Top 10 Works Of The Collecion Fortabat Posted on 04 Feb 02:58 , 0 comments

Article by Anna Lowe.

Here it is, the third installment of my ‘Top-10’ artworks in BA’s most famous museums.  (See MALBA and Bellas Artes.)  

This time I’m abandoning the non-profit world of art museums in favour of a private collection – that of Amalia Fortabat. Ms. Fortabat was a concrete heiress (the richest woman in Argentina) and a dedicated patron of the arts until her death in 2012. Her private collection was reportedly valued at US$280 million in 1999 and is housed in a huge concrete gallery at the northern end of Puerto Madero. It’s a modern building with two lower floors dedicated to the permanent collection (organised according to provenance and roughly chronologically) and two sun-soaked upper galleries reserved for changing exhibitions. 

1. Warhol , Portrait of Mrs. Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, 1980.


The museum begins with a room dedicated to Fortabat’s family – art by her grand-daughter and portraits of her husband, daughter and grandchildren (painted by Berni with typically huge eyes). As well as these touching tributes, Amalia commissioned a portrait by Andy Warhol. It’s in the common style and frame used by Warhol for portraits of the rich a famous – only a small amount of the shoulders are visible and the sitter looks straight ahead. Here Amalia is shown with earrings, a classic hairstyle, bare shoulders and emphasis on the lipstick – immediate signs of her glamour and wealth. Yet the pink and blue tones make the work slightly surreal. Warhol himself observed “everybody must have a fantasy” and the prominent position of this portrait upon entering the Fortabat Collection is a direct reminder that we are entering the physical manifestation of one woman’s idiosyncratic escapism.

2. Fernando Fader, Among Peach Trees in Blossom, 1915.


This French born, Argentine painter was influenced by the impressionists but, unlike this school, would carefully sketch his paintings rather than purely reflecting a moment. In this work we see an example of his skill at integrating figures and landscape as two lovers are given a natural canopy by the pink peach blossoms. Indeed, this painting is dominated by the pink, almost luminous, blossoms. Many of Fader’s paintings from this later period in Córdoba feature Laurencia Ochoa, the daughter of the prior owners of his property and one of his favorite models. Here she is the girl being courted by a countryman in the orchard of peach trees.

3. Libero Badii, Collage I, 1983.


When is a sculpture not a sculpture? When it’s a drawing, might be an answer – but perhaps not one given by the sketches and designs of Libero Badii (one of the most important sculptors in contemporary Argentinean art). He often used stone and bronze but during the later years of his life began to work with painted wood to evoke pre-Colombian cultures. This eventually led him to delve into painting completely. Collage I depicts clearly defined human figures and faces, but with points and lines (already present in his sculptures) creating tensions within volumes. These two-dimensional, graphic images offer a vision of sculpture that is something other, something more than lines, volume and materials.

4. Carlos Alonso, The Ear, 1972.


Carlos Alonso is a contemporary Argentine painter who lived in exile in Europe during the 1976 coup and ‘disappearance’ of his daughter. Perhaps for this reason his works are often expressionist: he paints the pain and misery of humanity by depicting wounded or sick people. The series of works on display at the Fortabat take contrasting styles but all represent Vincent van Gogh – a painter synonymous with mental illness. In La Oreja (The Ear) we see a textbook-like reproduction of the cutting of van Gogh’s ear on a blood-coloured background. Here, the suffering yet defiant artist stares out to the viewer while smoking a pipe. To the right, a small diagram of the bedroom and ear indicate the site of self-mutilation.

5. Antonio Berni, The Lunch, 1945-1971.

BerniLike many Argentine painters influenced by the country’s difficult history, Antonio Berni focuses on the forgotten, poor sectors of society. The Lunch was admired by Amalia Fortabat during several dinners with Berni himself and she insisted on acquiring it. Here we see a large family at Sunday lunch where the construction is a clear reference to the iconography of the Last Supper in the Italian tradition. Here however, Berni depicts Italian immigrants who arrived in Argentina from the late 19th century onwards and the figures have expressions of introspection rather than the drama of de Vinci’s original ‘Last Supper’. The young boy in the left foreground is Juanito Laguna – a figure who became the archetypal Buenos Aires worker in many of Berni’s later works. Here we see the child’s past established on a countryside farm before he moves to the industrailising city.

6. Emilio Pettoruti, Resistance, 1950.


Emilio Pettoruti spent a decade in Europe and after settling in Argentina in 1924, began work on his harlequin series. The harlequin is an icon reiterated in 20th century painting by artists such as Picasso, Braque and Derain but when Pettoruti first adopted this theme Modernism has not yet been accepted by Argentine critics. The harlequin in ‘Resistance’ is a musician and, like many of Pettoruti’s works, is directly related to tango. Here however, he wears a mask and, along with the title ‘Resistance’, is thought to be dedicated to the French resistance during the German occupation of the Second World War. For Pettoruti, harlequins were a useful for representing the human figure but in an anonymous and generalized form, not as an individual.

