The Granada-born artist Concepción Mejía de Salvador was responsible for opening the exhibition of Guests of the Prado Museum, or at least that’s what it seemed. An investigation by the historian Concha Díaz Pascual published on her blog, Sofonisba’s Notebook, has shown that the authorship of the canvas in charge of showing how women have been ignored in art over time actually belongs to a man: Adolfo Sánchez Megías.
This is not the first time that Concha Díaz (1953) has tracked down the authorship of a work, although, as she acknowledges on the other end of the phone in an interview with elDiario.es, she does feel “a bit overwhelmed” by the repercussions you have had this time. The expert studied Art History and always wanted to dedicate herself to it, although she ended up competing for the State administration due to the lack of opportunities. He also studied law, but it was with the arrival of retirement that he really was able to dedicate himself to what he is really passionate about: art.
“Going to museums and archives is something I do frequently and I love it, and now in my retirement it has become my basic activity,” he confesses at the same time that he reveals that he has just received an email from Adolfo Sánchez Megías’ great-grandson , also surprised by a finding that, on the other hand, is usually common in Díaz. Sofonisba Anguissola or Emilia Carmena Monaldi are just two examples of authors who have ended up being responsible for works initially attributed to men, a not unusual trend.
Díaz’s research has been collected on the website of the organization Mujeres en las Artes Visuales, who have prepared a critical manifesto with the exhibition stating that it is “a missed opportunity” to make a deeper reflection “by a diverse team of curators in areas of knowledge, identities and affectivities around the subject to be addressed”. A debate that has been on the table for years by different groups and that now, especially after the discovery of Díaz, acquires a new speaker.
How did your study of the play Family scene? Did you already have information or did it start after seeing the exhibition?
It was after knowing that they were going to put it in the opening in the exhibition, that at the outset I thought it was wrong that they did it even if it was a woman. I saw that they were turning a very specific fact into a general question.
I knew that this painting had come from the Reina Sofía and I began to investigate the works that theoretically came from women in that museum. And it surprised me, because I made a list that did not include this Concepción Mejía and the type of painting in the painting did not suit me too much. I started looking for all the possible Mejías of the time and I didn’t know where to go, but then I found a painter in the Madrid Gazette who in 1985 lost the ticket to pick up his work. Once there you start to pull the thread and everything comes out right away, but this is a little investigation accompanied by luck.
Once discovered, he was even able to check the signature. Was it very complicated?
It was another stroke of luck, because with how shattered the painting is, it is difficult for something of the signature to remain … Also that there is a good historian, Pilar Callado, who at the time did a very complete work on that painter from His town.
And from the Prado, beyond the statement that they have made public, did they call you to notify you of the withdrawal?
Just yesterday afternoon I got a call from Prado communication at the request of the museum director. I spoke with a very kind person who thanked me for the research and for the tone of what I have presented. Well, I did not want to harm the Prado, but I did want to be critical of an exhibition of which I was surprised that until now there were no critical voices about its approach.
When Javier Solana presented it, he said that surely there was going to be a controversy, but a few days had passed and it had not arrived. The media reported what the Prado was saying and that’s it. But it has a very controversial approach and it seemed unfair to the museum itself that it took that painting as a figurehead for the exhibition.
Why does it seem unfair?
I think that this painting as a work does not deserve such great attention, it only deserves it because it has been given that category of emblem in the museum, regardless of whether it was of a man or a woman, it did not seem right to me as an emblem. But it is also that the emblem falls from all sides when it also does not correspond to what it is intended to say.
I also want to say that I loved the rapid response from the Prado. They have not wanted to let the issue continue any longer. I imagine that they have reviewed the data, they have seen that there were indeed no returns on the subject and they have made a rectification as quickly as possible. At first, it seems like a very correct answer.
Why do you think the Prado has not done more research before elevating it to emblem status?
The only clue that the Prado had of its origin was that it came with that name from the Reina Sofía. I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s the case, but the only clue was a very weak one. They could also have wondered why the painting was not inventoried: because it was never acquired. It was left in a warehouse and what is truly extraordinary about this story is how that painting has survived to this day despite its condition.
And what do you think of the sample of Guests? Does it meet your goal?
Instead of bringing it to the topic of women and why there are no more works, they have worked on how men considered them. And that subject is already well studied. I thought that the premise of this exhibition was: ‘Let’s see what we have and why we have it’. One more investigation from the point of view of women as the artist who is or was in those times.
In addition, all the accent has been placed on the consideration of women at a very specific time, because it only occurred in the last five or six years of the 19th century, when the fashion for history painting ended and that of painting began. Social. But that occurs for a very few years, it was not all.
It is not understood how they have not taken advice from an organization that has been working on the issue of women in art for so many years. At least have for that vision, because this is that of a single person. That doesn’t seem bad to me, but it could also have incorporated others and that is conspicuous by its absence. The figurehead of the exhibition has fallen, and with that also the speech.
It is not the first time that the Prado has corrected his works after one of his investigations. How do you present this evidence to the museum?
With some it has taken and it has cost him, but in the end the tests are very forceful. When I communicate it it is because I have a very strong conviction that what I am proposing is something that has no discussion and that it is verifiable.
In fact, many times I make contributions to the archive to say: ‘Hey, you have to put the date of birth of such a painter’. But before ordering, I have gone to the registry, I have seen where he lived and I have checked his date of birth. Whenever I make a contribution to them, I do so with the necessary evidence so that they do not doubt that what I am telling is something perfectly verifiable.