La Maja Marquesa (1915). Federico Beltrán-Masses.
Oil on canvas. Private Collection.
“Despite the extensive coverage given the painting upon its first exhibition, this triple portrait remains something of an enigma, the Maja Marquesa was well known in Spanish high-society for her distinguished ancestry, but equally well for her scandalous lesbian lifestyle. In allowing his nude Marquise, not simply a hired model, to be identified, Beltrán-Masses took a considerable risk. He broke yet another convention of the day by presenting her nude alongside clothed companions, as Manet had in Dejeuner sur l’Herbe more than thirty years earlier. However, it was the presentation of a recognised figure from high society wearing nothing but a mantilla – a headdress usually worn only on special occasions with the traditional dress - that caused particular outrage among the conservative members of the Comité. Nonetheless, only three of the critics writing in support of Beltrán in 1915 identified the sitter; the majority praised the painting on its merits as a work of art and condemned those who had opposed its exhibition as presiding over ‘a kingdom of mediocrity.’ When King Alfonso XIII and his elderly mother attended Beltrán’s exhibition in Madrid the following year at the Palace Hotel, the sovereign’s approval further demonstrated the foolishness of the Comité members.” (x)