For the first time in nearly 230 years, a family of six from Madrid is spending time together. In "Goya and the Altamira Family" the Metropolitan Museum of Art unites a set of portraits commissioned by the Count of Altamira, the director of what is now the Banco de España. This small grouping highlights some of Goya's peculiar grandeur and melancholy.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, b.1746, was a fabulously successful court painter in Madrid, a portraitist of the royal family and the Spanish aristocracy. Numbered among the last of the Old Masters while being the premier Modernist, his work possesses the repeating minor chord of a somber melody, as even his bright colors hold some tone of lament.
The Altamiras were one of the oldest, wealthiest families in Spain, and their story is familiar enough -- old European money, privilege, and power lost to attrition, bad luck, and wars. Napoleon's invasion of Spain in the early 19th century was the final blow and the family's artwork was sold off along with most everything else to pay the bills.
Commissioned between 1786 and 1788, these five works are brought together from public and private collections to create this rarest of family reunions. Never before have the portraits of Vincente Joaquin Osorio, and that of his wife and daughter, been shown together.
"Vincente Joaquín Osorio Moscoso y Guzmán, Count of Altamira," shows the pint-sized director of what was then called the Banco Nacional de San Carlos seated at a table covered in yellow satin. An official bank portrait, his slight figure seems lost in its chair. He wears a white powdered wig, with gold brocade adorning his black frock coat, red vest, and britches.
The brushwork is lively in the sparkling brocade, in the blue satin sash that crosses over his shoulder, and in the brilliant silver desk set. The squiggly, bright white highlights and sheen of the silver almost vibrate. Yet look how simply he paints the hand that rests on the table -- three tones, about, the underpainting providing the shadow tucked in around it.
"María Ignacia Álvarez de Toledo, Condesa de Altamira, and Her Daughter María Agustina" shows his wife and daughter seated on a sofa. With her husband's portrait only a few feet away, it all feels a bit like walking into their living room as they sit there looking slightly stunned and lost for conversation.
She stares straight off into the air, birdlike, with the white powdered face that was the fashion. Her dress of soft pink satin is trimmed with delicate flowers and bows of pale blue, red, and light green. On her knee sits her daughter, a little frozen Charlotte dressed in gauzy white lace, clutching a sprig of flowers. The ornate frame of the sofa is all loose, flickering brushstrokes.
There is an peculiar awkwardness to these figures, isolated within large amounts of space. "Vincente Osorio de Moscoso, Conde de Trastámara" dressed in ochre satin, tucks his tricorne hat neatly under his arm. Beneath his powdered wig, he stares, apparently waiting for us to leave as his little dog begs for his attention.
"Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga," a child dressed in red with a white sash across his waist in an impossibly large bow, looks ready to put on a performance. A cage of finches sits nearby on the floor. But in the shadow crouch three saucer-eyed cats, transfixed by his pet magpie tied to a string, a symbol of youth cut short. Manuel died at the age of eight.
"Juan María Osorio" by Agustín Esteve y Marques, rounds out the exhibit. Completed after the five-year-old's death, its stiff, porcelain quality and frozen, doll-like posture recall Balthus. Dressed in blue satin and white lace, he wears a pink sash across his waist and around the hat which lies on the floor.
A red birdcage sits upon a table draped in yellow damask. Here again are symbols of death that came too soon -- the bird on a string, the empty birdcage with the word "Dio" (God) inscribed across it in white letters, its door left open, amid a silence that pervades every corner of the room.
"Goya and the Altamira Family" is on view through August 3, 2014, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, New York, NY 10028. 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org
More information about Robert Edward Bullock's work can be found at bullockonline.com