Luis Eugenio Meléndez

Luis Egidio Meléndez or Luis Eugenio Meléndez (Naples, 1716 – Madrid, 1780) was a Spanish painter of Italian origin. He did almost all his career in Madrid and is considered one of the best painters of still life in the eighteenth century. Despite the His reputation, during his life suffered great misery. His father, Francisco Antonio Meléndez de Rivera Díaz, and Louis Michel van Loo (1707-1771) formed him as a painter; Meléndez was assistant to this second between 1742 and 1748 The future King Charles IV of Spain, then even prince of Asturias, commissioned him an extensive series of dead natures, of which a few dozen are conserved in the Museum of the Meadow

His style of dead natures was endowed with austerity and perfection in the representation of objects; The textures of the materials showed great security in the drawing and a lot of detail in the details. The simple composition and light, characterized by a contrasting chiaroscuro, followed the tradition of the baroque dead natures of Francisco de Zurbarán and Juan Sánchez Cotán; The background of these paintings was used to be empty, although some did them with landscapes, in the line of the Neapolitan pictorial school

Meléndez’s father, Francisco Antonio Meléndez, was a miniaturist painter born in Oviedo who had moved to Madrid with his older brother, also the painter Miguel Jacinto Meléndez While Miguel remained in Madrid and managed to be appointed in 1712 Chamber painter of Philip V, Francisco traveled to Italy in 1699 in search of a better position finally settling in Naples, city where he enlisted in the Spanish infantry. He married María Josefa Durazo and Santo Padre Francisco Meléndez He remained close to twenty years abroad, and returned to Madrid in 1717 together with his family, including his son, Luis Eugenio, born in Naples in 1716

Luis Eugenio Meléndez received artistic education from his father and also at the workshop of Louis Michel van Loo, a Frenchman who became a chamber painter of Philip V of Spain. Between 1737 and 1748, Meléndez worked as a van assistant Loo, dedicating himself to copying the prototypes of this painter of the royal portraits for the domestic and foreign market When the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando was provisionally inaugurated as a “Preparatory Board of the Academy” in 1744, his Father, Francisco, was named honorary director of painting together with Louis Michel van Loo, and Meléndez was one of the first students to be admitted. The Board was very progressive, as it not only tolerated but also promoted genres Of a “minor” character, among them the dead nature At this time, Menéndez was already an accomplished painter, as demonstrated in his Self-portrait of the Louvre Museum, signed with the date of 1746 and in which, according to Historian Sánchez Cantón, the influence of his master Louis Michel van Loo is noticed, however, his father Francisco Antonio Meléndez had a dispute with the Academy, since he demanded for himself the honor of being a founder; He was relieved of his position as Professor Luis Eugenio, due to incidents related to the expulsion of his father from the Preparation Board of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and a possible conflict with his teacher Van Loo for the same reason, goes Moving away from the academic institution in 1748, from where he was expelled

Unlike his father, Luis’s professional situation was precarious. Young, arrogant, without the support of the Academy and with his reputation in protest, he decided to go to Italy to get new opportunities, where he remained from From 1748 to 1752 He did some paintings – currently lost – for Charles IV of Spain, who was then king of Naples

His return to Madrid took place in 1753: Francisco Meléndez convinced his son to return to Spain, where he could collaborate in the elaboration of the new miniature paintings, as a fire of the year 1734 at the Alcázar de Madrid -actual Royal Palace of Madrid- he had destroyed dozens of illustrated books of chorus belonging to the royal chapel, which were being reconstructed

From 1759 until 1774, Meléndez created forty-four deaths for the Museum of Natural History, belonging to the Prince of Asturias, later King Carlos IV of Spain. Of these paintings, thirty-nine are found Currently at the Museo del Prado In these paintings he represented a whole series of fruits and vegetables produced in Spain

In 1760, Meléndez filed a petition for the appointment of a chamber painter of King Carlos III, request that, despite the quality of his works, he was rejected

Meléndez had painted some religious works, including a Sagrada Familia for the then Princess of Asturias Maria Luisa de Borbón-Parma, but she specialized in still life, a decorative genre that could be done without prior agreement and, Therefore, it was lucrative for artists without royal patronage or without the support of the Academy Although his desire to reach the royal painter’s square did not market his works as they did with other painters of this Gender, the royal family and the aristocracy continued without valuing this topic, with the exception of those used as a scientific sample in the cabinets of natural history collectors

In spite of his talent, Luis Meléndez lived in the poverty during most of his life; In 1772, in a letter to the king he declared that he only had his brushes and that he could not continue with the series of the “four elements”: “not to have means to continue even the precise ones to feed themselves” Ignored , When he died in 1780, his economic situation was of indigence

The historical context, in terms of its relationship with the painting of Luis Meléndez in the eighteenth century, took place with the arrival of the Spanish monarchy of the Bourbon dynasty with Philip V as king, confirmed at the end of the War of Succession Spanish with the Decrees of the New Floor, which from the first moment tried to revive the Hispanic artistic panorama, which at that time was somewhat in decline after the great moment of the Spanish Golden Age In history of art, The period is similar to the Spanish Renaissance and Baroque principles. This artistic splendor, especially the second part (or strictly the 17th century), coincides with the beginning of the political decline of the Spanish Empire

Under his reign, many artists, especially French, were called to Madrid, among them those who were called chamber painters, Jean Ranc and Louis-Michel van Loo. During the reigns of his successors Ferran VI and Carlos III they went to This position Italian painters such as Jacopo Amigoni, Corrado Giaquinto, Giambattista Tiepolo and the Italianized Anton Raphael Mengs

