José Manuel Capuletti

[Compiled and edited by Louis Torres. Revised, June 2006]

Once ranked by admirers among the principal Spanish painters of the twentieth century, along with Picasso and Dalí, José Manuel Capuletti (1925-1978) was ignored by the critical establishment during his lifetime--though not by discerning collectors, who included Arthur Rubinstein, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Gladys Lloyd Robinson (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson). Prince Juan Carlos, the future king of Spain, was among the notable figures whose portraits he painted. Since his death, Capuletti has been virtually forgotten.

As a painter, Capuletti was largely self-taught, having spent years studying the work of the masters he most admired--among them Velazquez, Carpaccio, and Vermeer. In matters of style, however, he is closer to Dalí, though their sensibilities could not be more different, as a cursory comparison of their work reveals. In contrast with his eccentric compatriot, who so often embraced the irrational, the bizarre, and the grotesque--Capuletti's work consistently projects positive human values, even when he juxtaposes incongruous elements in fantastic or dramatic scenes. A prolific painter, his subjects range from sensuous female nudes, vibrant young lovers, and adolescent girls (one fine example, a solitary figure jumping rope), to flamenco singers and musicians, bullfighters, and introspective self-portraits, not to mention landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes. Early in his career he had designed costumes and stage sets for the company of the renowned flamenco dancer, José Greco (see Notes & Comments, Aristos, June 2006).

In the summer of 1967 I was fortunate enough to visit Capuletti in his Paris studio. Three years later, I had the opportunity to view his work again at a solo exhibition at the Hammer Galleries in New York City and to renew my acquaintance with him.

Though I rely on first-hand knowledge of only a small fraction of his total output, my impression is that Capuletti was not only one of the most daringly imaginative painters of the past century but also, at his best, one of its finest. Any reassessment of the history of art ought to give serious consideration to his work. The indispensable source for scholars, critics, and art lovers is Capuletti: El Pintor y Su Obra, which is cited below. The book has long been out of print. Anyone wishing to purchase a copy should contact me for possible future information on its availability.

Finally, as I plan to add new material to this page on a continued basis, I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knew Capuletti, has information about him, owns his work, or knows of the location of paintings in museums or private collections.

Internet Sources

The following links are to websites containing images of Capuletti's work or information about him. These images illustrate only a small fraction of his total oeuvre, and are not always representative of his best work.

José Manuel Capuletti Lillo del Pozo

(Capuletti's full Spanish name appears above. His father was Juan Antonio Capuletti Raposo. His mother was Juana Lillo; her father was José Lillo del Pozo.)

A small representative sampling of some of Capuletti's best work in differing media is on view on this Spanish-language site (which misstates his death date as 1976). At the top is a photograph of the artist pausing while at work. Pictured below the photograph are the following works (numbers in brackets refer to pages in Capuletti: El Pintor y Su Obra). Paintings: Primae Noctis (1962) [oil on canvas, exhibited Hammer, 1963] [232; 159]; L'enjeu (1966) [oil on canvas, exhibited Hammer, 1966] [207; 160]; Banderillas (sepia aquatint, 1973, from the book Caballo Torero) [457; 170]; Cartel del VII Festival de Cante Jondo de Mairena del Alcor (1969) [more] [248]; and Antonio Mairena (I), gouache [more] [435].

Romeo and Juliet

This is an atypical work in Capuletti's oeuvre, in that the scene is painted as if on a tattered faux parchment affixed to a solid background. Romeo, standing in the left middle ground, facing forward, wears tights and a festive period costume, and strikes a flamboyant dance-like pose, while Juliet, wearing modern dress, sits on a stool in the right foreground with her back to the viewer, reading a newspaper. Both figures are representative of Capuletti's style, and his signature poplar trees dot an otherwise barren plain, with the suggestion of a city delineated on the distant right horizon. The painting may be a whimsically ironic comment on relations between the sexes.

Quent Cordair Fine Art

This gallery includes images of seven works.

