Past: March 25 → July 13, 2015

Born in Seville in 1599, Velázquez is one of the most important figures in the history of art, all styles and periods together. The leader of the Spanish school, official artist to King Philip IV at a time when Spain dominated the world, he was a contemporary of van Dyck, Bernini and Zuberan, although his art gave him a timelessness that is rivalled only by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

Trained at an early age by Francisco Pacheco, an influential painter and scholar in the Andalusian capital, he soon won recognition for his art. Encouraged by his master, by then also his father-in-law, he decided to try his luck at court in Madrid. After a first unsuccessful attempt, he was finally appointed painter to the king in 1623, the start of his social ascension which led him to the highest offices in the palace and brought him very close to the sovereign. His career was marked by two decisive trips to Italy, in about 1630 and then 1650, and by the birth and death of successive heirs to the throne. He was a masterly portraitist, renovating and liberating the genre, but was also skilled in landscape and history painting and, in his youth, genre scenes and still lifes.

Although he is still one of the world’s most famous and admired artists, no monographic exhibition in France has ever shown the public the genius of the man that Manet called the “painters’ painter”. The rarity of his paintings (scarcely more than a hundred) and their legitimate concentration in the Prado Museum (Madrid) make it particularly difficult to organise a full retrospective. However that is the challenge taken up by the Louvre and the Grand Palais who have joined forces with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with the generous support of the Prado. Some outstanding loans have thus been obtained such as Vulcan’s Forge (Prado) and Joseph’s Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob (Escorial), along with abstract masterpieces such as Venus at her Mirror (London, National Gallery) or the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj) — so dear to Francis Bacon — two universal icons of art history.

La toilette de venus grand palais velazquez peinture nu medium
Velázquez, La toilette de Vénus 1647-1651, 0 Huile sur toile — 123 × 177 cm © The National Gallery

The exhibition seeks to present a full panorama of the work of Diego Velázquez from his beginnings in Seville to his last years and the influence that his art had on his contemporaries. It also explores the main questions raised in recent years, showing newly discovered works — sometimes for the first time — (The Education of the Virgin [New Haven, Yale Art Gallery]; Portrait of the Inquisitor Sebastian de Huerta [private collection]).

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The artist

  • Velázquez