The Banco Santander Collection of works by José Gutiérrez Solana (Madrid, 1886-1945) covers the most fruitful period of his artistic life, between the 1920s and his exhibition at the gallery Gazette des Beaux-Arts in Paris, held in 1938.
The twelve paintings in this exhibition make up Solana’s most characteristic iconographic motifs, creating his personal universe: everyday people, carnival scenes or depictions of bullfights, among others. The same occurs with hallmarks of his style and artistic production, which are based on drama and create a pessimistic view of reality and the human condition. By putting the accent on sordid aspects, the tragic and the macabre, Solana accepts fatalist realism as his defining aesthetic category.
As pointed out by María José Salazar, curator of the exhibition, we can always catch a glimpse of Solana the writer in pieces painted by Solana the artist. The literary load of his paintings, are a result of both his writings and his contemporaries, most notably Ramón Gómez de la Serna. The artist transforms the texts into graphic translations about folk tales and customs.
The collection of Solana’s works -acquired since the Sixties by Banco Santander- begins chronologically with Chulos y chulas (1906), a repertoire of heads and faces which he later describes in his book Madrid. Escenas y costumbres (1913), in the chapter entitled Baile de chulos en las Ventas. The painting La peinadora barata (1918) includes some of the most common motifs by Solana, such as mannequins and the mirror. Group portraits are prominent among his work; in them he displays a wide range of features, as seen in El Lechuga y su cuadrilla (1915/1917-1932) while provoking especially asphyxiating atmospheres, like in La vuelta del indiano (c.1924).
The theme of death is always explicitly or implicitly present in all of Solana’s paintings, like in El desolladero o patio de caballos (c.1924), El bibliófilo (c.1933) o El arrastre (c. 1936), pieces whose palette is dominated by colours like black, red or blue and a darkened white.
Solana revives themes present in traditional Spanish painting, such as the carnival, in Máscaras con burro (c.1932), the baroque iconography of vanitas in El espejo de la muerte (c. 1929) or renaissance interpretations about the triumph of death and sin in El triunfo de la muerte (1932). In this way, Solana’s work becomes an artistic prolongation of Spain's 98 and the manifestation of romantic fatum, the fatal destiny which conditions society and Spanish culture
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