Stair Sainty Gallery are proud to present the
first major UK retrospective of the late Cubanborn,
Spanish artist Federico Beltrán-Masses.
The exhibition will include his controversial nude Salome, which was painted in Paris in 1918
and exhibited at the XII Venice Biennale in 1920 in a pavilion dedicated solely to his paintings;
there it earned the artist comparisons to the Venetian Masters. Critic Camille Mauclair waxed
lyrical about the talents of Beltrán-Masses: ‘like Veronese, like Tiepolo, like Tintoretto…this
Spaniard has all the chromatic delight of the Venetian masters…a picture is lyrical drama .’
Notwithstanding its artistic merits, Salome is an undeniably erotic painting and the artist removed
it from an exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1929, when the painting’s overt
sexuality caused outcry. Support from critics and the exhibitions’ patron - the Spanish
Ambassador - enabled its rehanging, and the exhibition went on to attracted more than 17,000
paying visitors. A newspaper article of 1929 described the paintings as ‘The most daring nude
picture ever painted’, and went on to claim that Beltrán-Masses ‘has dared all convention in
painting a naked woman in a pose which no lesser artist could have attempted .’
In 1916 King Alfonso XIII of Spain had attended an exhibition of Beltrán-Masses’s in Madrid
and become an early patron. Reports of Beltrán’s fame reached the United States by 1921, with a
paragraph in American Art News mentioning the success of Beltrán’s first Paris exhibition, and in
1924 he was invited to exhibit at the Wildenstein galleries in New York, which was followed by a
sell-out exhibition in Palm Beach, and a Los Angeles exhibition in 1925.
Beltrán-Masses found favour in Hollywood, and the exhibition at Stair Sainty Gallery includes
portraits of screen legends Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., while the Dream of Don
Juan shows Rudolph Valentino surrounded by clamouring women. Beltran-Masses associated
with some of the most high profile personalities of the Golden Age of Hollywood including;
Charlie Chaplin, newspaper columnist Louella Parsons, actress Merle Oberon, screen legend
Douglas Fairbanks Senior, Gloria Swanson, actress Marion Davies and her lover William
Randolph Hearst (who purchased four paintings by the artist and whose portrait he painted).
Beltrán’s later connections with
French Cinema were cemented by the
inclusion of twelve paintings and
three drawings in the 1934 film, Le
Rosairé, staged by Gaston Ravel
and Tony Lekain.
Whilst Beltrán’s portrait subjects
included Kings and Princes,
Hollywood stars, and leaders of
high society on both sides of the
Atlantic, he was particularly sought
out by women who had
unashamedly rejected convention.
This exhibition includes portraits
of; Mrs Anthony de Rothschild (née
Yvonne Cahen d’Anvers and
mother of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild,
who lent the painting to the
exhibition), who meets the gaze of
the viewer whilst clothed in the
attire of an Egyptian princess;
Aviator and socialite Mme.
Bonnardel Countess Montgomery
whose Chanel dress is in the
Metropolitan Museum, NYC; and
the fashionable Cheongsamwearing
Chinese heiress Mme.
Wellington Koo, who was married
to one of the leading figures in
Chinese politics of the period, and
often graced the pages of Vogue in
the 20s and 30s.
He also painted allegories with eroticised beauties, languorously posed in nocturnal settings
characterised by an aura of mystery. The first such essay, a 1915 portrait of a nude lesbian
Spanish countess wearing nothing but a white mantilla, seated with two, fully clothed, female
companions (Maja Marquesa), was refused by the Jury of the Spanish equivalent of the Salon. An
outcry of support by the press and fellow artists ensued, but Beltrán moved to libertine Paris soon
after, where he lived and worked for the next thirty years. In another erotically charged painting,
the 1929 Granadas, we find Beltrán’s vision of a semi-naked Eve, with a musician under a starry
Andalusian sky. Born in Cuba and raised in Barcelona, the painter’s Spanish heritage would
influence his oeuvre deeply.
His paintings are rich with musical and poetic references as well as dance. The exhibition features
a portrait of the celebrated Ballet Russes dancer Alicia Nikitina (mistress of the 1 st Viscount
Rothermere). Such was Beltrán’s fame that in 1926 Martha Graham titled a dance at her first
public performance in New York Portrait – Beltrán-Masses. He also painted the innovative
Spanish dancer Carmen Tórtola Valencia as the Maja Maldita, a painting widely reproduced at
the time and included in this exhibition.
Like his friend Kees van Dongen, Beltrán captured the escapism that characterised post-First
World War society and the Jazz age; between the two wars Beltrán painted Pope Pius XII, the
Kings Alfonso XIII of Spain, George VI of Great Britain, Humberto II of Italy, George II of
Greece, the Shah of Persia, the Maharaja of Kapurtala, of Indore, Prince George Bibesco,
Princesses Haag of Denmark, Edmond de Polignac, de Mingrelia, Marquise Luisa Casati,
Countess de Casa Maury, de Martegne, Duchesses Sacha Sforza de la Union de Cuba, Countesses
Arlette Schneider, Raymonde Poilove de Saint Perrier, C of Montgomery, Viscount Alain de
Leche, Lady Michelham, Mme. Wellington Koo, Rudolph Valentino, Natacha Rambova, Pola
Negri, Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Gloria Swanson, Marion Davies, William Randolph
Hearst, the Peaugeots, Mme. Anthony de Rothschild, Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Forbes, Lucie Florio,
Lucrezia Bori, Carmen Tortola Valencia, Antonia Merce “La Argentina”, Gloria Laguna, Harry
Morgan and the Princess de Polignac!
Beltrán-Masses was showered with public honours and was a member of the Academies of San
Fernando in Madrid, San Jorge in Barcelona and San Luís in Zaragoza, as well as those of
Lisbon, Cordóba and Málaga, and also a member of the French Institut and Académie des Beaux
Arts in Paris. His paintings can be found in major museum collections including the; Musée de
l’Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou; Reina Sofia in Madrid; Civic Museum in Ciudad Real;
Casa Lis in Salamanca; and the Cuban National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana. The recent
revival of interest and our knowledge of Beltrán-Masses owes much to the care with which his
heirs retained not only the paintings they had inherited but an extensive archive, which includes
many photographs from the 1920s and 1930s as well as exhibition catalogues, reviews and
This exhibition provides an opportunity to reintroduce Federico Beltrán-Masses to the
international market some seventy years after the artist’s last London show. A catalogue raisonné
of the artist is presently in preparation and the gallery worked with the foremost scholar on
Beltrán-Masses for the exhibition catalogue.