A recumbent maja as a subject choice marks a turning point in Beltrán-Masses’ young career. Secure in her beauty, and with a confident gaze that challenges as well as engages the viewer, the identity of the sitter remains in question; the figure bears some resemblance to the artist’s wife, Irene, also a painter at this time.
Beltrán moved away with La Mirabella from his work’s focus on the everyday world of Catalonian rural life. La Mirabella joins the long-standing artistic tradition of nudes exemplified by the Maja desnuda by Beltrán’s countryman Francisco Goya and Titian’s, two centuries earlier. Beltrán’s Mirabella, like Goya’s maja, wears a knowing smile and poses casually, if invitingly; both are the picture of self-possession and on display - the archetypal Venus.
Beltrán also pays conscious tribute to Manet, whose Olympia, like Mirabella, wears shoes to remind us that she is a contemporary figure unashamed of her erotic appeal. Both figures personify the seductress disrobed not only of her clothing but of irrelevant mythological attributes. Manet’s Olympia neither smiles nor flirts with the viewer; there is no pretence that she is the artist’s lover. Mirabella’s faint smile, however, suggests otherwise. Beltrán’s title, La Mirabella, loosely means ‘the beautiful view’. However, she is no mere object, she gazes upon the viewer as he or she gazes upon her. The young woman’s languorous pose is one of intimacy and exchange.
Beltrán’s ‘grand statement of a nude’ was described in a 1915 book published to defend the painter from his conservative critics as ‘Upon a tapestry, which covers an aristocratic divan, reposes, in sweet and sensual ecstasy, an undressed woman. Slippered golden feet and the silkiness of the nudity are the most enchanting expression of elegance and grace.’