The Paper Tiger

Though not linked to below, images of the following paintings from the book remain online (I have added titles, dimensions, and other information):
Group #1
Not Guilty, La Ventana (1968-69, 24 x 19 11/16"), Le Canal (22 1/4 x 16 1/8"), El Camino (36 1/4 x 28 3/4")
Group #2
Row 1: Las Naranjas de Clavinque (36 1/4 x 28 3/4") [included in an exhibition at the Hammer Galleries in New York City, February 16-28, 1970, and illustrated in the exhibition brochure], Le Mur (19 1/8 x 23 3/4"), Las Tres Cobijadas de Vejer (15 x 23"); Row 2: [Girl Jumping Rope], Los Enamorades de Central Park (Central Park Lovers)--to the right is a statue of Shakespeare [1870], by John Quincy Adams Ward, located at the south end of the Mall in Central Park, New York City), Le Dernier Voeu (The Last Vow, 19 1/4 x 16 3/8");
Group #3
#293: Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) (1957); #108 [to be added]; #118: Desnudo (pastel, 1955); #136: [to be added]
Nudes
#230: Desnudo (36 1/4 x 28 3/4", owned by philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand at one time); #234 [to be added]; #237: The Last Hour of Lady Godiva (1965-66, 40 1/8 x 30 7/8"); #245: El Camino de La Puebla (1974); #190: Les Souvenirs de la Mer (21 x 17 7/8")
Flamencos (b&w)
Row 1: [to be added], Niña de los Peines (12 5/8 x 9 "), Bernarda de Utrera (12 5/8 x 9 "), [to be added]; Row 2: [titles to be added]
Self-Portraits
#199: Self-Portrait (1965); #202: Retrato del Artista (1968-69, 24 x 19 11/16"); #203 [to be added]
American Football
#250: American Football (1967, Y. A. Tittle, New York Giants); #251: Unitas to Berry (1967, Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Baltimore Colts)
Photographs of Capuletti
#171: [no information]; #29: shortly after his arrival in Paris; #43: in his studio during the filming of ""Capuletti, el Pintor," Paris 1954; #4: in his studio at Mairena del Alcor in 1967; #63: in the Pasaje de Gutierrez, Valladolid, Spain, May 1961; #81: with Iris, his second wife.

ArtNet

Femme à la Fenêtre [Woman with the window]: oil on canvas (1953), 46 x 27 cm., New York, collection Arthur Rubinstein,

Annotated Bibliography

Brasas Egido, José Carlos. Capuletti: El Pintor y Su Obra. Valladolid, Spain: Cahorros Valladolid, 1987.

The author is Professor of Art History at the University of Salamanca.

------. Capuletti y el Flamenco. Seville, Spain: Junta de Andalucia, 1993.

Capuletti, José Manuel, and Angel Peralta. Caballo Torero.

Described as "a complete exposition of the art of horsemanship in relation to bullfighting," this book was published in a limited edition of 150 copies. A long-time friend of Capuletti's, Peralta--who by then had had more than thirty years of experience in the bullring "with his exquisitely trained Andalusian mounts"--was also a poet, and wrote the text. Consisting of twenty chapters, the book includes sixteen monocolor aquatints (illustrated in the brochure), numbered and signed by both men. A special suite on paper consists of fifteen original aquatints in color, each signed by Capuletti. The book, presented in a leather box, was exhibited at the Hastings Gallery / Spanish Institute, 684 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y., 6 June - 13 September 1975.

Lo Duca. Capuletti. [no further information]

O'Brian, Jack. "The Voice of Broadway" (syndicated column). The Star-Ledger (Newark, N. J.), 5 March 1970.

Item on Capuletti refers to him as "Spain's finest young artist," and reports: "Spanish esthetes tell us only Picasso (88) and Dalí (66) properly can claim Ibernian [sic] superiority." Alludes to an exhibition at the Hammer Galleries in New York City.

------. "Voice of Broadway" (syndicated column). Asbury Park Press (N. J.), 9 November 1971.

Repeats prior comparison with Picasso and Dalí, and reports that "Capuletti . . . won the great royal plum--selected to paint the official portrait of Juan Carlos, to be Spain's King after Franco steps down." Refers to a forthcoming exhibition at the Hammer Galleries in 1972.

Rand, Ayn. "Capuletti." The Objectivist, December 1966.

Rand's brief appreciation of the painter, on the occasion of an exhibition at the Hammer Galleries, November 15-26 that year. She wrote, in part: "The first impact of his work . . . is a sense of enormous clarity. It is as if the air were washed clean and things stood out self-assertively, demanding recognition, in an intensely heightened reality. By discarding the irrelevant, by reducing things to a few superlatively chosen and stressed essentials, he make them more brightly real than they are in 'real life' and much more eloquent."

Catalogs

"Catalogue de quelques oeuvres de Capuletti: À l'Occasion de sa deuxième exposition à New York." [No date or location cited]

This catalog includes eighty-seven small reproductions (all but one in black and white) of paintings apparently completed between 1952 and 1960 (only a few of the titles bear dates, but the reproductions seem to be arranged in chronological order). I have framed a composite of all the images from this catalog, ranged in nineteen rows of twelve to sixteen reproductions each, so that all can be viewed at once. The overall impression is arresting, suggestive of Capuletti's protean creative force.

Film

"Capuletti, el Pintor," Paris 1956.

Exhibitions

[Information on one-man and group shows between 1946 and 1970 is forthcoming.]


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