Newsroom

Aug. 21, 2008

Meadows Museum acquires portrait miniatures
by Spanish court painter Francisca Meléndez

DALLAS (SMU) -- The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University announced today that it has acquired an important series of 29 ivory miniatures by Francisca Ifigenia Meléndez (1770-1825) representing members of the court and family of King Charles IV of Spain (r. 1788-1808). Meléndez was the official painter of portrait miniatures for the royal court.

Miniatures by Francisca Ifigenia Meléndez (1770 – 1825)

The paintings, in tempera on ivory, range in size from a tiny 3/5 in. x 2/5 in. up to 3-1/2 x 2 in. and are framed in two groupings, accompanied by a letter from Queen María Luisa de Parma’s secretary, dated 1795, placing an order for new miniatures.

The acquisition represents the Meadows Museum’s first works in this genre, and its first paintings by a female artist. (The Meadows collection includes a work attributed to a female sculptor, Luisa Roldán, the late 17th-century St. John the Baptist.) The works were purchased with funds donated by The Meadows Foundation, and will go on permanent display at the Meadows Museum this fall.

Francisca Meléndez was a contemporary of Goya’s and, like her famous counterpart, an official court painter, but while Goya focused on canvas paintings, she specialized in miniatures. The small-format paintings acquired by the Meadows demonstrate her exceptional skill in this genre; she combined official portraiture and the rendering of each sitter’s individual features with assured and refined detail while providing insight into their personalities.

The artist came by her talent naturally, perhaps; her grandfather, Francisco Antonio Meléndez, and father, José Agustín Meléndez, were both respected miniaturists, and her uncle was famed Spanish still-life painter Luis Meléndez. In 1790, when she was 20 years old, Francisca painted a miniature Virgin and Child and presented it to the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, the premier arts academy of Spain. The Academy was so impressed with her work that they named her Académica de Mérito (Academic of Merit), an extremely prestigious honor for a female artist at the time. On the strength of her portrayals of Charles IV and Queen María Luisa de Parma, in 1794 she was made salaried Pintora y Retratista de Cámara (Painter and Portraitist of the Court).

The Meadows acquisition includes miniatures of the king and queen as well as their young son, Prince Fernando, and Manuel Godoy, the powerful prime minister, along with other court figures yet to be identified.

“The addition of these rare, representative works by Francisca Meléndez, member of a prominent dynasty of Spanish artists and painter of portraits of the royal family, is quite significant for us,” said Dr. Mark Roglán, museum director. “The acquisition not only adds to our overall holdings of royal portraiture, but it shows figures from the court of Charles IV who were patrons of other artists in our collection, such as Goya, so provides an important link to a number of 18th-century works on display at the Meadows. It also marks our first example of the genre of miniatures, which played a vital role in court life and royal relations, serving as important mementos, tokens of affection or for formal introductions. More significant still, Francisca Meléndez is the first female painter to be represented in the Meadows collection.”

Two lectures related to the acquisition will be held in the museum auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 9. Dr. Janis Tomlinson, Director of University Museums at the University of Delaware, will present “Painting the Spanish Monarchs: 1789 to 1820” at 6 p.m. and Dr. Maite Alvarez, Project Specialist with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, will discuss “Women Artists in Spain during the 18th Century” at 6:45 p.m. The lectures are free; for more information, call the museum education office at 214.768.4677.

The Meadows Museum houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, with works dating from the 10th to the 21st century. It includes masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest painters: El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Miró and Picasso. Highlights of the collection include Renaissance altarpieces, monumental Baroque canvases, exquisite rococo oil sketches, polychrome wood sculptures, Impressionist landscapes, modernist abstractions, a comprehensive collection of the graphic works of Goya and a select group of sculptures by major 20th-century masters.

The museum is located at 5900 Bishop Blvd. on the SMU campus. Hours are 10 AM to 5 PM on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 AM to 8 PM on Thursday; and 12-5 PM on Sunday. Admission is $8 per person for ages 12 and up; free on Thursdays after 5 PM; and always free for children under 12, museum members, and SMU faculty, staff and students. Ample free public parking is available in the garage under the museum. For more information, please visit the museum’s website at www.meadowsmuseumdallas.org, or call 214.768.2516.

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