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Tantalus (Tantalo)
Plate 9 from: Los Caprichos
etching with burnished aquatint, drypoint and engraving, on laid paper, a very good impression from the First Edition, published by the artist, Madrid, 1799, the highlights on the woman’s breast and left leg contrasting with the pale tone of her dress, apparent only in early impressions, framed
Plate: 818 x 578 in. (206 x 149 mm.)
Sheet: 1134 x 8 in. (298 x 203 mm.)
Presumably Manuel Fernández Durán y Pando, Marqués de Perales del Río (1818-1886), Madrid.
Don Pedro Fernández-Durán (1846-1930), Madrid; with his stamp (Lugt 747b); presumably by descent from the above.
Don Tomas de la Maza y Saavedra (1896-1975); gift from the above.
With Herman Shickman Fine Arts, New York.
With Stuart Denenberg, Los Angeles.
Private American Collection; acquired from the above.
Delteil 46; Harris 44
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Lot Essay

‘The 80 scenes in Los Caprichos are interrelated through several themes, leading to the frequent reiteration of their subject matter. This is the case, for instance, with aspects of society denounced by the leaders of the Enlightenment, such as marriage for money, which they linked to sexual abuse. Several prints allude to the idea of unequal marriage between a woman in her youthful prime and a repugnant old man. In such marriages, the man´s desires took precedence over the wishes of the woman. The victim of imposed circumstances, she was compelled to have relations with a man incapable of satisfying her due to his age. The ninth plate shows precisely the consequences of unsatisfied desire.
A young woman lies lifeless across the leg of a desperate man, before a pyramidal structure whose purpose is clearly funereal. Nevertheless, (contemporary) texts supply…interpretive possibilities that suggest the image is a metaphor for female desire. It is desire that is dead, for it had never been alive in the relationship between the two. The man´s face is that of a companion who is too old for the woman whose body evokes the temptation of the flesh with her full breasts, uncovered leg and the diaphanous material of her dress, which draws attention to the attractive outline of her figure. The commentary in the Prado´s manuscript focuses on the defects of the man, who is unable to provoke desire in the woman: Were he a little more handsome and less annoying, she would revive’, while the manuscript in the Biblioteca Nacional highlights the inequality and the man´s inability to satisfy his own sexual desires: A good woman alongside an old man who cannot satisfy her has fallen in a swoon, and it is like one who is dying of thirst, who is next to water but cannot bring it to his lips.’ Tantalus is the personification of unsatisfied temptation. He stole the nectar and ambrosia from the table of Zeus during a meal to which he had been invited, he revealed to humanity the secrets of the gods, and he sought to trick the latter by serving them a banquet of the flesh of his own son. As punishment, he was tortured by Zeus with the impossibility of ever satiating his hunger and thirst. He was condemned to the underworld to stand for eternity in a pool of water which receded when he bent to drink from it, beneath a fruit tree whose laden branches would lift beyond his grasp when he tried to reach for them. Like Tantalus, the old man in the ninth Capricho cannot satisfy his sensual desires; the woman is the unattainable water and fruit, the frustrated temptation, the death of desire.’

Blas Benito, J., Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 213.

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