I loved Fridays in Madrid when I was working on Conan the Barbarian. At six in the evening I put down my pencil and dashed over to a local comic book shop down the street called Totem. The owner of the shop would close it to the public on Fridays at six — but let in any comic book creators (regulars included Alfonso Azpiri and Chiqui De La Fuente, brother of Victor) that happened to be in the area. We would talk shop for a couple of hours and then wander down the block to a local bistro whose owner absolutely loved comics and their creators.
He would have a long table all ready, just for us. The wine and tapas we enjoyed all night long while we talked were all free, courtesy of the restaurant’s owner. It was a great way to end the week.
Since I was in Madrid, during my lunch breaks I would often race over to El Prado, the home of what I call “Art’s Greatest Hits”, one of the most spectacular art collections in the world. There was one obscure (obscure in America, that is) Spanish artist whose work I desperately wanted to see in person. His name was Mariano Fortuny (not his son, the famed fabric designer of the same name). I had a book with a reproduction of a painting of his, a nude lying belly down on the beach.
It was exquisite in every way. I couldn’t wait to see it full size, as the reproduction in my book was only about 5″ x 7″ — roughly the size of a postcard. I saw that this piece was in the permanent collection of the Prado.
I scoured the museum for that damn painting. It wasn’t with the other Fortuny pics on display within the museum. I looked high and low. Finally, I returned to the other Fortuny pictures on display at the Prado for a more careful search — and there it was! To my amazement, this painting was not 3 ft. by 5 ft. or 5 ft. by 7 ft. as I had imagined. It was the exact same size as it was printed in my book. It was a miniature!
I ended up becoming a Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874) fanatic. At his peak he was perhaps the most successful artist in the world. He launched what half a decade later would become known as the Orientalist movement. He was a Spaniard painting in Spain, Morocco and Italy. His work was so popular that his wife had to publish a book identifying the legitimate Fortuny paintings because there were so many fakes and forgeries on the market.
Here are a few of my favorite paintings by Fortuny:
Look for better representations of the above picture; the color is much richer than the example I’m showing here, especially the rider’s blue garment.
Here’s my favorite Fortuny painting:
I stand by my claim that Daniel Vierge was NOT American pen illustrator Joseph Clement Coll‘s biggest influence. It was Mariano Fortuny. Check these out and see if you don’t agree:
So, why isn’t Fortuny better known?
He died young, at the age of 36, in Rome from malaria. Dying young is usually the kiss of death for the legacy of an artist. The great Mexican painter, Saturnino Herran, immediately springs to mind. Fortuny was given a national funeral ceremony in Rome. I know of at least three huge fairly recent books on his work. Track ’em down and prepare to be blown away.