The Brooklyn Museum has acquired a Neoclassical portrait by Puerto Rican painter José Campeche, which has never before been published or publicly exhibited.
Campeche painted Doña María de los Dolores Gutiérrez del Mazo y Pérez in the island's capital of San Juan about 1796 to commemorate Doña María's marriage to Don Benito Pérez, a lieutenant in the Spanish royal navy. The painting had remained with the subject’s descendants until October 2012.
Doña María de los Dolores was born in 1775 in Spain, and at age 15, came to San Juan with her mother and stepfather, a newly appointed sergeant major in the Puerto Rican division of the Spanish navy.
When she was 21, she sat for Campeche, the island's first major painter, who portrayed her at home wearing a white muslin chemise dress – the height of European fashion at the time, according to the museum – and matching diamond earrings and necklace. In her left hand Doña María is holding a copy of the popular Spanish play, Manuel Bellosartes's La fuerza del amor conyugal, and with her right she gestures toward two folded letters that identify her and her husband, who at the time was stationed in the Puerto Rican port city of Ponce. The museum says that two years later, at 23, Doña María would die while giving birth to the couple's only child, a daughter.
Throughout the colonial era, Spaniards crossed the Atlantic in search of fabled fortunes in the New World – and in the late eighteenth century, Campeche, the island's official religious and portrait painter, made a living for himself capturing this newfound wealth in his subjects.
Campeche's portrait of Doña María, will be showcased in “Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898,” and will be on view September 20, 2013, through January 12, 2014.