I’ve been blogging recently —  a bit in the abstract — about colour words in Spanish.

Then I thought, “Hey, what about some real Spanish colour?”

I have to rely on the CarmenThyssen Museum in Málaga to provide that. As I said earlier, it gave me a sort of epiphany — a word and en experience not to be sneezed at.


The collection consists chiefly of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Spanish paintings (pinturas), particularly those painted by Andalusian artists or depicting Andalusian themes. There were dozens I could have wittered on about, but I’ve reduced my list to six. Here are/is the second pair.

But before we look at those, let’s at least acknowledge the woman who collected these extraordinary works: to give her her full title, María del Carmen Rosario Soledad Cervera y Fernández de la Guerra, Dowager Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon et Impérfalva. Her Christian names (I use the term advisedly) go up to Soledad; after that, in accordance with Spanish naming practice, Cervera is her father’s surname and Fernández de la Guerra her mother’s. She is the widow (viuda) of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen Bornemisza, whose fabulous art collection was ceded to the Spanish state (el estado1 español) as the Thyssen Bornemisza collection in Madrid, and a major collector (coleccionista) in her own right.

An atypical (?) Sorolla

Vendiendo melones – Selling melons, 1890. Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1927).

This reproduction really can’t do the picture justice. For a start, the colours aren’t as distinct and glowing as they are in the original. Seeing the original (el original), what really stood out for me was the vibrant  red (rojo), animating an otherwise understated palette, and leading the eye from the waistcoat (chaleco) of the man perching tautly on the wall on the left across the basket of melons — the ostensible subject of the painting — through the red of the shawl draped across the seller’s knees and the red of the shawl of the standing figure behind him.

There’s a lot of detail – such as the ducks (patos) in the pond on the left, or the tiles (azulejos) beneath the grille in front of the window, but they don’t detract from the elegant sinuousness of the overall composition.

This was painted in 1890, shortly after Sorolla’s return (regreso) from Italy and before his style developed that particular kind of luminous impressionism with which he is more normally associated.

Five years earlier, but light years away…


Salida del baile de máscaras – Leaving the masked ball, c. 1885; Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta (1841-1920)

What links this painting and the Sorolla is light (luz, la), which is what also distinguishes them, namely, in the contrast (el contraste) between the warm daylight of the Sorolla and the brilliantly realised harsh gaslight of this night scene.

Silhouetted against the garishly lit vestibule of the dance hall, a couple of figures suggest a narrative: the gentleman is asking the girl to join him in the carriage he is pointing to. Where are they going? Do they know each other well, or have they only just met?

Despite this potential narrative interest, the main subject of the painting really seems to be its virtuosic handling of the dark shades of night: most of the canvas is in gradations of brown (marrón), grey (gris), and black (negro).

Here we are in Paris, the urban society par excellence, in marked contrast to Sorolla’s evocation of a “typically” Spanish country scene. The son and grandson of renowned Spanish painters, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta achieved great succes (éxito) in France, where he lived for much of his life.


Learn more

1 Several Spanish words starting with est– are cognates of English words starting with the letters st-; estado (“state”) is one of those. Others are estructura, estable, estación. Being aware of this will help you “decode” from Spanish into English.

The same often holds true of esp– words, e.g. especular, especial, and esc– ones, e.g. escultura.

However, those correspondences do not mean that all sc/t/p– words in English convert automatically into Spanish versions with an e- added, nor vice versa.



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