The years of the Belle Époque, between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I, were a time of economic growth and social change that favoured portrait painting, a genre that enjoyed a golden era despite the recent invention of photography.
The exhibition “Portraits of the Belle Époque“, showing at CaixaForum until 9 October, takes you back to the years of optimism and good living that also saw major upheavals in the art world.
Up to three different generations of painters portrayed society figures and scenes of the period, using styles that ranged from Realism through to Impressionism and Expressionism. You’ll find works by up to forty different artists in the exhibition.
The portrait genre developed from a static pose to being a symbolic representation, often including the surroundings in which the subject was being portrayed. Types of portrait included group scenes, usually families.
Nobles, the bourgeoisie, writers and also anonymous people feature in the paintings on display in the exhibition, many of which were commissions for the artists, who had the task of trying to convey the subject’s character on canvas.
Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent specialised in painting society portraits, but other artists, whose work is displayed here, such as Joaquim Sorolla, painted the ordinary people around them.
Toulouse-Lautrec in particular was fond of painting anonymous characters from the Paris streets and cabarets, while towards the end of the Belle Époque, paintings by Egon Schiele and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner reflect the widespread feeling of loneliness and despair as the Great War approached.
The exhibition gathers together over seventy works, including pieces by Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Ramon Casas and Hermen Anglada-Camarasa.