In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

At the PradoAdrian West

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Vol. 40 No. 4 · 22 February 2018
At the Prado

Mariano Fortuny y Marsal

Adrian West

Few painters​ have seen their reputations rise and fall as dramatically as Mariano Fortuny y Marsal. In his lifetime he was considered a master throughout Europe. Gautier ranked his etchings with those of Goya and Rembrandt; for Huysmans, his harmonisation of dissonant colours was an ‘artistic miracle’. Fortuny’s association with a not quite reputable bourgeoisie and lower nobility, and above all with the American industrialists who were among his most enthusiastic patrons, primed him for ignominy, and then obscurity. Less than ten years after his death in 1874, at the age of 36, one Spanish critic was already reviling him as ‘the author of our painting’s decadence’. Fortuny’s work is now little remembered outside his native Spain, and is missing from most major surveys of European art. His entry in the Historical Dictionary of the Catalans consists of only three lines: he ‘produced paintings on Oriental themes’.

A detail from ‘The Spanish Wedding’ (1870)

A detail from ‘The Spanish Wedding’ (1870)

Fortuny has languished in the shadow of his far more famous son, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, who designed sets for Wagner and costumes for Orson Welles, and whose classic Delphos gown, Proust wrote, had the ability to detach the wearer ‘from the current of everyday life like a scene in a novel’. The Moorish arches and Arabs in djellabas of Fortuny senior were outdated by the turn of the century. He had fallen victim to a variant of Gresham’s Law: his most famous works were imitated and forged, printed on fans, re-enacted in tableaux vivants, and his name became synonymous with the kitsch that profited from it. In Italy, he was confused and then dismissed with his lesser imitators. Yet, as the current exhibition at the Prado (until 18 March) demonstrates, Fortuny was a watercolourist of genius, a meticulous draughtsman and engraver, and a peculiar kind of Impressionist whose combination of ornate detail and painterly ambiguity, of exoticism and l’art pompier, reveals amazing technical virtuosity.

The earliest works on display are a series of nudes in pencil, charcoal and crayon executed in Rome, where Fortuny arrived in 1858 after winning a scholarship to study the old masters. Nude Child with a Flute shows Fortuny’s confident handling of transitions from shadow to light; in its muscular heft, Study for a Crucifix recalls baroque depictions of Samson. The drawings have a neoclassical smoothness and anatomical rigour, but also expressive details. One of the attractions of these pieces is their exquisite depiction of hair, particularly in two sketches of the same curly-headed model standing next to a copy of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Flayed Man. The lightness of touch and dappled, varied surfaces point not only to the sumptuous tapestries and garments that would be a constant in Fortuny’s work from 1861’s Odalisque onwards, but are also an early sign of his idiosyncratic blending of the lucid with the vague.

In 1860, Fortuny sailed to Africa to document the feats of the Spanish army in the brief Hispano-Moroccan War. What interested him most about the military campaign was the opportunity for spectacle and the play of light on armour and fabric; otherwise he preferred wandering the streets, documenting scenes of everyday life. He dabbed away for years at his commission, the monumental Battle of Tétouan, leaving it unfinished when he died. Its absence from the Prado is one of the few shortcomings of an otherwise great selection. Something of its dynamism is suggested by Battle of Wad-Ras (1861), which follows the same format (around four times wider than it is tall) and attempts to capture the chaotic panorama of the battlefield, with various separate skirmishes rising to a central climax of flags and smoke. A diagonal of dark cloud appears to be moving in from behind the mountain on the left of the scene, while the right is full of sunlight and the pastel hues of the river and untrampled fields. The result is ungainly, despite the charm of some of the figures, such as the dying Moor in the lower right corner, who is seen from behind, propped up on his elbows.

