Hispanic Society of America: Visions of Spain on the Upper West Side
It’s a gem of a place, way up in Washington Heights on West 155th street and Broadway, an area that is largely Dominican these days. Part of a grand 19th-century complex now shared with a local college, the first clue to its existence is the statue of El Cid in the courtyard (not by a Spaniard, but by American artist Anna Hyatt Huntington).
Its name is somewhat misleading to modern ears: the Hispanic Society is dedicated to Iberian art, although it does have some pieces from Latin America in its collection.
The Society was founded in 1904 by Hispanophile collector Archer Milton Huntington and boasts some 800 paintings, 6,000 watercolours and drawings, 15,000 prints and 176,000 photographs – plus a collection of, um, door knockers. Its reference library is available to the public and contains 600,000 books, manuscripts and letters from the 10th century to the present day – a Spanish scholar’s dream.
Some highlights from the collection:
- Goya’s Portrait of the Duchess of Alba (1797)
- A trio of Velazquez paintings (including the menina-style Portrait of a Little Girl)
- Works from all the usual suspects: Zurburan, Murillo, El Greco, de Ribera
- Roman mosaics excavated in Spain
- A remarkably modern-looking sculpture of the young Saint Acisclus from the 17th-century
- Tons of ceramics from Manises, Spain (a place for which I have a soft spot, as I used to teach there)
- An entire room dedicated to Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida’s 14 giant canvases, the Provinces of Spain (1911-1919)
These last are a real highlight – a truly stunning display of scenes from early 20th-century Spanish life in a soft, impressionist style. Sorolla’s ‘visions of Spain’ depict cultural scenes from the country’s provinces: ‘bread day’ in Castille, newlyweds with oranges in Valencia, penitents and bullfighters in Seville.
The scenes are pastoral, rustic, joyful, impossibly exotic and probably quite idealised – but they deliver a knock-out blow all the same. The paintings were commissioned by Archer Milton Huntington for the Hispanic Society itself and the room containing them recently had a makeover courtesy of Bancaja (who says bankers are good for nothing?).
If you’re a fan of Spanish art and eccentric museums, the Hispanic Society is for you – worth the trek to the upper reaches of Manhattan. It’s also free, publishes books and stages regular events. Give generously.