Pierre Gonnord

Galería Juana de Aizpuru/Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

Historically, Spanish portraiture—first in painting and more recently in photography—has put forth a sentimental and stereotyped view of poverty. From Murillo to Zuloaga, this tendency has long been present. There is, however, another Spanish tradition, more deeply marked by naturalism; Andalusia has always been one of the centers of this style of art. This is clear in the early work of Velázquez, when he worked in Seville, painting precisely detailed faces and objects. The direct, nonfalsifying gaze that characterizes these works is maintained in the court portraits he painted later in Madrid. But Velázquez is not an isolated example—Seville also produced Herrera el Viejo, Zurbarán, and many others.

The French photographer Pierre Gonnord has lived in Madrid for fourteen years, and he intends his own portraits to be understood in connection with the art of Seville’s Baroque. Thus, he recently had nearly simultaneous exhibitions in Madrid and Seville. The latter show (curated by María de Corral) featured his portraits of beggars—appropriately enough at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, which, after the Prado, houses Spain’s second-largest collection of Baroque portrait paintings. Twenty-two of Gonnord’s photographs, taken in Madrid, Paris, and Japan, were hung among paintings created four centuries ago. At Madrid’s Galería Juana de Aizpuru, he showed a broader selection of portraits, some made in Paris and others among the gypsy population of Seville. All of these portraits focus on the face, which lends them a timelessness that connects them to their pictorial antecedents.

Gonnord’s portraits are usually close-ups, though sometimes a piece of clothing or a certain posture stands out, and the images reveal facial details; the subjects tend to have rather serious expressions. These portraits are like landscapes of the face, each part of which speaks, if indirectly, of a history: blindness, still-fresh bloody wounds, a child’s chipped tooth, an array of scars. With a few exceptions—such as the birds on a string held by a child (Ahmon, 2006)—the photographer focuses on the expressiveness of faces.

The dignity of the subjects serves to bind the works together. Even when disfigured or beaten, these people show no sign of wretchedness, and Gonnord does not condescend to them; they are portrayed with respect, just as Velázquez painted his jesters. The photographs are larger than life-size, creating an initial sense of strangeness, but what lingers in the memory is a feeling of closeness and understanding.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.