Beltran Masses, Federico

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



Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 141 x 165 cm

Signed: lower-right: F Beltran Masses / 26 Juin 1918. Paris.


Estate of the artist; his wife Sra. Irene Narezo de Beltran; her heirs, Barcelona; Private collection, Los Angeles.


Catalogo della XIIa Esposizione Internationale d’Arte della Città di Venezia MCMXX, Casa Editrice d’Arte Bestetti & Tumminelli, Roma-Milan-Venezia, 1920, ills., no. 7, p.22; Francesco Sapori, La Dodicesima Esposizione di Venezia MCMXX, Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, Bergamo, 1920, p.202; Federico Beltran Masses, Estrella, 1920, ills,. no. 41; Arsène Alexandre, ‘La Vie Artistique’, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, 1924, p.7; Camille Mauclair, ‘L’Art’, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Vizzavona, 1921; Louis Vauxcelles, ‘Beltran et la Pienture Espagnole Contemporaine’, L’Œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Vizzavona, 1921, ills.; Federico Beltran Masses, Madrid, 1921; Mariano Alarcon, ‘Artistes Espagnols A Paris’, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.6; Gardner Teall, ‘Paris acclame un nouveau maitre, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.20; F. Paillart, Sur l’œuvre de Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924; Luis Doreste, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.13; José Francès, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.16; Homem Christo, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.23; H. Le Noffihc, ‘Extrait de l’Action Coloniale’, 25 décembre 1921, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.25; Michel Levrey, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.25; Pawlowski, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.40; Ferdinand  Romanet, ‘Extrait de L’Ame Gauloise’, 11 décembre, 1921, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.44; Rafael Villaseca, Sur l’œuvre de Federico Beltran Masses, Paris, 1924, p.53;  Paul George Konody, ‘The Art of Federico Beltran Masses’, Apollo, The Apollo Press Limited, vol.9, no. 54, June 1929; Federico Beltran Masses, New Burlington galleries under the patronage of His Majesty the King of Spain, London, 1929; Marcel Barrière, ‘L’œuvre de F. Beltran Masses’, Beauté magazine, no. 14, Paris, Spring 1931, p.99; ‘Troisième Congrès. International de Psychothèrapie d’Hypnologie et de Psychologie appliquée’, 28 septembre – 4 octobre 1931, Revue de Psychothèrapie et de Psychologie Appliquée, No. 8, August 1931, p.211, 213; Federico Beltran Masses: un pintor en la corte de Hollywood, Museu Diocesà, Barcelona, 2011, ills., p.118; Federico Beltran Masses: Castizo cosmopolita, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, 2012, ills., p.85.


XII Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della città di Venezia, 1920, Room 5, no. 7; Cercle Interallié, at 33, faubourg St-Honoré, Paris, 103 paintings, 15 November – 30 December 1921; Possibly Stendhal Galleries, The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, 1925, no. 8 as Princess Salome, with an asking price of US $6000; Federico Beltran Masses, New Burlington Galleries, under the patronage of His Majesty the King of Spain, London, 14 June – 6 July, 1929; L’Exposition des Illustrations du Triomphe de la mort de Gabriel D’Annunzio et des œuvres de Fréderic Beltran Masses, Galerie Javal et Bourdeaux, Paris, 4 – 24 May, 1929, p.10; Exposition d’œuvres F. Beltran Masses, Chez Trotti, Paris, 21 May – 14 June, 1931; Federico Beltran Masses, Torreón de Lozoya, Caja Segovia, 2008, ills., p.61; Galerie Alain Blondel, Paris, 2012; Federico Beltran Masses, Blue Nights and Libertine Legends, Stair Sainty Gallery, London, Oct-Nov 2012, no. 5, ills., pp.58-69. 

The most daring nude picture ever painted’ began a 1929 newspaper article, continuing [Beltran Masses] “has dared all convention in painting a naked woman in a pose which no lesser artist could have attempted.” The sensation created in London by Salomé’s exhibition must have shocked the artist, who had first publically shown his painting nine years earlier at the XII Venice Biennale where it had been widely praised.[1]


