Beltran Masses, Federico

Guira de la Melena, Cuba 1885 - Barcelona 1949
Biography & List of works

La Maja Marquesa, 1915

La Maja Marquesa, 1915


Medium: Oil On Canvas

Size: 160 x 181 cm

Signed: lower right: F. Beltran Masses


Estate of the artist, to his widow; to the heirs of the latter; Private collection


Federico Beltrán Massés y la Exposicion National de Bellas Artes MCMXV, Madrid, 1915, mention throughout; Federico Beltrán Massés, Editions Estrella, texts by José Francés and Antonio de Hoyos y Vinent, Madrid, 1920, no. 5, ill.; Sur l’oeuvre de Beltrán Massés, F. Paillart, Paris, 1924


Exposicion Nacional, Madrid, 1915, no. 293; Palace Hotel, Madrid, 1916; Wildenstein Galleries, New York, 1924; Whithehall, Palm Beach, 1925; Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles, 1925, no. 15 (with an asking Price of US $5,000); Federico Beltrán Masses, Torreón de Lozoya, Segovia, 2008, illustrated on p. 53 of the catalogue; Federico Beltrán Masses: un pintor en la corte de Hollywood, Museu Diocesa, Barcelona, 2011; Galerie Alain Blondel, París 20112; Federico Beltrán Massés: Castizo cosmopolita, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid.

Beltran Masses was already known as an innovative and talented young artist when, in 1915, he became an overnight sensation following the rejection by the Comité del Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes (the Spanish equivalent of the jury of the Paris salon) of La Maja Marquesa as offensive and immoral. Their decision provoked immediate outrage from critics, newspapers and artists across Spain. The eight members of the committee were denounced variously as ‘ mediocre’, ‘ limited’, and ‘cretinous’, while a press campaign led by the journal España resulted not only in the painting being reproduced in almost every major Spanish newspaper but its public exhibition in the Sala de Arte Moderna, Madrid. The controversy insured lines of people waited to see the painting and huge attendance during the six day exhibition. Thousands of postcards of the painting sold, printed on the reverse the note ‘La Maja Marquesa, cuadro de Federico Beltran, no admitido en la Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes, por considerarlo repugnante y ofensivo á la moral (Léase el art. XIX de Reglamento de Exposiciones.)’ The campaign, led by the radical critic Gabriel García Maroto, was followed by some eighteen newspaper articles attacking the Comité; Beltran’ s slightly older contemporaries, the artists Cecilio Plá, Hermenegildo Anglada, Ignacio Zuloaga and Julio Romero de Torres all rallied in his support. García Maroto published a small book which included all the newspaper articles supporting the artist, as well as further articles by himself and other critics discussing the painting, Federico Beltran Masses y La Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes de MCMXV. Despite the extensive coverage the painting when first exhibited, this triple portrait remains something of an enigma, the Maja Marquesa was well known in Spanish high-society for her distinguished ancestry, but equally well for her scandalous lesbian lifestyle. In allowing his nude Marquise, not simply a hired model, to be identified, Beltran Masses took a considerable risk. He broke yet another convention of the day by presenting her nude alongside clothed companions, as Manet had in Olympia and Dejeuner sur l’Herbe more than thirty years earlier. However, it was the presentation of a recognised figure from high society wearing nothing but a mantilla, a headdress usually worn only on special occasions, with the traditional dresses worn by the Marquesa’s two anonymous companions – that caused particular outrage among the conservative members of the Comité. None the less, only three of the critics writing in support of Beltran in 1915 identified the sitter; the majority praised the painting on its merits as a work of art and condemned those who had opposed its exhibition as presiding over ‘a kingdom of mediocrity.’ When King Alfonso XIII and his elderly mother attended Beltran’s exhibition in Madrid the following year at the Palace Hotel, the sovereign’s approval further demonstrated that the Comité members had made fools of themselves.
María de Gloria del Collado y del Alcázar, Echagüa y del Noro (to give all four of her noble family names), was the third and youngest daughter of D. Fermín de Collado y Echagüa, 2nd Marques de la Laguna and 1st Marques de Jarafe, Grandee of Spain, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Charles III and Senator of the Kingdom, who had also served as a chamberlain to Alfonso XIII. Her mother, María de la Concepcion de Alcázar y Nero was Condesa de Montalvo in her own right. The family’ s conservative background -her sister, Berenguela, would succeed as Marquesa de Laguna – provided a stark contrast to Gloria’ s very public rebellion. Her official title, created in 1626, was Condesa de Requena, though she was more commonly known as Countess Gloria Laguna. In 1904 she married Don Rafael de Reynoso y Queralt; the wedding ceremony was widely reported and the young couple were expected to play a public role at court and in society. However the marriage was a disaster; they soon divorced and the marriage annulled, as Gloria had realised that her own sexual preferences did not at all incline her to marriage. Whether Beltran or Gloria had proposed the pose and setting remains unknown, but not all were surprised by her boldness in permitting its public exhibition, even though the title did not specifically identify her it did the unthinkable: ‘maja’ was a term for the lower class, often ‘madrileña’ (a woman from Madrid) that Goya had captured. She prided herself on her outrageous behaviour and enjoyed her freedom. Both artist and sitter understood the contradiction in the title that upset Gloria’ s fellow elites; one could not be both a ‘maja’ and a Marquesa. The poet and journalist Juan Jose de Soiza Reilly (1879-1959) had dedicated his collection of poems, Cronícas del Centenario (1909) to Gloria Laguna, addressing her in his text as “…a woman of your hauteur, of your caprices, of your sins, is worthy of deserving the book of a poet without morals and without faith… from my American jungle I dedicate this book to you … lend me your ear.” Reilly included an interview with Gloria and described her as an artist and an aristocratic bohemian who smokes, drinks maté, and divorced her husband, all of which set her apart from her well-brought up contemporaries. Gloria was described as small, dark haired and pert, with a raspy voice made deeper by her compulsive smoking. Members of her circle – and frequent visitors to her chalet de las Cuatro Piedras in La Albatilla (Murcia), or her Madrid salon – included her cousin, the monocled critic and journalist Antonio de Hoyos y Vinent, Marques de Vinent, and the dancer Carmen Tórtola Valencia, both painted by Beltran, the latter as the Maja Maldita, as well as other proponents of modernism in writing, art and dance. Her own essays in literature proved even more shocking than her behaviour, although their circulation was sufficiently limited as to not cause further public outrage. Hoyos was a central figure in Madrid’ s homosexual society and described as the ‘ literary cousin of the Marquis de Sade.’ He was also renowned for assembling a ‘Guermantes world’ with the neo-Proustian Juan García Abellán and the Italian popular singer Olimpia d’ Aligny, notorious for her love of cats and Sapphic tastes. The rather decadent and raffish circle led by Hoyos, however, was balanced by others who frequented Gloria’ s salon, such as the writers Rafael Cansinos Assens, Antonio Espina, César González Ruano, and the notable playwright Ramón Maria de la Vega Inclan, who created a more serious and challenging intellectual environment. It was his contact with this outrageous but brilliant circle that perhaps encouraged Beltran Masses to broaden his own artistic vision; within two years of exhibiting this work the artist moved to Paris, despite the war that was raged across much of Europe. Spain, exhausted by the two Carlist wars and the Spanish American war of 1898, remained neutral during World War I, but within twenty years the horrors of Spain’s Civil War permanently divided many of those who had once been in Gloria’s assemblage.