Genaro Pérez Villaamil. Speaking Back to Stereotypes

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Much research has been dedicated to the so-called ‘discovery of Spain’ by 19th-century foreign travellers and the formation of the Romantic image of Spain as a quintessentially exotic culture, excluded from modern developments. Foreign visitors typically searched for Murillo, Velázquez, etc. but turned a blind eye to modern Spanish artists. Partly as a result of this neglect, Spanish art between Goya and Picasso is largely omitted from the art-historical canon. The purpose of this paper is twofold: It shifts attention away from the perspective of foreign artists-travellers to that of Spanish artists. How did they represent the landscapes, monuments and people of their own country? More broadly, it will open up discussion about the challenges of inserting 19th-century Spanish art into mainstream Art History today. It takes as a case study the Galician topographer Genaro Pérez Villaamil and his interactions with his Scottish counterpart David Roberts. Although Villaamil was a major figure in Spanish Romanticism who catered to the tastes of Spanish and foreign patrons, he is not well known outside Spain. A recent English-language publication merely mentions him as an artist who made a ‘fortune’ out of ‘plagiarizing’ Roberts. Such a reductive assessment ignores the shifts that are at work when one artist appropriates the work of another; it is also revealing of the persistence of 19th-century Anglo-centric attitudes towards art produced in Europe’s ‘peripheries’. How then did Villaamil cope with his own paradoxical position: on the one hand, he was part of a culture exposed to an exoticising gaze by foreigners, who typically regarded contemporary Spanish culture (including artists), as backward; on the other, he subjected parts of his own culture to an exoticising gaze. What tactics/strategies did he use to attract audiences? To what extent did his own work serve as a means of ‘speaking back’ to clichés of oriental Spanishness, asserting instead a strong Christian identity for his country, and even drawing attention to modern urban developments?

Period20 Jun 2019
Held atDurham University - Zurbarán Centre for Spanish and Latin American Art, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Romanticm
  • art and travel
  • Spain
  • stereotypes
  • Anglo-Spanish cultural relations