7. Pieter Brueghel II, The Census of Bethlehem.


Towards the end of the Fortabat’s collection, a number of high-profile international works are on display. You’ll know which ones are “most important” (or valued highest) because they have big security boxes round them. The first of these is Brueghel II’s ‘Census of Bethlehem’. Pieter Brueghel II is the oldest son of sixteenth-century Netherlandish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He is known for imitating his fathers energetic, bold style but adapting it to the 17th century. He also copied many works directly (for example ‘Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird-trap’ which was reproduced at least 60 times.) Here we have a copy of ‘Census of Bethlehem’, of which there are thought to be 14 in total of varying quality. It is a nativity scene and yet a profoundly democratic portrayal. Mary and Joseph are no larger than the other figures in the painting, nor are they placed center stage: they are people amongst the crowd.  It is a secular portrayal and a reflection of the new ideas about individual and society emerging at the dawn of the Renaissance. The original version of ‘Census of Bethlehem’ was painted in 1566, a time of rebellion against both Spanish rule and the Catholic church. Brugel the Elder’s works are often consciousness of Spanish tyranny and this copy is particularly valuable for the inclusion of many original details. We see a young man tying on his skates at the edge of the pond and, above the tax collectors house, the Hapsburg coat-of-arms as a little dig at the authorities of the time. For these reasons this copy has the character of the great master Brueghel I.

8. J. M. W. Turner, Juliet and Her Nurse, 1836.


One of the fathers of impressionism, Turner is capable of magnificent, expressive works which still feel fresh and innovative today. This initially controversial painting is the jewel in Amalia Fortabat’s Collection and is thought to be worth over US$60 million. It depicts Venice’s main St Mark’s Square with a viewpoint high above the western end. At the centre is the Basilica of San Marco where the red bricks of the tower serve to emphasize the unnaturally white domes. To the right is the upper level of the Doge’s Palace and off further in the distance, fireworks explode alongside Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Yet the painting is called ‘Juliet and Her Nurse’ and shows Juliet unaccountably in Venice rather than Verona with the carnival scene presumably standing in for the Capulet’s ball. For this odd composition, Turner was the subject of much contemporary criticism and the scene was accused of being a ‘strange jumble, streaked blue and pink, and thrown into a flour tub.’  Today, Turner is praised for his free, transcendent skies and atmospheric pyrotechnics. Juliet and her Nurse is a good example of the skill of his brushstrokes and lashings of light and dark. It’s a powerful combination of dynamic perspective and bursts of light. 

9. Marc Chagall, Bouquet de Printemps, c. 1966-67.


Throughout his career, Marc Chagall consistently turned to flower painting not as a rigorous study in still-life but as expressive evocations of fantasy. Chagall is often considered one of the great biographical artists of the 20th century for the way he invests all his works with deeply personal images, from his humble beginnings in Belarus (the rooster, for example), his grand years in Paris, and his blissful marriage during the later years of his life (to which period this painting belongs). In ‘Bouquet de Printemps’ a large bouquet is made up of yellow, blue, white and pink flowers, against a bright blue and violet background. To the right is Paris with its Eiffel tower and a typical bridge. Above, several characters are depicted – a violinist, clarinet player, trapeze artist and a woman balancing on horseback. These are common figures used by Chagall to evoke celebrations and love. In addition to these characters there are a couple of lovers kissing under the moon in the lower left section. The work represents domestic life and happiness and the embracing couple is a reference to Chagall’s wife Valentine Brodsky (Vava) whom he married in 1952. Chagall lived on the Côte d’Azur and sought to capture the splendor and luminosity of this Southern French town by experimenting with bold colors and unstructured compositions.

10. Salvador Dalí, The Caduceus of Mars Nourished by the Ball of Fire of Jupiter, 1974.


Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in the surrealist style. This work is from a series of six ‘La Conquéte du Cosmos II’ (the second Dali series expanding on his mythological universe). Here, the scene unfolds in a wild landscape with a horizon cutting across the middle of the composition. In the distance there are low hills, large rocks and a horseman, all with eerily long shadows. In the foreground, two scaley serpents appear to have bird heads and fish tails. In the scene, they are screaming while being destroyed by Jupiter’s great fire ball. They bleed from the wound that unites them. This drawing is clearly strange and a typical example of Dali’s ability to paint his dreams and bizarre moods with in a precise illusionistic fashion.


Having finished walking around the two lower floors of the Fortabat Collection, you may feel slightly overwhelmed by this seemingly haphazard gathering of art from across continents and periods. If you’re enjoying this experience, you may want to head up to the top floor where as well as contemporary exhibitions, you can view Amalia’s various Egyptian statues and hieroglyphics.


The Fortabat Collection is a great way to pass a couple of hours in downtown Puerto Madero and, if combined with a cheap Costanera choripan and a stroll round the Ecological reserve, it makes a great, slightly eccentric day out.