Francis Bourgeois, the founders of the Gallery, handed over their collection it was stated that there were thirteen works attributed to Murillo. Four of these are recognised as some of his finest work but nine have later been catalogued as by his workshop or just imitators. “He was seen as one of the most influential painters of his time and did inspire many followers,” says Dr Bray.
“We have now had an opportunity to re-examine these works kept in storage and to our excitement we made some unexpected discoveries. “Four of these paintings we were unsure of have been cleaned specially for this exhibition and we can now confirm that the Adoration of the Magi is a preparatory oil sketch by Murillo for one of his large altarpieces.”
“That’s not all,” says Dr Bray, brimming with enthusiasm, “we have also found that two of the most celebrated Murillo paintings we have at the Gallery will be re-displayed after two years of cleaning and restoration. Invitation to a Game of Argolla and The Three Boys have now regained the freshness and energy Murillo invested in them.
“We always thought they were painted in sequence but recent pigment analysis reveals that the paintings were probably painted with at least a five year gap”.
Due to the rebuilding work and the size of the exhibition many of the paintings, which are part of the permanent collection will be moved. Some of the Dutch landscapes will go to The Mall Galleries in London.
Dr Bray will give several talks in the Gallery on this exciting painter and his relationship with his friend and patron. There will also be a concert of Spanish music from Murillo’s era. “Murillo deserves all this attention. There were periods when Murillo was out of favour. Ruskin deplored his paintings of peasants and beggars and describes them as a “mere delight in foulness” and Roger Fry, the eminent English art critic and scholar of Old Masters, was equally dismissive. Dr Bray stresses that, “Murillo has always been an inspiration for other painters and much copied by artists during the 18th and 19th centuries. We hope this exhibition will show the breadth of his artistry and why he is so admired by other painters. ”
Murillo and Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship
6 February – 19 May 2013
Curator’s Lecture – Dr Xavier Bray
Thursday 7 February
12.30 – 1.30pm. Linbury Room
Tickets £10, £8 Friends
Murillo and Music of his Time
Wednesday 27 February
6.30pm Gallery opens
7pm Gallery – Talk by Dr Xavier Bray
7.45 pm Christ’s Chapel – Concert of Spanish Music of Murillo’s time with the Choir of Royal Holloway College, Director Rupert Gough
£20, £18 Friends, includes a glass of wine
Tickets available online: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk
Phone: 020 8299 8758 Mon-Fri 10am – 4pm
Or from Friends Desk in the Gallery