Postcard from Malaga, Spain: Femmes fatales dominate the walls

“Woman with Pistol,” Julio Ramiro de Torres, 1923

The alluring, perplexing and dangerous attraction of women was in the spotlight this past summer in two exhibitions at the Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga: “Perversity: Femmes Fatales in Modern Art, 1880-1950” and “Modern and Seductive: Women in the ABC Collection” (1900-1936).

The notes for both exhibitions are thoughtful, so will rely on them. On “Perversity:”

From the eternal feminine to the new woman, this exhibition surveys more than half a century of images featuring women in a period… when their representation in art underwent a paradigm shift as a reflection of the social situation of the time. The exclusively male and misogynist viewpoint came up against women’s questioning of their own identity.

Women went from being passive, sexualized subjects to champions of emancipation and freedom. The perverse fin-de-siècle femmes fatales, icons of a destructive sexuality, gave way to modern women whose perversity lay in their opposition to the established order and their demands of their own, which rocked the foundations of a historically patriarchal society in the throes of transforming revolution.

And on “Modern and Seductive,” illustrators:

…depicted women who were elegant and sophisticated but had vampire wings, and showed them in what were traditionally considered masculine settings. Being modern meant achieving freedom in a world dominated by men, but also using a dangerous beauty to subvert the established canons….

The magazine Blanco y Negro was a pioneer in introducing modern femininity in full color. Founded in 1891 by Torcuato Luca de Tena, it became a lifestyle manual that nobody… could afford to miss if they wanted to keep abreast of the latest trends….

Artists and illustrators did not hesitate to shun the “eternal feminine” and seek inspiration from the femme fatale – a beguiling temptress who ensnares with her charms and subjugates with her gaze….

They all drew the dreams and desires of women determined to break the moulds of their time.

The images below were snapped of works of art from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as these two temporary exhibitions.

There were probably some snide snickers when these exhibitions opened at the Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga.

Few articles ever written about Maria del Carmen Rosario Soledad Cervera y Fernandez de la Guerra, Dowager Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon et Imperfalva, fail to mention Carmen Cervera’s 1961 title of “Miss Spain” before referring to her as the fifth and final wife of the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002), her third husband. And there, I just did it as well.

(As a further gossipy aside, Tita was also the fifth wife of her first husband, who was perhaps better known in the United States. After Lex Barker succeeded Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, a New York Times film critic described him as “a younger more streamlined apeman with a personable grin and a torso guaranteed to make any lion cringe.” But his films were panned as “stale peanuts at the same old jungle stand.” He was 54 when he left Tita a widow in 1973.)

And, while the Baron’s children might regard Tita Cervera as a femme fatale, the dowager baroness has moved well beyond her beauty pageant title in her importance in the world of art. Particularly in what she has meant for Spain.

Between art he inherited and that he added, Baron Heini possessed one of the greatest personal art collections in the world. He had so many paintings, he had no place to hang them all. This despite owning numerous expansive abodes in several countries.

The baron personally was courted by President Mitterand of France, the Getty Foundation in California and Prince Charles and Prime Minister Thatcher of England, all touting their respective countries as the best for his collection. Baroness Tita had his ear though. She lobbied for her homeland and won, despite efforts by the Swiss government to prevent the relocation from their palace in Lugano.

Spain donated the Villahermosa Palace near the Prado to house it and paid the Baron somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 million to permanently purchase 775 pieces of his collection for what is called the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. The museum opened in 1994.

Prior to his death, Baron Heini helped his wife successfully break a trust fund so she would inherit a significant share of his wealth. This allowed Baroness Tita to continue her passion as a collector of significant art. While some of her growing collection is on loan to the Madrid museum, she yearned for a home bearing more of her stamp. And Malaga was agressively striving to further cement its position as an important center for art in Europe.

Malaga restored and adapted a 16th-century residential palace, Palacio de Villalon, to house some of the Dowager Baroness Tita’s collection. The Museo Carmen Thyssen opened in 2011.

Biannual roundup of an ad-free blog


This blogger has blogged so prolifically she has used up all the free space WordPress has to offer. This is good news for you because ads will no longer pop up at the bottom of posts, but it was bad news for me because I actually have to pay a small amount to engage in this form of therapy. I’m not complaining though, because I have never understood how WordPress can afford to offer this service at no charge. I’m grateful for enjoying a free ride for several years.

This list represents the most-read posts during the past 12 months, and interest in the Alamo and its plaza rose to the top once again. But thanks for continuing to give me the freedom to wander around the globe and send postcards back to San Antonio as well.

The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Don’t Let Battle Zealots Overrun the Crockett Block, 2016
  2. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  3. Take pleasure in little unauthorized treasures along the River Walk before they vanish, 2015 (7)
  4. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (3)
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (5)
  6. Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago, 2016
  7. Playspace of Yanaguana Garden bursts into bloom October 2, 2015 (8)
  8. Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Flavorful food memories, 2015
  9. Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: An unlikely trio of favorite restaurants, 2015
  10. Reviving Dia de los Muertos, 2015
  11. Postcard from Sintra, Portugal: Masonic mysteries surface at Quinta da Regaleira, 2014
  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Settling into La Biznaga, 2016

Thanks for dropping by every once in a while. Love hearing your feedback.



Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Parting shots from ‘los jubilados’

To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.

Charles Baudelaire in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

Saw a tweet the other day and wish I’d saved it. Asked to define her career goals in a job interview, a woman responded: “I want to use ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ as verbs.”

Not sure that proved a job-scoring answer, but I loved it. Because one of the best aspects of getting older is the freedom to wander. No one holds you to two or three weeks a year any longer. Slow travel.

We used to ponder whether our goal should be to become boulevardiers or flaneurs when we “grew up.”

Okay, time for a confession. We have failed.

Both words seem more than a tad decadent for our traveling lifestyle. We don’t stay in hoity-toity hotels. We stay in small apartments. Breakfast is not spent in cafes, but in our home-away-from-home.

As the Mister says, we are not really vacationing as much as temporarily switching zipcodes. According to the Mister’s Fitbit, instead of occupying seats in trendy spots, we traversed about 50 miles of sidewalks a week in Madrid. We only ordered a cocktail seated at a bar once. Instead of late-night barhopping and tapa-feasting with the Madrilenos, we settled in for a light salad or homemade vegetable soup en casa.

Hardly deserving of the title boulevardiers or flaneurs, we admit.

On the other hand, the word “retirees” does not have a nice ring to it. The English word sounds so exhausted and past tense.

After all, the Mister is still a bluesman, and I’m still writing. The tools of our chosen avocations – guitar and computer – accompany us everywhere. But we use those on our own schedules and because they are our passions. In Madrid, sundown generally found us at home, nestled in our basement quarters contentedly plucking on guitar strings and pecking on computer keys.

A month spent wandering in Madrid, and we are leaning toward a more optimistic-sounding Spanish term for those who no longer are hemmed in by or defined by work.

So here are some random, parting shots from los jubilados.

Hope you don’t mind switching continents, but the next slightly postdated postcards will be “mailed” from a zipcode in Puebla, Mexico.