Reus 1838 - Rome 1874


Although born and trained in Spain, Mariano Fortuny spent most of his relatively brief career in Italy, and indeed is often defined as an Italian artist as much as a Spaniard. Orphaned as a young child, he was raised by his grandfather. Fortuny studied painting in Barcelona before travelling to Rome at the age of twenty, having won a pension from the Catalan city. Following visits to Morocco in 1860 and 1862 he began painting Orientalist subjects. Fascinated by the Arab world, he travelled extensively in southern Spain and the Maghreb, collecting Persian carpets, Hispano-Moresque pottery, Islamic metalwork, arms and armour, fabrics and textiles. Apart from Orientalist works, he painted historical genre subjects and scenes of 18th century courtly life – a style which proved so commercially popular that it became widely known as ‘Fortunismo’ – as well as landscapes. He was also a gifted watercolourist, draughtsman and etcher.

Fortuny lived and worked mainly in Rome, although he spent some time in Paris, where his paintings were sold for huge prices by the art dealer Adolphe Goupil, and also lived for two years in Granada. It was in Rome that Fortuny died suddenly, possibly of malaria, in November 1874, at the age of just thirty-six. The largest single collection of works by this Catalan artist, amounting to twenty-five paintings, fifty-two watercolours, sixty prints and 1,678 drawings, is in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Much admired for their rich colour and bravura brushwork, Fortuny’s paintings and watercolours were to be highly influential on the later generation of French and Italian painters of Orientalist subjects. As the French painter Henri Regnault said of Fortuny: ‘He is master to us all. If you could only see the two or three pictures he’s completing at the moment and the watercolours that he’s done recently. It makes me feel disgusted with my own…oh Fortuny, you give me sleepless nights!’ Fortuny’s skill as a watercolourist was noted from early in his career, and, as his wife’s uncle Pedro de Madrazo was later to recall, the artist used the medium of watercolour in a manner that was ‘totally unusual and free, energetic, at odds with all convention and routine.’ His watercolours were admired by many of his contemporaries, including Regnault and the critic Théophile Gautier, and were avidly acquired by collectors. As the artist himself wrote in 1866 to his friend Tomàs Moragas, ‘Goupil, the richest dealer in Paris, has ordered 4,000 dr. [duros] worth of small paintings from me, he’s buying all he watercolours I can do at 20 dr. [duros] a throw.’ Fortuny is said to have worked on his watercolours every evening, after painting in his studio during the day, and would often present them as gifts to friends and relatives.