The Discovery of Spain in Edinburgh

This article is from 2009

The Discovery of Spain

Fascinating and beautiful exhibition of British and Spanish art demands a good, long look

Besides proffering a coloured selection of chapters from an intriguing art historical narrative, this major exhibition presents some seriously affecting works of art. Didacticism aside, simply gazing at these terrifically moving paintings – Goyas, El Grecos, Zurburans, Morillos, Velázquez’ and Picassos – affords great pleasure.

Framed by the Peninsula War of the early 19th century, and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, the exhibition examines Britain’s burgeoning interest in Spanish art and culture. From the outset, the industrious gallery texts proclaim that the selection attends not only to the artistic attitudes of the nations, but wider issues of foreign perception, Eastern exoticism, and political notions of ‘otherness’. Rightly enough, a nuanced series of comparisons, thematic groupings, and considered acknowledgements of British perspectives, provoke such considerations.

Goya’s notorious ‘Disasters of War’ etchings open the exhibition. Visceral and graphic reactions against Napoleon, they remain to be considered among the greatest of anti-war works. In contrast, the works of British artist David Wilkie evince his seduction by the heroism of the war. Avoiding contrivance, such comparisons are generally kept to a minimum.

The final room, however, presents a lucid examination of both British and Spanish reactions to the Spanish Civil War. While this historical framework supports and strengthens the selection of these works, it does not overshadow their autonomy. There is plenty to be gained from this complex historical narrative, but I suggest that you start at the exhibition’s end, ignore the words, cut straight to its heart, and take a good, long look at the paintings.

National Galleries Complex, The Mound, 624 6200, until 11 Oct, £8 (£6).

The Discovery of Spain: British Artists and Collectors: Goya to Picasso

  • 4 stars

A celebration of Spanish culture, as seen through the eyes of British artists and collectors. It encompasses the period from 1800-1930, and highlights include work by Velázquez, El Greco, Murillo, Zurbaran, Goya and Picasso.

Live Music Now

  • 4 stars

Flamenco guitarist Andrew Robinson performs a set inspired by the exhibition, 'The Discovery of Spain'.

'Singing the Alhambra': Spanish Culture and Flamenco

  • 4 stars

Ethnomusicologist Dr Jan Fairley explores the traditions of this quintessentially Spanish musical form, with reference to paintings in the exhibition 'The Discovery of Spain'.

Stitch, Print, Slash, Embellish

  • 4 stars

Lindsey Hamilton leads a six-week course inspired by the exhibition 'The Discovery of Spain', exploring different textile techniques and materials while working towards a final piece.

El Estudio Espanol

  • 4 stars

Every day in August you can explore 'The Discovery of Spain' exhibition and then have a bash at some arty activities, including making clay tiles, creating a huge Spanish archway, mini stage sets, drawing, printing and collaging. Ages 5+. Under 12s must be accompanied by an adult.

The Discovery of Spain

  • 4 stars

A spectacular celebration of Spanish culture from Goya to Picasso. This summer’s major exhibition at the National Gallery Complex is The Discovery of Spain – an extensive show that fills the entire upper level of the Royal Scottish Academy building with masterpieces by Spanish painters such as Velázquez, El Greco, Goya…