July 17, 2009 / 2:01 PM / 10 years ago

British love affair with Spain on show in Edinburgh

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Spanish influence and the growth of British interest in Spain is the key feature of a major new summer exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery coinciding with Edinburgh’s international arts festival.

The exhibition starts and ends with war, the terrors of Spain’s liberation war against the French from 1809 to 1814 and the horrors if the 1930s civil war through the works of two of the world’s great anti-war artists, Francisco de Goya and Pablo Picasso.

Between the two extremes there is a remarkable journey in “the discovery of Spain” through the first glimmerings of British interest in the country and its rich culture to the open embrace of Spanish art by British painters and collectors.

“What we are looking at here primarily is the British perception of Spain and how that has grown and how it has evolved,” the gallery’s deputy director and exhibition organizer Christopher Baker told Reuters.

The exhibition, which opens on Saturday and runs to October 11, displays more than 130 paintings, watercolours, prints and photographs and includes as its center-piece works by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Murillo, Zubaran and Picasso.

On the British side, artists who were captivated by the experience of traveling through Spain over a 150-year period include David Wilkie, David Roberts, John Phillip, Arthur Melville and David Bomberg.

At the show’s entrance there are a series of etchings by Goya between 1809 and 1814 on “the disasters of war” against the French including the 1809 French siege of Saragossa, one of the most brutal actions in a devastating conflict.

On the opposite wall, in contrast, is a much romanticized 1829 painting of the same siege by David Wilkie.

While Goya’s print is stark with cannon and death, Wilkie shows a defiant white-clad woman — her husband lying dead at her feet — touching off a cannon blast against the French.

Picasso’s anti-war work includes a weeping woman and a cut-down reproduction of his famous work on the bombing of Guernica.

British artists, in contrast responded to the war “using a different language, using surrealism in particular,” Baker said.

But over a 150-year period, he said, the increasing exposure of Britain to Spain, its culture and traditions had “a direct impact on the practice of British painting, the most important of all being Velazquez (1599-1660)...the greatest master of them all.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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