The project of artistic education that began with Philip V in 1744 was definitely under the patronage of King Ferdinand VI with the foundation, on April 12, 1752, of the Royal Academy of the Three Noble Arts of San Fernando to Madrid

In spite of the administrative and cultural centralization in the court of Madrid, Andalusia continued the tradition of local painting, especially with the influence left by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo; In the Valencian lands, Josep Vergara was the highest representative of the movement of academicism, together with his brother Ignasi, he took part in the creation of the Santa Bárbara Academy of Fine Arts in 1752, under the protection of Carlos III, In 1768 he became the current Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Carlos; And, finally, in Catalonia, among others, Antoni Viladomat was highlighted, with a very extensive and dignified work, such as the current paintings conserved in the National Museum of Art of Catalonia of the cycle of Life of Saint Francis or the Four Seasons

Other painters who stood out during the last epoch of the eighteenth century were the brothers of Santiago Bayeu Francisco Bayeu moved to Madrid called by Mengs and was able to be called painter of the court in 1767 under the reign of Charles III. His brother Manuel Bayeu, who professed as a Carthusian monk in 1772, made paintings mainly in Aragon, but also for the Carthusian monks of Escaladei in Catalonia and the one in Valldemossa in Majorca. Finally, Ramon Bayeu was one of the main directors Of the cartoons for tapestries of the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara

The dead natures painted by Meléndez are usually of small size and present the austere tradition of Spanish-style painting of the seventeenth century, initiated by the maestros del Siglo de oro Juan Sánchez Cotán and Francisco de Zurbarán. Like them, Meléndez studied The effects of light, the texture and color of fruits and vegetables, as well as ceramic, glass and copper vessels. Unlike the teachers of the 17th century, their subject is physically more on the verge of the spectator, in a Low point of view for objects placed on a table, which gives its forms a monumentality in this genre that aims to inspire the viewer to study the objects themselves. The backgrounds matched them with a neutral color, and Left strong lighting to highlight the contours of the volume of the objects represented; He achieved fruit velvety, transparency in grape bushes and bright watermelon interiors. Everything was united with earthy or ocher shades

Each painting by Meléndez was meticulously composed: objects were placed with a sought-after unit with a reflective and realistic sense. The great themes never attracted him, but rather the ordinary and common things of daily life, which he observed from Nature and studied with great interest It has been compared and called as the “Spanish Chardin”, while others think it closer to Zurbarán, probably because of the feeling of popular sentiment that conveys its paintings

As for the works of Meléndez, they are located the drawing Female Head Studio, conserved in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, and a magnificent Self Portrait of the year 1746 belonging to the Louvre Museum Two works of their theme are known Religious: both belong to the Prado Museum, a Holy Family and a Mother of God with Children; This last one is transferred in deposit to the House Museum of Columbus of Las Palmas of Gran Canaria Its dead natures were created almost all around the decade of 1770, especially to comprise of the collection of Carlos IV of Spain , Then prince of Asturias, who had a great inclination towards natural history, according to Melendez himself, this series of paintings were made with the aim of serving as documentation on the different fruits and vegetables typical of Spain These works, once realized, went on to decorate very soon different rooms of the Casita del Príncipe in El Escorial; Later, around 1785, they went to the grand pavilion of the Jardin del Príncipe in Aranjuez, near 1795 at the Palau d’Aranjuez and, finally, in 1819 they arrived at the Prado Museum. The National Art Museum of Catalonia owns There are also representative works in private collections and other museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao, the Cerralbo Museum, the National Museum of San Gregorio de Valladolid, the National Gallery of London , The National Gallery of Art in Washington, or the Kimbell Museum of Art

Many of the paintings of this author who had belonged to the royal collection were exhibited at the Prado Museum from its opening in 1819, from the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. They were distributed in the three rooms selected by He exhibited Spanish painting and, even, he had placed two dead natures of Meléndez on each side of Las Meninas de Velázquez, along with two works by Pedro de Orrente and two others by Mariano Salvador Maella, probably to be framed Vertically the great picture of Las Meninas

Meléndez’s paintings, along with others, were moved and moved from theaters in different years as a result of museum exhibitions, although they were often placed «according to decorative interests». Travelers and art specialists who described The Prado Museum did not pay much attention to Meléndez’s dead natures, and they made little or no allusion to them; Clement de Ris, in his work Le Museé Royal de Madrid in 1859, describes that there are «a large number of fruit paintings by Menéndez (1682-1744), who remember the vigorous color of Michel-Ange Cerquozzi» André Lavice, In 1864, he called some authors of dead natures of the Prado, and Meléndez thinks and criticizes “the illumination that the painter does”. The 1872 catalog of Pedro de Madrazo values ​​the dead nature exposed, and the part of the biography dedicated to Meléndez affirms that “it rivals with the Dutch and flamenco of the best time” The historian Manuel Bartholomew Cossío, in his work Approach to the Spanish painting of 1884, does not mention Meléndez At the beginning of the XX century there was a great redistribution of works Inside the museum: special rooms were created for several painters, among them a room for the dead natures of Meléndez. Since the room was very small it seemed that the walls were carved with paintings

The changes were going on, such as those organized by the new director Aureliano de Beruete in 1918, when the paintings of Meléndez were mixed again with those of other authors and their number was reduced to twenty five In 1935, the exhibition Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española was inaugurated, with Julio Cavestany as curator and author of an extensive catalog published in 1940, a fact of great importance for the painting of this genre; In it, some works by Luis Meléndez also participated. Catalan critic Josep Maria Junoy and Muns pointed out the “indecorous placement of the Melendez series at the Prado Museum” At the beginning of the 21st century, the paintings by Luis Eugenio Meléndez at the Prado They are part of the collection denounced “Goya and 18th century painting.” Almost all the works are exhibited in Hall 87