Jose Manuel Capuletti’s early art reflects his role as set designer for the Jose Greco flamenco troupe. Besides watercolors there are numerous gouache portraits of performers, among whom was his first wife and frequent model, Pilar. As a surrealist, he showed at the André Weil Gallery in Paris and at Hammer in New York. Most of the work posted here is from the Weil period in the 1950s.
He was popular for a time. Arthur Rubinstein owned a surrealist plaza scene. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor had the femme version of Arlequin. Gladys Lloyd Robinson, wife of Edward G., had her portrait done and showed the handsome Spaniard off to Hollywood types. In New York, Ayn Rand became a fan and owned a painting or two. A few European eminentos had portraits done, as did the future king Juan Carlos.
The artist died in his early fifties in 1976, and his popularity faded. At auction today his work sells at nominal prices. A catalogue raisonné was published in 1987 in his home town of Valladolid. A few works shown here didn’t make it into the catalogue. These include La Ven, from the Hammer Gallery in 1983; the kneeling nude of Pilar, which is a smaller, darker version of a late-1960s portrait, and Peintre et Son Modèle Dans un Paysage, which is a variation of Las Tentaciones de Don Diego from 1967.
A problem with overly literal art is that what’s is front of you is pretty much all you get. Sometimes that may be enough. There was a self-portrait at the Hammer Gallery in 1967 that I would like to see again. And a portrait of Pilar in a striped hoodie, emerging from a dark background beside a bird skeleton; I wonder if has the same strength as the nude on this page. A few others. But if you compare these works to Sargent’s suggestive portrait of Rosina Ferrara dancing on a rooftop, the limits of vivid realism become hard to dispute.
Still, I prefer Capuletti to Magritte; warmth to chill. Dali seems little more than a stunt. Capuletti gave intense color to things he loved, especially Pilar.