Las Meninas (In Our Time)
I’m feeling terribly pleased with myself. It’s only the second week of January in a fresh new year, and already I have ticked a new year’s resolution to give more time to my art. For asides from a number of projects started and now pending completion, one new canvas has already left my easel as a finished piece: Las Meninas (In Our Time).
Anyone who is familiar with the great masterpieces of art history will probably recognise the setting of this painting. It is of course based almost exactly on Diego Velázquez’s best-known 1656 work, Las Meninas. And yet this is no copy. Rather it is a statement; a narrative, about what was, and what is. For in my Las Meninas, Velázquez’s room is eerily empty. There is no princess glowing in the light, nor the maids whose assistance to her majesty gives the painting its title. Gone too is the court jester, the dwarf, and the King and Queen in the background. Even Velázquez himself is nowhere to be seen. And it’s not just the figures who are missing: here even the art on the wall is blank and simplified, reduced down to blocks of colour in a room stripped of its majesty. At all that is left behind is a lone object: a ceramic figurine with a price tag, straight out of a souvenir shop.
I was inspired to paint this work back in November when I visited Velázquez’s great work, for the umpteenth time, in Madrid’s Prado Gallery. Two things struck me as I left the gallery: First, how sadly different are the richly executed wonderfully fine art works that fill the Prado from the art which so called “contemporary artists” seem to produce today. Is our time, I wondered, a time that will ever be noteworthy in the future books of art history? And second, I was struck by the degree to which consumerism and commercialisation dominates today’s imagination. The extent to which the demands of mass production and imitation cause a unique masterpiece like Las Meninas to be replicated in every conceivable form, from key rings, magnets, ceramic figures, cuddly figures, to cushions, aprons, tshirts, and mobile phone cases.
So in recreating Las Meninas for our time, my room is emptied of the royal sumptuousness of the past. The figures of history have retreated, and the fine art that adorned the walls is no more. The time of imperial splendour is long forgotten, and all that remains at the room’s centre is the tacky souvenir which commercialises the past; a glossy gift for a present generation so often devoid of the imagination to create unique splendour anew.
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacybrown.com