It is almost 430 years since the death of the Spanish painter Luis de Morales on 9 May 1586 yet his paintings have a freshness and colour that makes them feel much more modern. Stylistically, they follow the Italian Renaissance painters such Leonardo, with less softness to the features, a trait which can be seen in later Spanish Painters – El Greco, Murillo and Ribera. It is even interesting to compare the face of St Francis in “The Stigmatisation of St Francis” (1553-1554) to that of Joaquin Sorolla’s “Cider Drinker” of 1910.
Luis de Morales (1512-1586) was known as “El Divino” as most of his works were of religious subjects, in particular the Passion and the Madonna and Child, painted in his own characteristic and realistic style, which was shocking at the time but gave a unique spiritual experience to the viewer which was copied by his followers.
Not as well-known as the great Italian masters, the current exhibition at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is therefore a revelation, with so many of his works on display in one place. Organised in conjunction with the National Museum of the Prado which has loaned a substantial number of the works and hosted the exhibition last autumn, it will next move to the National Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona.
An exhibition not to be missed by anyone interested in Spanish painting and which complements the collection of the Museum itself, through which comparisons can be made with Spanish artists before and after Morales.
The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum was created from merging together the Fine Arts Museum of 1908 and the Museum of Modern Art of 1924 into a new classical building which opened in 1954 and was extended in 1970 and refurbished and further extended in 2001. The Museum has an outstanding collection of Spanish work, with particular reference to the Basque region, alongside international artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Paul Gaugin, Fernand Leger and British artists John Davies and Francis Bacon with a gallery for Japanese art as the result of a donation.
The gallery has two faces, which is a little confusing to a visitor walking from the Guggenheim. The new extensions mean that the original classical entrance is now secondary and the main entrance is around the other side in the modern glass building facing onto the landscaped park with sculpture located outside. The entrance provides an easy link to the temporary exhibition gallery in which the Morales exhibition is being held, but at times the circulation inside the main gallery is a little confusing with the necessity of following the gallery numbers to maintain the chronological route and not miss anything, leading at the end to the huge modern space in which modern art is displayed and then to a small upper gallery for temporary exhibitions, currently Susana Talayero’s “Restless Chronicle (1987-2016)”, which surveys three decades of her work laid out as if still work in progress in her studio.
The Museum is only a short distance from the Guggenheim and the two should be seen together, given their collections and exhibitions are complimentary to each other. It has made a substantial investment in new LED lighting throughout the exhibition galleries, enabling it to improve the colour rendering for the art and an 80% energy reduction, an achievement of which it is justificably proud.