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Romantic Spain. David Roberts and Genaro Pérez Villaamil

Romantic SpainExhibition at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid

8 October 2021 - 16 January 2022

Organised by the Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica (CEEH), the Instituto Ceán Bermúdez with the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid.

Curated by Claudia Hopkins, Durham University.

The Scottish landscape painter David Roberts (1796-1864) and the Galician artist Genaro Pérez Villaamil (1807-1854) were giants in the topographical art of the Romantic era. Between them they generated several hundred views of landscapes and monuments in Spain- fortresses, castles, cathedrals, convents, palaces… - often with a flavour of local traditional life. Fully versed in the aesthetic conventions of the Picturesque and the Sublime, Roberts and Villaamil created a Romantic image of Spain in the nineteenth century, one that still colours perceptions of the country today.

This exhibition offers new perspectives on the artistic dialogue between Roberts and Villaamil in the context of the cultural discovery of Spain, North Africa and the Near East by artist-travellers in the Romantic era. Bringing together over 100 artworks and adopting a comparative approach, the exhibition starts with their encounter in Seville 1833 and follows their parallel trajectories until the 1850s. It reveals many similarities in style and techniques but it also uncovers vital differences in their imaginative responses to the people and places of Spain.

Roberts, a Presbyterian Scot, presented Spain as a timeless exotic nation, largely basing his vision on Andalusia. Villaamil shared Roberts' fascination with southern Spain, but he also shifted attention to central and northern parts of Spain, projecting a patriotic view of the country as a Catholic nation, which ultimately embraced progress and modernity. Roberts's work was a catalyst for Villaamil, but it also provided him with a style that could be mobilised to defy the stereotypes promoted by foreign artists.

If the Peninsular War and Romantic literature had secured Spain a place in the Western imagination in the early nineteenth century, the proliferation of illustrated travelogues with views of monuments and landscapes gave Spain a visual identity and turned it into a new tourist destination. Both Roberts and Villaamil were involved in ambitious publishing projects which played a significant part in this process. The exhibition therefore includes a wide selection of lithographs and engravings from their works, revealing how they popularised their artistic visions of Spain.

The exhibition features over 100 works from Spanish and British private and public collections, such as the National Galleries of Scotland, Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Leeds Art Gallery, the Prado Museum, the Patrimonio Nacional, and others. Many works have never been exhibited in Spain before, among them Roberts' magnificent views of Seville Cathedral, painted in Seville in 1833, which are on loan from Downside Abbey, UK.


Romantic Spain: David Roberts and Genaro Pérez Villaamil, Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica (CEEH), Madrid, 2021.

Authors: Claudia Hopkins with contributions by Antonio Gámiz Gordo, Antonio Jesús García Ortega, Andrew Ginger, Celia Jiménez Bellido, Briony Llewellyn, Matilde Mateo, Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, Luis Ruiz Padrón, Carlos Sánchez, Danielle Smith, Martin P. Sorowka.