At Gymglish, we firmly believe that tying language to a context, whether it be experiential or narrative, is the cornerstone of mastering it.
Learning a language isn’t simply memorizing a list of words or a set of grammar rules. Language is above all a culture, different ways we communicate, see the world, work and live together. This is why each of our lessons ends with an authentic sample of cinema, series, songs and… paintings.
Today, we’ll take a journey through centuries and artistic movements to spotlight Hispanic artists whose works have transcended borders and time.
This list is of course non-exhaustive, as most top 10 lists tend to be. Please share your favorite artist in the comment section below: we will select the most relevant entries for a future article!
Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)
Both for his inventiveness and its political engagement, Spanish painter Francisco de Goya is considered the father of modern art. His passion for art began at the age of 14 when he started an apprenticeship under his mentor José Luzán and copied the works of great masters, namely Rembrandt and Velázquez. Goya’s obvious talent soon became clear to the royal aristocracy of his time; he was made Court Painter in 1786 and reached the peak of his career. His new status helped him join the intellectual circle inspired by the French Lumières movement.
At the age of 47, Goya became completely deaf after suffering from an undiagnosed illness. He distanced himself from public life and undertook a series of dark and religious paintings of which Saturno devorando a un hijo (Saturn Devouring His Son) from his Black Paintings series.
Goya took pride in representing his political views through his paintings: in El pelele (The puppet), he commented on the status of women, often silenced by men. He also cast a critical eye on the Church and attacked the ecclesiastical customs through several canvases, including the controversial La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja). For Goya, art was a way to express his pacifist beliefs: Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War) showcased the horrors of war, while his symbolic paintings Dos de Mayo and Tres de Mayo (1814) are displayed at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Born to a Mexican mother and a German father, Frida Khalo grew up in the “Blue House” in Coyoacán, Mexico. Frida was an excellent student but contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left. Her classmates nicknamed her Frida la coja (Frida peg leg). In 1925, she was involved in a serious bus accident that changed her life forever; her spine and pelvis were so severely injured that she had to undergo more than 30 medical operations during her lifetime.
Following the accident (represented in her self-portrait The Broken Column in 1944), she learned how to paint to ease her pain and kill time. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life – out of the 143 paintings she signed, 55 are self-portraits. These often feature expressions of her personal experience, mostly physical and psychological trauma. Her most famous self-portraits include Henry Ford Hospital (1932), a representation of her pain after her first miscarriage, and Self-Portrait with Monkey (1945). Frida was deeply influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, reflected in her use of bold colors and dramatic symbolism.
Frida was a revolutionary and a politically engaged artist – she made the cause of women’s rights a personal affair in Mexico’s patriarchal society, in which strong inequalities between men and women persist still today.
Did you know? Kahlo’s birth name is Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez.
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
“I am too intelligent to be a good painter”. Catalan painter Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) was one of the most extravagant and versatile Spanish artists of all times. With a career that spanned more than six decades, he was a prominent figure of the surrealism movement and his works are highly symbolic, inspired by childhood fears, dreams and nightmares.
Dalí was described by his peers as eccentric, meticulous, vain and fascinated by Freudian theories. He shaped the History of surrealism as well as modern art. One of his most famous paintings is La persistencia de la memoria (The Persistence of Memory) which he painted in 1931. In this surrealist canvas, Dalí depicts melting clocks to convey the relationship between space and time.
More often than not, his paintings are connected with his political beliefs. Several included representations of Lenin. El Ángelus de Gala (1935), Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Piano (1931) and The Enigma of William Tell (1933) were protests against the threat of communism. The Enigma of William Tell, in which he represented the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution stripped from the waist downwards with enormous bare buttocks, nearly led to his exclusion from the surrealist movement.
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Diego Rivera was an artist, activist and one of the leading figures of Mexican Muralism, known for its monumental works on public buildings and its fusion of Mexican pre-Hispanic heritage and European artistic currents like cubism.
His passion for drawing emerged early in his life: at the age of 10, he enrolled in the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City. His most iconic mural is Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central) which represents Alameda Central (a public park in Mexico City), filled with iconic Mexican characters. The central figure is La Catrina, the symbol of death. Standing next to her is artist Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, and Rivera himself, as a child.
Rivera was an activist and outspoken member of the Mexican communist party. His works often symbolize civil war and revolution; in his canvas Zapata líder agrario, he painted revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata.
He often represented Lenin, Trotski, Marx and even Mussolini and received much criticism and disapproval from the general public – one of his most controversial murals El hombre en el cruce de caminos (1934), was censored and later destroyed.
From 1945 to 1951, Riviera painted a mural on the main staircase of the Palacio Nacional de México in which he represented the multiple conflicts that Mexico had historically endured.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
We end our selection with renowned Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso was a father of cubism, an art movement that uses geometric shapes and superimposes different visual perspectives in order to represent reality.
Although Picasso is a household name across continents, his political views are not as well-known as his artistic accomplishments. He strongly opposed the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, and represented this in his works. In 1936, he created Guernica, a monumental mural of protest against the German bombing of the city of Guernica, in the Basque Country, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It is still considered one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, and a universal symbol for peace. “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.” he once said.
In France, he was often targeted by the press and closely watched by the Gestapo. As a defender of pacifism, he joined the French communist party in 1944. He painted the mural War and Peace in the Vallauris chapel in 1952 and in a companion mural, Dove of Peace. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1951 and 1962.
During his lifetime, Picasso painted some 50,000 artworks, 7,089 drawings and 2,880 sculptures.
Learning a language isn’t simply learning a list of words or a set of rules – language is also culture. In each of our language courses (English lessons, French lessons, Spanish lessons, German lessons, etc.), we include diverse characters and personalities, various accents, professional and personal situations, all with a touch of humor.
Today’s selections are also featured in the “dessert” section of our online Spanish course Hotel Borbollón. Each lesson features an authentic sample of Hispanic culture to finish off your daily lessons. These include excerpts from cinema, series, songs, and more.
- Cinco libros to learn Spanish (and feel muy smug afterwards)
- 5 classic films to learn Spanish
- Five documentaries to improve your Spanish skills
- 6 Spanish tunes that will make you levantar las manos
- 5 free podcasts to improve your Spanish
- Cinco Spanish-language television shows to improve your español
- The importance of culture in language learning
- 5 dumb reasons to learn Spanish
- 5 Spanish profanities to swear in style