art

Antonio López prompted to complete royal portrait he started 17 years ago

At National Heritage's request, realist painter moves to palace to finish canvas

Antonio López's studio in 2011 with the royal portrait on display. The image is from the book Antonio López, pintura y escultura. / EL PAÍS

With luck, Antonio López's long-delayed, much-anticipated portrait of the Spanish royal family should at long last soon see the light of day.

At the request of Spain's National Heritage - a public body that manages objects and buildings with a high historical or artistic value - the renowned Spanish realist painter has moved to the Royal Palace in Madrid in order to finish the large-format canvas, which was commissioned 17 years ago but subsequently abandoned.

Over the years López has made numerous changes to the work, which depicts King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofía, Prince Felipe and Princesses Elena and Cristina. Now the 3.40-meter-wide by three-meter-high painting sits in the palace in a room next to the royal chapel, where it was moved from the painter's studio in the Chamartín neighborhood of the city a few days ago.

López had asked for it to be moved there three years ago, citing family reasons. But now he will be working on it within the palace itself, according to an announcement made by National Heritage president José Rodríguez Spiteri on Tuesday.

López's 300,000-euro payment for the work was completed 10 years ago

"Antonio López will have a room available to him in the palace with light from the north as Francisco de Goya himself wanted," he said.

"I trust that we are now in the final stages of the painting. It is a very good work and he needs to block out distractions to be able to finish it."

López himself confirmed the news. "I have already taken the painting to the Royal Palace in order to finish it there, and I have also moved the materials, photographs and everything I need to continue," the painter said.

So is this the final push? "Yes, of course," said the artist, who said he would resume work on the canvas this week.

Asked as to why the painting had taken so long to finish, López replied: "I didn't know how to do it before. I think I didn't have the ability to solve it prior to now."

Might the place chosen for the canvas to hang - the National Heritage boardroom - have had an influence on getting past the hold-up? "Really, the chosen place doesn't much worry me. What I want is to finish the painting well," he said.

The artist stated that he had not made that many modifications to the work: "Some, yes, above all those relating to the distances between the figures."

Over the years, the queen's attire has changed from a vanilla-colored suit to another design, while the distance between her and the prince has been modified on several occasions. At the suggestion that the repainted parts might end up being visible, López replied with a smile. "Hey, let's hope not."

The 77-year-old artist was giving no clues as to how long it might be before the work is complete. "The date doesn't worry me much, either. I hope it turns out well, that is what worries me most. They are treating me very graciously at National Heritage..."

López said that his payment for the work - bordering on 43 million pesetas, or around 300,000 euros today - had been completed 10 years ago.

"When I finish it, I will not be paid any more for the painting." López explained.

Given the length of time involved, would National Heritage have considered legal action against the painter? Spiteri says that would not have been right. "That would be out of place; relations with Antonio López are personal and good, they always have been so and will go on being so. He was a friend of my uncle, the painter Pablo Palazuelo, and I went with Antonio López to visit him at his house in Galapagar. On the other hand, I went to the Madrid studio every two months and López told me how things were going.

"The painting has to be finished now, before the end of the year. It cannot become a story without an end," Spiteri continued.

"But I am optimistic in this respect. I am sure that one day I won't have to let visitors in to the Royal Palace and have to say to them, 'Here you have this portrait of the royal family, unfinished by the painter Antonio López'."

 

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