Exhibition In The Prado Museum Sparks Misogyny Controversy

Prado Museum’s first post-lockdown exhibition “Uninvited Guests” faces criticism for the way it explores the role of women in Spanish art

Oct 19, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Left: Phalaena, Carlos Verger Fioretti, 1920, via Prado Museum. Right: Pride, Baldomero Gili y Roig, c. 1908, via Prado Museum

The Prado Museum in Madrid faces serious criticism for its “Uninvited Guests exhibition”. Academics and museum experts accuse the museum of not including enough artworks by female artists and adopting a misogynistic viewpoint.

This is not the first time the exhibition receives negative publicity. Last week, the institution announced the withdrawal of a misattributed painting that belonged to a male, instead of a female, painter.

This is the museum’s first temporary exhibition after its reopening on June 6. The show will be available until March 14 at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

Prado’s “Uninvited Guests”

Phalaena, Carlos Verger Fioretti, 1920, via Prado Museum

The exhibition titled “Uninvited Guests: Episodes on Women, ideology and the visual arts in Spain (1833-1931)” deals with an admittedly interesting topic. It examines the way power structures disseminated the role of women in society through the visual arts.

The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first explores the role of the State in promoting certain female images that conform to its middle-class ideal. The second investigates the professional lives of women, especially in the arts. This second part presents works by women artists from Romanticism to various avant-garde movements of the time.

The show is further divided into 17 sections such as “the patriarchal mould”, “reconstructing the traditional woman”, “mothers under judgment”, and “nudes”.

According to the Prado’s director, Miguel Falomir:

“one of the most interesting aspects of this exhibition lies precisely in the fact that it is directed towards official art of the time rather than the periphery. Some of these works may be surprising to our modern sensibility but not for their eccentricity or doom-laden aura, rather for being an expression of an already outmoded time and society.”

Highlights of the exhibition include a self-portrait by Maria Roësset, the dazzling gaze of the woman in “Phalaena” by Carlos Verger Fioretti, and many others.

Especially thought-provoking is the story of Aurelia Navarro’s “Female Nude” which drew inspiration from Velázquez’sRokeby Venus”. Navarro won an award at the national exhibition of 1908 for this work. However, the pressure from her family circle forced the artist to abandon painting and enter a convent.

The Misattributed Painting

Soldier’s departure, Adolfo Sánchez Megías, nd, via Prado Museum

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On October 14, the Prado announced the removal of one of the 134 paintings in the exhibition. The announcement was the result of Concha Díaz Pascual’s research which proved that the painting was actually called “The Soldier’s Departure” instead of “Family scene”. The real creator of the work was Adolfo Sanchez Mejia and not the female artist Mejia de Salvador.

The work depicted three women engaged in housework observing a man bidding farewell to a boy. Before its withdrawal, the painting played an important role in the exhibition. It could be found in a room of its own “to highlight the historical marginalization of female artists”.

Prado And The Misogyny Controversy

Pride, Baldomero Gili y Roig, c. 1908, via Prado Museum

“Uninvited Guests” is proving more controversial than expected as scholars and museum professionals accuse the Prado of misogynism.

In an interview at the Guardian, the art historian Rocío de la Villa calls the exhibition a “missed opportunity”. She also believes that it adopts “a misogynistic point of view and still projects the misogyny of the century”. For her, things should be different: “It should have been about recovering and rediscovering female artists and giving them their due.”

De la Villa has sent an open letter to the Spanish Culture Ministry alongside seven other female experts. For them, the Prado has failed to uphold its role as a “bastion of the symbolic values of a democratic and equal society”.

Many also point out the fact that, although the exhibition is meant to celebrate women, it features more paintings by male artists. In fact, out of the 134 works, only 60 belong to female painters.

According to Carlos Navarro – the curator of the exhibition – this criticism is unjust. Navarro defended the exhibition saying that the paintings are there to provide contextual information. He also added that this is not a standalone exhibition for female artists.

For Navarro, the biggest problem for female artists in the 19th century was their objectification within a patriarchal state. He also stated that: “contemporary criticism doesn’t get that because it can’t contextualize the process of a historical exhibition”.

Author Image

By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA). Antonis is a senior staff member at TheCollector, managing the Archaeology and Ancient History department. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.