NEW YORK (Reuters) - A huge mural, the largest-ever of Spain in modern history, returns this week to a long-neglected Manhattan museum that has been renovated with grants from Spain.
"Vision of Spain," which consists of 14 panels that together measure 230 feet by 11.5 feet was painted nearly a century ago by Joaquin Sorolla, Spain's pre-eminent painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The 14 panels, which showcase 10 regions of Spain and include large brush strokes painted with huge brushes, took Sorolla eight years to complete.
"The painting sparkles with energy," said Mitchell Codding, director of the Hispanic Society, which will display the work at its renovated museum at the northern end of Manhattan.
"It captures the dusty, dry air of Castile, the vivid colors of a fair in Seville and the glistening skins of tuna fish being dragged onto a seaside dock, showing the muscular effort of fishermen," he said.
The museum, which underwent a $6 million facelift, largely with funds from Bancaja, a Valencia savings bank, and Spain's Culture Ministry, has more than 100 works by Sorolla, including his 1903 "Beaching the Boat, Late Afternoon Sun."
But New York University professor Jonathan Brown said "Vision of Spain" stands out as Sorolla's Sistine Chapel.
"There's nothing painted in Spain in the last couple of centuries that rivals the mural in size and scope," he said.
"It's kind of a romantic vision of Spain, which covers the imagined essence of the power of regional differences. He captures a variety of folklore no one else has."
The mural returns to New York after a two-year tour of Spain where it was viewed by more than 2 million people.
"It has an enormous variety of painting methods," said Jose Luis Diez, Sorolla 2009 show curator at the Museo del Prado in Spain. "The largest panel, Castile, is 14 meters (46 feet) long; it took two years of work and unites five canvases."
"The most spontaneous-- and quickly painted -- is Ayamonte," he said.
The mural's work left Sorolla exhausted and shattered, according to his great-granddaughter Blanca Pons-Sorolla. Less than a year after its completion, a stroke ended his career, during which he produced over 3,500 paintings.
The mural will be housed at the Hispanic Society in a wood-paneled octagonal room, whose upgrading cost $4 million.
With its collection of over 800 paintings and 1,000 sculptures the Hispanic Society museum is the biggest reservoir of Spanish art outside Spain, experts say, spanning the Roman era in Iberia to the early 20th century.
Bancaja President Jose Luis Olivas said a restoration of the mural uncovered details like smoke rising from a cigarette and a man picking dates amid a tree's luxuriant branches.
The re-installed "Vision of Spain" opens for view Saturday.
Reporting by Walker Simon; Editing by Patricia Reaney