(Huesca, Spain, 1930–1988, Cuenca, Spain)
Oil on canvas
64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Gift of the Estates of Sylvia and Joseph Slifka, MM.04.03
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Paula Grier discuss this work (2:23 minutes)
Antonio Saura (1930–1988)
Portrait of Mari, 1958
by Paula Grier, Meadows Museum docent
Antonio Saura was born in 1930 in the province of Aragón located in the northeastern part of Spain. He began his career early in life, as a self-taught artist, while recovering from tuberculosis. He was a post-war artist whose childhood memories were formed from images of cities in ruins and disfigured, amputated, and wounded bodies from the Spanish Civil War and from World War II. In 1953, he moved to Paris where he became involved with the Surrealists and was introduced to the social circles of the Parisian avant-garde, the Informalists. Four years later, along with other Spanish artists and critics, he founded the group “El Paso” in Madrid in 1957, one of the first avant-garde art movements in Spain under General Francisco Franco.
Now that you've had a few moments to look at the painting, you've probably noticed some important details. Perhaps the first things you noticed were the bold brushstrokes of paint applied in an abstract, frenetic manner, as well as the limited palette colors of black and gray which create blue-gray-appearing tones on the white canvas. These colors evoke a serious, somber mood.
Although abstract, the subject is clearly a portrait showing the face, shoulders, arms, and hands of the sitter. Mari’s face shows pain, fury, and disenchantment.
Saura has been quoted as saying, “I believe in the beauty of the monstrous.” For him, figures of monstrous bodies functioned as incidents of artistic self-evaluation and cultural commentary.
The female body and portraiture were among Saura’s principal subjects. Throughout his body of work he borrowed from the figurative tradition of painters including Velázquez, Rembrandt, Goya and his black paintings, and Picasso while his style was informed by European gestural painting and American Abstract Expressionism.