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The Discovery of El Greco

The Nationalization of Culture versus the Rise of Modern Art (1860–1914)

Eric Storm lectures European History at Leiden University. His research interests include Spanish history and the construction of national and regional identities in Europe. He is the author of The Culture of Regionalism: Art, Architecture and International Exhibitions in France, Germany and Spain, 1890–1939 (2010) and La perspectiva del progreso: Pensamiento político en la España del cambio de siglo (2001).

Originally published in Dutch and translated to Spanish for the fourth centenary celebration of the death of El Greco in 2014, this book is a comprehensive study of the rediscovery of El Greco – seen as one of the most important events of its kind in art history. The Nationalization of Culture versus the Rise of Modern Art analyzes how changes in artistic taste in the second half of the nineteenth century caused a profound revision of the place of El Greco in the artistic canon. As a result, El Greco was transformed from an extravagant outsider and a secondary painter into the founder of the Spanish School and one of the principle predecessors of modern art, increasingly related to that of the Impressionists – due primarily to the German critic Julius Meier-Graefe’s influential History of Modern Art (1914). This shift in artistic preference has been attributed to the rise of modern art but Eric Storm, a cultural historian, shows that in the case of El Greco nationalist motives were even more important.

This study examines the work of painters, art critics, writers, scholars and philosophers from France, Germany and Spain, and the role of exhibitions, auctions, monuments and commemorations. Paintings and associated anecdotes are discussed, and historical debates such as El Greco’s supposed astigmatism are addressed in a highly readable and engaging style. This book will be of interest to both specialists and the interested art public.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-744-5
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: March 2016
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes




1. An odd outsider
A vague recollection
A new visibility
Becoming acquainted with El Greco
A first historiographer

2. The founder of the Spanish School
The realism of Manet and his peers
Historicism and nationalism
The Velázquez mania of the art historians

3. A national hero
Manuel Bartolomé Cossío
The biography

4. The prophet of beauty
The bohemia of Barcelona
Rusiñol’s road to symbolism
Catalan modernism
El Greco once again
The high priest withdraws

5. Painter of the soul
Ignacio Zuloaga
A new generation in Madrid..
The old guard reacts
Barrès and the secret of Toledo

6. The patriarch of modern art
Collectors and exhibitions
Meier-Graefe’s road to El Greco
The Spanish journey

7. The example of the avant-garde
Allies: Rilke, Tschudi and Nemes
The critics
Der Blaue Reiter and other wild young artists
The reaction of Meier-Graefe
New syntheses

8. Spanish testator
The El Greco House
The nature of the nation
The avant-garde: Picasso

9. A wise realist
A rearguard action
The commemoration of 1914


Illustration credits

Review endorsements from the Dutch and Spanish editions

Eric Storm sets out to explain how the artistic re-discovery of El Greco was not a mere matter of changing taste, but was driven by societal development, what he terms the nationalization of culture. Herewith an extremely relevant book at a time of debate about the definition and value of art.
Tom Verschaffel, Geschiedenis Magazine [History Magazine], Winter 2007

In The Discovery of El Greco, more correctly termed the Re-Discovery, Eric Storm shows how the rise of nationalism and of modern art had an impact on the transformation of artistic taste. Eric Storm has sketched a fascinating picture of cultural and artistic development in Europe in the past two centuries.
De Tijd
[The Time], November 2006

An indispensable book for lovers of this ‘strange’ genius and, paradoxically, so thoroughly Spanish, for all those who want to approach the construction of the Western canon at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. ... Storm addresses that aspect of the humanities that is largely forgotten and, at the same time, so needed: the reception of the [artistic] product of an author.
David Felipe Arranz, El Imparcial [The Impartial], August 2011

Eric Storm accurately describes how in the course of a few years, figures as relevant as Manet, Degas, Cossio, Rusiñol, Kandinsky, Picasso and many others, did justice to an artist ahead of his time. ... It is a very instructive work for those who want to delve into this spectacular artistic event.
Irene Galicia, Arte y parte [Art and Part], Autumn 2011

*  *  *

Professor Storm rightly recognizes that nationalist feelings in Spain, favouring the tradition of realistic as opposed to idealistic art, may have distorted Spanish responses to El Greco in the nineteenth century. His book is an invaluable compendium of changing attitudes to El Greco particularly from the Impressionists onwards, paying due attention to the varying cultural contexts in which the views were expressed, and in the Conclusion, provides a quite admirable overview of Julius Meier-Graefe’s contribution to the rediscovery of and spread of interest in the work of the artist.
Nigel Glendinning, Bulletin of Spanish Studies

The book has many strengths. Foremost is its readability. Storm sets up succinct arguments that move quickly. He also provides enough background to be accessible to both a general public and a more specialized public… Through the focus on El Greco, Storm provides a summary history of some of the various conflicting voices of the art worlds of Spain, Germany, and France during the 1860–1914 period… and by knowing the multiple and strong reactions to El Greco’s oeuvre, it offers art lovers a chance to reencounter the art with fresh eyes.
Maite Barragán in Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

Originally published in Dutch as De ontdekking van El Greco. Aartsvader van de moderne kunst in 2006, this volume examines the rediscovery of El Greco and the role of nationalism and the emergence of modern art in it. It details the work of painters, art critics, writers, scholars, and philosophers in the rediscovery, discussing his reception before 1860, the interest in Spanish painting by the impressionists, how he became a national hero in Spain, views of him as the “painter of the soul” and as a realist, and links and influences on modern art and the avant-garde.

Revealing the broader European context in which El Greco came to be appreciated as the forerunner of modernism, and opening up Spanish art historiography to a broad readership, The Discovery of El Greco is a valuable contribution to the field.
Matthew Rampley, Cultural History (April 2018)

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