Balenciaga and Spanish Painting

 This summer, 2019, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza will be presenting an exhibition that connects the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the most admired and influential fashion designer of all times, to the tradition of Spanish painting of the 16th to the 20th centuries. This is the first major exhibition on this Basque designer to be held in Madrid in almost fifty years and the first that brings together his designs and a selection of paintings by leading names in the history of Spanish art, which was one of his principal sources of inspiration.

 

 

Spanish Court Painting: Black

The court of Philip II made the use of black fashionable for clothing throughout Europe and for a lengthy period it continued to be a symbol of power and elegance, becoming one of the archetypes of Spanish Black has always been a subject of fascination in the fashion world due to its visual and symbolic power and Balenciaga reinterpreted it in a unique and highly personal manner. He imbued it with a special light, expanding the direction embarked on by Chanel in 1926 with the “little black dress” and fully establishing it in modern international fashion design in the first half of the 20 century. This was recognised by the specialist press and in 1938 Harper’s Bazaar reported that: “at the new Spanish house Balenciaga [...] the black is so black that it hits you like a blow. Thick Spanish black, almost velvety, a night without stars, which makes the ordinary black seem almost grey.” The black and white in Portrait of the 6 Countess of Miranda finds its echo in a spectacular satin evening gown that combines black and ivory. The same is the case with the group of evening gowns which are displayed here alongside court portraits such as Queen Isabel of Valois, third Wife of Philip II by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, and Juana of Austria, Princess of Portugal by Sánchez Coello.

 

Spanish Court Painting: Still Life

Flowers are one of the most frequently recurring subjects in the history of painting and a source of inspiration for artists of all periods. Following his arrival in Paris, Balenciaga made contact with the leading textile designers and printers as well as with makers of buttons and floral and feather adornments which he used as luxury trimmings for his creations. This section includes magnificent gowns with floral designs, an evening coat in silk organza with floral appliqué and a pink dress with embroidered tulle, all accompanied to perfection by a group of still lifes by Spanish painters such as Juan de Arellano, Gabriel de la Corte and Benito Espinós.

Spanish Court Painting: Embroidery

 Balenciaga assembled a collection of historical costume that included richly ornamented Spanish items made from elaborate lace and guipure and profusely embroidered or trimmed with beads. Inspired by these and other references he used embroidery in many of his designs, supplied to him by the best makers of the time. Outstanding models in this section include the formal gown from the collection of María de las Nieves Mora y Aragón, which is here paired with a portrait of Anne of Austria by Alonso Sánchez Coello; and a shantung, ivory coloured wedding dress with silver thread embroidery, its lines echoed in the dress worn by Isabel de Borbón, Wife of Philip IV in the portrait by Rodrigo de Villandrando.

 

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