2014 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541–1614). To commemorate this event, the Legion of Honor presents a special installation of its three works by the artist. Displayed together for the first time in over a decade are the artist’s Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix (ca. 1595), Saint John the Baptist (ca. 1600), and Saint Peter (ca. 1605–1610). The painting of Saint Francis is of particular importance to San Francisco: its gift to the Fine Arts Museums by the Kress Foundation in 1961 was intended to honor the city named for this saint.
El Greco was born in Crete, where he trained as a painter. By 1568 he was living in Venice, and in 1570 he traveled to Rome and studied the work of Raphael and Michelangelo. Despite his respect for these masters, El Greco preferred the richer colors and freer paint handling of Venetian artists, such as Titian and Tintoretto. Unable to secure commissions in Rome, El Greco left Italy in 1576 for Toledo, Spain, where he remained until his death. There he created paintings for local religious institutions, as well as privately commissioned portraits. His work increasingly evoked visionary experiences, encompassing lurid colors, energetic and elongated forms, and eccentric spatial constructions. Later, these stylistic elements influenced the development of modernist painting, as seen, for example, in the work of such varied artists as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock.
This installation at the Legion is supplemented by a selection of drawings by the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), from the Museums’ Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Like El Greco, Ribera was an expatriate artist. After training in Spain, he moved to Naples, Italy, where he lived and worked until his death. Although Ribera was acknowledged as a prolific draftsman during his lifetime, only about 100 of his drawings survive. The Achenbach collection is fortunate to hold eight of them.
El Greco, Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix, ca. 1595. Oil on canvas. FAMSF, gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 61.44.24.
El Greco, Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1600. Oil on canvas. FAMSF, museum purchase, funds from various donors, 46.7
El Greco, Saint Peter, ca. 1605–1610. Oil on canvas. FAMSF, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1940.46