Unlike those paintings where striking nocturnal shadows clothe his subjects, the artist has displayed the figure of Salomé almost glowing against dark acid-green and russet pillows, below a deep blue star-lit sky.  In 1938 Beltran confessed, however, that Salomé was above all ‘a study of foreshortening, which.. cost me.. an arduous two months struggle with colour and proportion.’ He told the writer Garcia Sanchiz ‘I copied the head of Saint John the Baptiste from a mummy.. It makes one want to die quietly without feeling anything.’[2] Rarely has anguish been captured in a painting to greater dramatic affect. A critic wrote ‘Decadent, yes [Beltran] is.. like the century, to which he responds.. if one analyses.. Salomé.. within – leaving aside a technique that measures up to the best Renaissance brushes – the idea has to it a dramatic force and sensuality so beautiful that it is enough to see Salomé’s body, without seeing her face, to understand the torture of the.. woman.’[3] The body’s foreshortened contortions communicates the horror that the figure’s covered eyes refuse, while the angle of her arching back on the canvas’s diagonal draws the viewer into the painting. ‘Supple and cruel like a jungle animal – only Gustave Moreau  has evoked with the same intensity [her] charm and evil power[4] another critic claimed.


Arsène Alexandre described Beltran as a ‘plastic poet,’ at once ‘a poet of the flesh and a moralist’.[5] Arguably no other canvas in his œuvre illustrates the point as well: the plasticity of form in the painting is thoroughly modern but also looks to the work of his older German contemporary, Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). Beltran, poet of the flesh, appropriated a traditional subject for a traditional purpose – Salomé presented to artists the occasion to draw an erotic female form while simultaneously illustrating her nakedness to deepen the emotional impact.  Beltran’s Salomémakes of its heroine a sensual woman, convulsing, hysterical, and sobbing, full of horror and love at once. It is the contrast.. of [her]pain and [the painting’s] sumptuousness that we see.’ [6]


When the painting was exhibited in London in 1929 the reaction it produced was fierce outrage. Conservatives of the day deemed Salomé immoral, just as they had branded the Maja Marquesa in 1915. Beltran reproached his critics from his suite at the Ritz Hotel: ‘Merry del Val’s [Spanish Ambassador to Great Britain and the exhibition’s sponsor] brother is a Cardinal. I do not want any vulgar comments against my Salomé to cause him embarrassment.[7]  In a show of support, the Ambassador and his wife purposely admired the paintings at the opening, but Beltran decided to remove it until public interest, combined with the Royal Academy’s official appeal, provided vindication and quickly convinced Beltran to return both paintings to the exhibition.  In the space of three weeks, 17,317 people paid to visit the show and admire this controversial work.


Beltran’s infamous, scandalous Salomé is more a construction of the Western canon than a religious figure and owes more to Oscar Wilde than the Gospels.  Salomé’s mother Herodias bore a grudge against John the Baptist’s denunciation of Herod as unlawfully married but her name is not mentioned and only appears in later re-tellings. The Gospel of Mark recounts [6:21-29]:


On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.


In Wilde’s version of the story, Salomé falls perversely in love with John the Baptist, who rejects her attempted seduction. When offered anything by Herod after her dance, Salomé spitefully demands the head of the prophet on a silver plate. Though familiar with the biblical character, it is certainly the Wilde play to which Beltran referenced with his Salomé as it did the work of Moreau’s pupil Pierre Marcel-Berronneau. Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu[8] performed the title role in the Spanish premier of Wilde’s play in Barcelona, in 1910. In the play, the character Salomé is a princess, and interestingly the painting title Princess Salomé appears in the exhibition catalogue to Beltran’s Los Angeles show.


According to the painter’s wife, Irene, the present painting was Beltran’s favourite of all his works.  For this reason, he rejected all offers to purchase it in his lifetime.[9]




[1] Camille Mauclair, in Sur l’œuvre de Beltran Masses, F. Paillart, Paris, 1924 p. 20. Translation from the French is our own.

[2] Federico Garcia Sanchiz, ‘Federico Beltran Le Divin’ as found in Sur l’œuvre de Beltran Masses, F. Paillart, Paris, 1924 p. 20. Translation our own.

[3] Mariano Alarcon in ‘Artistes Espanols à Paris: Federico Beltran’, La Esfera, Paris, 1922. Translation our own.

[4] Ferdinand Romanet in L’Ame Gauloise, 11 December 1921. Translation our own.

[5] Arsène Alexandre in ‘La vie artistique, exposition Beltran’, in Figaro, Paris, 18 November, 1921. Translation our own.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Federico Beltran Masses – A painter in the court of Hollywood, Edición Museu Diocesà de Barcelona, 2011, p. 236.

[8] A friend of the poet Federico García Lorca, the actress was forced into exile during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship of Spain and died in 1969 in Uruguay.

[9] Maria Victoria Salom in a verbal communication quoted in the Barcelona exhibition catalogue.