Spanish portrayals of the Muslim world often diverged from their French and German counterparts, as Edward Said explained in his preface to the Spanish edition of Orientalism; partly because of the relative friability of Spain’s imperial ambitions and partly because of the deep interpenetration of Iberian and Muslim cultures. The lurid and fantastical are both on display in Fortuny’s Moroccan-inspired works – there is a tribunal, a grisly execution, and a stunning fantasia or lab el-baroud, a ritual display of horsemanship and gunpowder, which shows ecstatic riders leaping as they fire their weapons into the ground. The filigree on the muskets and scabbards, the white smoke and orange flashes against the brighter white of the bystanders’ costumes, and the inscrutable figures on the outer edges of the crowd, are painted with scholarly attention, as well as with an eye to the marvellous and strange.

Pecuniary concerns were rarely far from Fortuny’s mind. As a student in Barcelona he hand-coloured photographs and sketched designs for jewellers; in Rome he sold drawings and gave art lessons to exiled Spanish nobles. In 1866 he met Adolphe Goupil, founder of Goupil et Cie, one of the biggest art dealerships in the world. Goupil bought a number of his paintings and prints and put him under contract, making a virtue of his reluctance to exhibit at fairs and salons: under his patronage, the name ‘Fortuny’ became a mark of exclusivity.

Fortuny’s most famous painting in his lifetime was The Spanish Wedding, which Goupil exhibited to great acclaim in April 1870 and sold for the almost unprecedented sum of 70,000 francs. There is little doubt it was calculated to serve a market hungry for lush period scenes, but it’s still captivating. Fortuny painstakingly observed the effect of light on different materials, after months of studies in pencil and ink – he even modelled some of the elements in wax or metalised wood (the exhibition includes artefacts and antiques from his studio). With an eye for odd detail, or the bricoleur’s passion for miscellany, Fortuny has included a sinister, hooded penitent among the wedding party, begging for alms for souls in purgatory; a cantankerous figure in a bicorne hat and spectacles, looking like a fugitive from Goya’s black paintings; and in the foreground to the left, an envelope sealed with red wax, which casts a fragile shadow on the mauve floor. There is a striking contrast between the detail of the brazier and the almost complete abstraction of certain fabrics. In the arrangement of his figures, which are often small, Fortuny seems to take inspiration from Watteau’s fêtes galantes: various little comedies are playing out, but they aren’t allowed to detract from the romance of the overall image. The architecture of his scenes is always mathematically precise, but his surfaces delight in squiggles and flourishes made by working in the wet paint.

Fortuny later regretted reining in some of the extravagances of The Spanish Wedding to make it more appealing to the public, and in a letter of 1872 confessed: ‘I do what I can to forget it.’ His preference for bright sunlight would take him back to Morocco; to Granada, where he hoped to resettle permanently; and to Portici in southern Italy, where he may have caught the malaria that would later kill him. In hotter climates he experimented with paintings in bolder blues and earth tones. The best of these, Beach at Portici, remains at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, but Street in Granatello and Seascape at Portici give a hint of the new direction Fortuny took in his final months.

Fortuny was an early Japonist, a fervent admirer of Hokusai, and his last pieces attempt to fuse the flat, asymmetrical compositions of ukiyo-e with his vibrant palette. In The Painter’s Children in the Japanese Room, he alternates between scrupulous modelling in the bent legs and fanning arm of his daughter, and abstraction in the blotches of fabric and the doll dropped on the floor. Flesh emerges enigmatically against the decorative surface. Especially enchanting are the butterfly-laden branches painted on the wall: in tracing them, the poet Pere Gimferrer wrote, ‘the spectator’s eye strays into the blue of the depths, so tenuous it dies into a subtler green, and into the dissolution of all colour.’

In his letters, Van Gogh touches on the ambivalence Fortuny provoked and still provokes, the sense that his delicacy – what some might call his mawkishness – makes him something less than a proper artist. Van Gogh complains of the Italian ‘watercolour manufacturers’, among whom he numbers Fortuny, as ‘birds with only one note in their song’. To his brother, Theo, who worked at Goupil et Cie, he denounces Fortuny’s ‘raillery’. But a month later, on returning from Paris, where he saw the engraving An Arab Mourning over the Body of His Friend, he writes, ‘I deeply regretted saying to you not long ago I didn’t find Fortuny beautiful,’ and praises the ‘seriousness’ of his work.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.