A dog, a donut and a child in blue are hallmarks of the latest masterwork to join the collections of SMU’s Meadows Museum.
The Museum has acquired the painting María Teresa del Castillo (1767-70), a portrait of a child by Francisco Bayeu y Subías (1734-1795), one of the most important and widely admired Spanish painters of the period.
Part of the aristocratic Villagonzalo collection since at least the 19th century and rarely seen on public display, the painting is in extraordinary condition – with an unlined canvas on its original stretcher – and required little conservation.
The portrait is of such high quality that for many years it was attributed to Bayeu’s mentor, court painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779); a recent examination of the piece led to both the identification of the girl depicted and reattribution of the painting to Bayeu.
The painting is an important addition to the Meadows Museum’s collection, which has very few such examples of child portraiture. Its acquisition is supported by a gift from Barbara McKenzie, a longtime docent and member of the Meadows Museum Advisory Council, and her husband, Mike.
“Stunningly beautiful in its painterly details, and delightful in depicting the subject with a pastry and a pet, this is an exceptional portrait by this court painter,” said Mark Roglán, the Linda P. and William A. Custard Director of the Meadows Museum. “The painting is also an important addition to our collection of 18th-century works, greatly complementing our Goya holdings, as well as other artists of the Ancien Régime. We are grateful to Barbara and Mike McKenzie for their generosity; their support ensures that we remain one of the greatest collections of Spanish art in the world.”
“The details in this painting are exquisite, reflecting Bayeu’s tremendous skill,” said Nicole Atzbach, curator at the Meadows Museum. “For example, María Teresa del Castillo wears a robe à la française, characterized by a funnel-shaped or conical bodice that then becomes voluminous rectangular skirts conceived in a deep blue silk…. [The] dress also features a square-cut neckline which, when worn by adult women, would provide ample space to display strands of pearls or a velvet bow.
“In this case, Bayeu has jettisoned such adult adornments and instead outfitted his young subject with more age-appropriate trappings, including a glazed rosquilla (a donut-shaped pastry) in her left hand and a small dog tucked securely under her right arm. The combination of the sophisticated fashion and the child-friendly touches make this painting both beautiful and charming.”
Francisco Bayeu was one of the most gifted portrait artists of the period, known in particular for his accurate depictions of his subjects. However, because María Teresa del Castillo was not on public view for more than eight decades, only recently could additional research be conducted on its attribution.
The title of painting has also undergone a change in light of its reattribution. When on view in the 1925 exhibition at the Sociedad Española de Amigos del Arte in Madrid, and in 1929 at the Museo Nacional del Prado, the portrait was known simply as The Girl with the Rosquilla. As part of his study of the painting, Dr. Ansón Navarro discovered an inscription on the canvas’ stretcher, which also dates to the second half of the 18th century. The inscription reads “Exma. Sra Da MaTeresa del Castillo,” or “Excelentísima Señora Doña María Teresa del Castillo.” Her name has now become the title of the work.