Murillo: Picturing the Prodigal Son
During the 1660s, Sevillian artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682) set out to paint the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). Many artists tackling this subject focus on the story’s conclusion—that is, the prodigal son’s return from squandering his inheritance to be welcomed by his father’s forgiveness rather than his wrath. Murillo’s depiction, however, draws out the drama into a narrative cycle of six large canvases. Indeed, Murillo’s paintings represent the first time a Spanish artist painted the story in serial form.
Murillo skillfully embellished the narrative, conveying the story’s themes of virtue and vice, regret and forgiveness, through the figures’ dramatic gestures and facial expressions. Each composition is at once singular and dynamic despite its preservation of narrative continuity. It is therefore all the more remarkable that the series has remained intact, the only by Murillo to be so, despite changing hands many times since its creation during one of the artist’s more prolific decades. Since 1987, the paintings have been in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.
In 2022, all six canvases will travel to the United States for the first time to be featured at the Meadows Museum, their only venue in this country. Marking the Meadows’s first collaboration with the National Gallery of Ireland, Picturing the Prodigal Son was inspired by the recent conservation work and the extensive technical analysis of the canvases carried out in Dublin, which has highlighted the beauty of Murillo’s technique and revealed new insights into his working method at a critical point in his career. The exhibition therefore marks a rare opportunity for American audiences to view an important painting series by Murillo in its entirety, just as it was created to be seen. As the largest repository of paintings by Murillo in the United States, the Meadows Museum is the ideal venue to exclusively present Murillo: Picturing the Prodigal Son.
Loans of two additional paintings by Murillo—The Return of the Prodigal Son (1667/1670) from the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, on view for the first time since its recent conservation, and The Prodigal Son Among the Swine (1656–65) from The Hispanic Society of America, New York—will allow visitors to view the entirety of Murillo’s finished paintings on the subject. Sixteen engravings and etchings on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as books from The Hispanic Society and SMU’s Bridwell Library, will provide a comprehensive presentation of the artist’s contemporary source material on the topic of the prodigal son. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog featuring entries by Meadows Museum Interim Director and Curator Amanda W. Dotseth, the exhibition’s curator, and essays by Jessica A. Boon, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Aoife Brady, National Gallery Ireland; Peter Cherry, Trinity University, Dublin; Muirne Lydon, National Gallery Ireland; and Pauline Swords, Russborough House, Ireland.
This exhibition has been organized by the Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas, in association with the National Gallery of Ireland and is funded by a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation. Promotional support has been provided by the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District.