With the exhibition Mariano Fortuny, the Magician of Venice: collector, artist, designer of haute couture, the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg invites us to discover the multifaceted work of this Spanish creator, born in Granada in 1871 and who died in Venice in 1949.
From Venice to Russia
The rooms of temporary exhibitions at the prestigious Russian Museum shows around 150 objects created or owned by Mariano Fortuny. They are pieces from various museums and private collections, Italian or Russian. The vast majority come from Venice, the city of the Mediterranean canals, which thanks to Fortuny unites for a while with St. Petersburg, the city of the Baltic canals.
In the exhibition, opened to the public until March 13, there is art, costumes, designs, scenographic projects, fabrics, etc… Perhaps the name of the exhibition is incomplete. Although we understand the summary, because it would be very long to enumerate all facets of Fortuny.
He was a painter, printmaker, photographer, stage designer, collector, interior, objects and fashion designer, inventor or entrepreneur. And on each facet, he made personal, peculiar and even revolutionary creations.
The artistic genes of Fortuny
Perhaps with painting he did not stand out much. It may be because it represents the end of an era, being son and grandson of painters. His father was the great Mariano Fortuny i Marsal, who married Cecilia de Madrazo, depository of the artistic genes of a long line of nineteenth-century painters like her father Federico de Madrazo or grandfather José.
Our Fortuny has a difficult task to match his predecessors, besides his father could teach him only a little because he died when he was 3 years old. Despite this, he tried to be a great painter, and soon he participated in exhibitions in Paris, city where he was formed during his childhood and youth.
However, at the age of 18 the family moved to Venice. There he broadened his artistic concerns with his particular engravings or with photography. This emerging art captivated him, reaching up to 12,000 photos; many revealed in the paper that he elaborated.
His first big win
He was also passionate about music (Wagner, preferably), theater and opera. For that reason, he decided to embark himself on scenographic projects, work that he revolutionized.
He invented the so–called Fortuny Dome in 1904. An indirect lighting system allowing unthinkable lighting effects before. A portentous system that was bought by the company AEG and that led to many of the developments in the subsequent stage productions.
The collections of the Fortuny
His father and mother loved the decorative arts and collected countless ceramics, textiles, archaeological objects, etc. Contemplating all of them, our protagonist was formed. Hence, he drew plenty of ideas for future creations, and also he inherited the passion for collecting.
Especially he was drawn to the textile world of varied backgrounds and eras, from ancient Greece to the Japanese silks, from costumes of the Italian Renaissance to the embroideries of North Africa and the Middle East. He shared this passion with his wife Henriette Nigrin, fashion designer. That is, steps were took to become a fashion designer.
Fortuny, the designer
In fact, Fortuny was a total designer. He did not hesitate in working on interior design, and even create objects that still bear his name, as the famous Fortuny lamps inspired by oriental motifs.
However, the popularity was given to him with his fashion designs, especially his Delphos dresses, based on ancient Greek sculptures, such as the Charioteer of Delphi.
These robes had as feature its comfort, its almost minimalist simplicity, and dozens of vertical folds, playing with the shape of the woman, movement and dynamism.
They caused a furore appearing in 1907 and dressed important characters in the artistic panorama of the moment. Among them, the dancer Isadora Duncan or the sensual silent cinema actress Lillian Gish and high society ladies as the patron Peggy Guggenheim or the wife of the publishing magnate Condé Nast.
He was also inventor and entrepreneur
The elegance of his Delphos dresses is so certain, as the talent of his creator and his wife Henriette. Since there are many who think that it was a shared creation.
But apart from the sewing design itself, this type of robes took Fortuny to make a special machine that would allow him make the folds as he wished. He was a real inventor also in textile machinery.
This creative capacity had a commercial purpose, since the marriage designed, made and sold. Something that also led him to design cotton-stamping machines, thanks to which the studied embroidery in his collection of fabrics could be stamped on his clothes, making unique combinations.
Interestingly these machines of the early twentieth century still active in his old textile factory in Venice: the Fortuny workshops. But the family no longer owns the company.
Travel to St. Petersburg or Venice
Those who want to discover the unique work of Mariano Fortuny do not have to hesitate to travel to St. Petersburg to visit the exhibition at the Hermitage. However, for those who cannot travel there before March 13, we also recommend visiting Venice. There look for the Orfei Palace, home and place of creation of the genius, today reconverted in the Fortuny Museum .
And for those who are not going to travel to the Russian or the Italian city but are amazed by the vital and personal trajectory of this character, from Horse we want to recommend them reading one of the best books written about him: Mariano Fortuny. Art, science and design, written by Guillermo de Osma.
Translated by: Raquel Sanchez