Arts & Culture

Art review: Blockbuster Abelló exhibition at Meadows Museum

From “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters,” Francis Bacon (Irish, 1909-1992), Triptych, 1983. Oil and pastel on canvas.
From “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters,” Francis Bacon (Irish, 1909-1992), Triptych, 1983. Oil and pastel on canvas. Courtesy Meadows Museum

The first of the year’s two great Spanish art exhibitions has opened at the Meadows Museum.

Reeled in to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the institution, “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters” is the first up. It consists of works from the 15th to the 21st centuries and has been collected in just over 30 years’ time by Juan Abelló✔ and his wife, Anna Gamazo.

In contrast, “Treasures From the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting” will illustrate the result of a multigenerational collecting habit and dominates the fall calendar.

Abelló and Gamazo have wide-ranging tastes — from a 15th-century religious work, Baptism of Christ, by Juan de Flandes, c. 1496-99, in an altarlike gold frame, to the magnificent Triptych, by Francis Bacon, from 1983, that is the centerpiece of the exhibition.

Abelló notes in the accompanying catalog, “I have not attempted to be encyclopedic in this endeavor.

“My choices as a collector reflect personal taste and the opportunities that have arisen over the years to obtain specific pieces that have come to form a coherent core. As much as possible, I have tried to recover from abroad works that are a part of Spain’s artistic heritage.”

There are a number of spectacular acquisitions, and some will look quite familiar, as they are the caliber of art used on giant slide screens in art history classes.

El Greco’s The Stigmatization of St. Francis, c. 1580, and Canaletto’s The Pier of Venice Next to St. Mark’s Square, c. 1729, and an early pencil study by Salvador Dali of his sister and father are likely to tap into the long-term memory banks.

The Abellós have two Canalettos that are from his coveted “Venice” series, made at the height of his career. And they have two paintings of Venice by Francesco Guardi, who was considered by some to be Canaletto’s successor. The four are hung together in a gallery at the Meadows — Guardi with his looser, more atmospheric style on the left, and Canaletto’s rigid, more exacting style on the right. It is a flagrant display of riches.

The Abellós have a pair of portraits by Francisco Goya depicting his son’s in-laws, Martin Miguel de Goicoechea and Juana Galarza de Goicoechea, 1810.

The Abellós’ personal curator, Almudena Ros de Barbero, notes that in Goya’s time, artists had a sliding scale for portrait commissions depending on how much of a person was depicted. A head was the least expensive, head and shoulders cost more, and a full body was the most expensive. But there was also an extra charge if both hands were rendered.

In these portraits, the in-laws obviously only bought the single-hand portrait package. It isn’t so noticeable on Señor Goicoechea, but on Señora Goicoechea, her hidden left hand is rather awkward.

The Abellós also own a series of studies by Bacon for a portrait of Peter Beard, the famous wildlife photographer, made in 1975; they are hanging next to Pablo Picasso’s Buste, 1971, and the similarities are extraordinary.

The Abellós are the only Spanish collectors who own multiple works by Bacon. They sought out his work because he was not represented in Spanish museums.

They make up for their brief dalliance with artists who were not native to Spain by collecting artists such as Picasso in depth. One of his most interesting pieces in the collection is a large figure from his early infatuation with classicism.

Nu assis (Seated Nude), c. 1922-23, has simple charcoal outlines for a female figure sitting in front of a mirror with white paint used to highlight her volume. It is remarkable for its simplicity.

Many of the paintings in the collection feature seated figures, notes Mark Roglan, the Meadows’ director, from the earliest piece in the Abelló holdings, The Virgin and Child Enthroned Among Musician Angels, by Jaume Baço, from 1450, to Bacon’s Triptych.

The seated subjects are like visitors who have come for a party — four beautiful Madonnas, goddesses recumbent on pillowy clouds, and more earth-bound lovelies sitting on chairs — even a tot in a red dress is sitting in a child-size chair.

The few men who are central figures are more active — fighting bulls, playing a cello or looking quite noble, as befits their station in life.

So many of the works in the collection are museum-quality, it is difficult to imagine these in a private home, and yet that is where they hang, with the rare exception of when one is lent for an exhibition. They have been arranged to simulate the way they are hung on walls of similar colors in the Abelló home.

There are 100 on display in Dallas — one-fifth of the Abellós’ total holdings; they have never traveled en masse before. This group was shown in Madrid and has now made its triumphant way to Dallas.

It will return to the Abellós’ home at the end of the summer.

Gaile Robinson, 817-390-7113

Twitter: @GaileRobinson

The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters

▪ Through Aug. 2

▪ Meadows Museum, 5900 Bishop Blvd., Dallas (on the SMU campus)

▪ $4-$10

▪ 214-768-2516;