Tracing the sketches of Spain

Preparatory drawings have been neglected and often lost, but the Botín Foundation has spent a decade cataloguing work by the nation's greatest artists

A drawing by Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682) included in the Botín Foundation's inventory.
A drawing by Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682) included in the Botín Foundation's inventory.

Bartolomé Murillo, one of the greatest Spanish painters of the Golden Age of the 17th and 18th centuries, was responsible for hundreds of sketches, few of which have survived and are mostly held in private collections around the world. Sadly, most of the sketches produced by Spain's other great painters have also failed to attract the attention of galleries and collectors, and have been lost or disappeared.

But since 2007, the Botín Foundation, set up under the auspices of the family that runs Banco Santander, has been quietly hunting in museums and libraries around the world, talking to private collectors and academics in a bid to track down these minor masterpieces to showcase them in a series of beautifully prepared catalogues tracing Spanish art from the Golden Age up to the 20th century. In 2008, the first part of the collection was shown in Santander.

Little is known about the sketches of Madrid-based painter Eduardo Rosales, who died in 1873 at the age of 37 from tuberculosis. The collection of 900 of his sketches was among the first catalogues the Botín Foundation prepared in 2007. Rosales was prolific, producing an astonishingly large output over his short life, although lack of money obliged him to use both sides of the poor quality paper he was barely able to afford, and he would also use any scrap he could find, including tickets, invitations and letters. Some of the works that have been preserved are studies for paintings, but he also made copies of great works, as well as landscapes, nudes and buildings.

Among the Golden Age painters in the collection so far is Antonio del Castillo, born in 1616 in Córdoba. Almost 190 of his sketches, many of them nudes, were published in 2007. Del Castillo's work is similar in theme and style to that of his contemporary Alonso Cano, whose sketches have also been catalogued by the Botín Foundation.

Of the two, Cano is best remembered - justifiably so, says Zahira Véliz, who put together the catalogue on the Granada-born painter and who notes that even in his own lifetime his abilities were recognized: "He was seen as the most representative artist in terms of painting, sculpture, and architecture." Between 2001 and 2002, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his birth, major exhibitions of his work were held in Granada and Madrid, with the Prado bringing together around 100 of his works, including many of his finest sketches.

(Alonso Cano) was seen as the most representative artist in terms of painting, sculpture and architecture"

The Botín Foundation's catalogue brings together 121 of Cano's sketches, along with a further 50 by his disciples. But as Véliz points out, these are but a tiny fraction of his output, many of which the painter himself may have destroyed, or that have been lost over time. The same is true of more recent artists, such as the Aragonese sculptor Pablo Gargallo, who died in Paris in 1934 at the age of 53. "He paid no attention to his sketches; he attached no value to them," says María José Salazar, who organized the collection of his work, along with an exhibition in 2010. "Thank goodness his daughter, who is still alive, has kept around 70 of them, along with photographs and other material," she adds.

The Botín Foundation's project also includes José Gutiérrez Solana, a key figure in the so-called Generation of '98, which brought together several highly influential writers, artists, musicians and thinkers. Solana, who died in 1945 at the age of 49, is equally remembered for his writing. Many of his sketches have also been lost. "He had no family, so it was hard work tracking his pieces down," Salazar recalls.

The fifth catalogue in the collection is dedicated to Mariano Salvador Maella, a painter at the court of Charles III and Charles IV, and who died in 1819. He has been luckier, and many of his sketches, including a collection of statues from ancient Rome, are kept in the Prado.

The final painter in the collection so far is Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682), arguably the most representative painter of the Golden Age. But, as with the other artists in the Botín Foundation's collection, most of his sketches have also been lost. "You could say that what we know of his work today is just the tip of the iceberg," says Manuela de Mena, the curator of the exhibition organized by the Botín Foundation in 2012.

"In Italy, every scrap of paper that the great masters used was kept, and either stored to be copied by students or bound in special editions given as gifts to wealthy patrons. But in Spain, we seem not to have taken any care to preserve these works," De Mena concludes.

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