Sir David Salomons (d. 1873), London, by 1867;
to his nephew, Sir David Lionel Salomons (d.1925), London and Broomhill, Tunbridge Wells;
inherited most likely by his daughter, Mrs. Vera Bryce of Tunbridge Wells;
sale Christie’s, London, May 21, 1943, no. 1;
Mitchell Galleries, Ltd., London;
B. Welch, Charlwood Park, Horley, Surrey;
sale Christie’s, London, November 27, 1953, no. 5;
Hallsborough Gallery; M. Newman Ltd.;
Oscar Herner, Galerías Iturbide, Mexico City, mid-1950s;
Enrique Solórzano Sanz, Mexico;
by family descent until 2019
The Exhibition of The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1865, no. 304.
Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1867, no. 11 of the British section.
“The Royal Academy: Scenes Domestic and Subjects Miscellaneous,” The Art Journal, London, June 1, 1865, p. 170.
“Fine Arts: Royal Academy,” The Athenaeum, May 6, 1865, p. 627.
H. Gautier, Les Curiosités de l’Exposition Universelle de 1867, Paris, 1867, p. 153.
Octave Lacroix, “Les Beaux-Arts de l’Angleterre,” L’Exposition universelle de 1867 illustrée, Paris, 1867, pp. 263- 264.
Paul Mantz, “Les Beaux-Arts à l’Exposition Universelle,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 23, September 1867, p. 213.
“Works of John Bangold Burgess, A.R.A,” The Art Journal, London, 1880, vol. XIX, pp. 298-99, ill..
J. Weeks, “John Bagnold Burgess,” Magazine of Art, London, vol. 5, 1882, pp. 134-35.
Ernest Chesneau, La Peinture Anglaise, Paris, 1882, p. 278.
English ed. trans. by L. N. Etherington, The English School of Painting, London, 1885, p. 277.
Wilfrid Meynell (ed.), The Modern School of Art, London, 1886-88, vol. 2, p. 59.
A. Chester, “John Bagnold Burgess,” Windsor Magazine, no. 26, November 1907, p. 626.
Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1909, vol. XXII, p. 334.
R. Treble (ed.), Great Victorian Pictures: Their Paths to Fame, exhib. cat., City Art Museum, Leeds, 1978, p. 94 (as “untraced”).
Gerald M. Ackerman, Les Orientalistes de l’École Britannique, Paris, 1991, p. 316.
John Bagnold Burgess (fig. 1a-b) was born into a family of artists in Chelsea, London. His great grandfather had been the teacher of Gainsborough, and John Bagnold’s father, H. W. Burgess, landscape painter to William IV, was probably his own first teacher before he entered the Royal Academy as a student in 1849. Among his fellow students was Edwin Long and with him Burgess visited Spain for the first time in 1858. He had already displayed a penchant for painting portraits and genre scenes, but in Spain he discovered his true subject. It was noted that Burgess, rather than just attracted by the colorful aspects of Spanish life, chose to often depict its harsher aspects, painting “the rough, ragged, dirty, sheep-skin-clad, patched-up peasantry, gypsies, and contrabandistas.” Over the next thirty years he frequently travelled to Spain, especially Seville, often living with local peasants to better absorb the local atmosphere.
His first Spanish work exhibited at the Royal Academy was Castilian Alms Givingin 1859, and it was generally well received. Then in 1865 he sent for exhibition the boldly titled and painted Bravo Toro! TheArt Journalwrote, “The Spanish bull fight has supplied J. B. Burgess with a subject out of which he has made a capital picture. ‘Bravo, Toro!’ exclaim the spectators, some in surprise, some in terror, and others in cool indifference. Each varying phase of expression is portrayed with graphic power. The composition is the result of calculating thought, and must be accepted as a great success.” The Athanaeumprovided an even more positive appreciation and detailed description:
The work is full of expression, and in its way, capitally painted. There is an old fellow, who in the middle of the group, stands up in his eagerness and points to the act of the bull, as if he thoroughly felt with him. There is also a smoke-dried little old man, whose glee is quite as great of the last, although it is not as strongly expressed. Quite in front a handsome girl draws her breath, and stares at the thing which has been done; and her lover, a smart fellow, takes the cigar from his lips in order that he may turn and smile on the beauty beside him. What the thing is that has been done we may guess by the old woman’s action, who sitting a little behind these, throws back her head and wrings her hands together; she has, it may be, lost a son at just that moment. Nearby, a man shouts encouragement to the bull or the victim. Above is a row of ladies – the weak and vulgar part ofthe picture, showing where Mr. Burgess’s power halts, -- who find a fiercer, but less coarse, delight in the catastrophe… Although not without vulgarity of manner, and in need of refinement of color…this is within its proper limits a very good picture.
The 1865 Annual Exhibition was the first one at which a red star was placed on the frames of the paintings which were sold. The purchaser of this painting was a noted individual, Sir David Salomons (1797-1873), a Jewish stockbroker, banker, and magistrate (fig. 2), who was first elected to Parliament in 1851, but had to withdraw as he refused to recite the Christian oath. But in 1855, after having been both a sheriff and alderman of London, he became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of the city. He continued to campaign vigorously for Jewish rights, and was finally admitted to Parliament in 1859. Sir Salomons lent this painting and others from his collection to the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he was identified as “Alderman Salomons.” In 1869 he was made a baronet, and at his death, his title, estate of Broomhill near Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, which he had acquired in 1829 and most of his possessions passed to his nephew, Sir David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925), a devotee of electricity, automobiles (fig. 3), and watches. However, the painting is not listed in the 1893 catalogue of his London collection, and so was probably sold off by his daughter and after sales in London eventually found its way to Mexico.
At the Exposition Universelle the painting was well received. Paul Mantz in the Gazette des Beaux-Artspraised the work’s “realism” and wrote “that the physiognomies had a well accentuated character.” And Octave Lacroix in his extended description of paintings on view at the exhibition, related how he enjoyed stopping before this ardent and exciting painting to study the people of Andalusia who are gay, laughing, talkative, enthusiastic and expansive without any of that rigorous puritanism of the inhabitants of the Thames.” But some years later in 1882 the French art critic Ernest Chesneau used Burgess’s painting as the vehicle for a chauvinistic rant, complaining that “English pictures pay too great importance to facial expression.” He went on in this negative vein: “The painting Bravo Toro!,as a study may be remarkable, but as a picture it is horrible….Look at that group of persons standing apart in a Spanish bull ring; how savagely they yell and roll their eyes! Leaving the object of all this wild uproar to the spectator’s imagination, the artist, Mr. Burgess, who is nevertheless decidedly talented, has thrown all his skill into representing a collection of inflamed countenances hideously distorted by bloodthirsty excitement.”
Despite this rather unflattering account, one wonders if the presentation of Burgess’s painting did not help further, or at least parallel, the French fascination with Spanish bullfighting scenes. In the mid- 1860s. Both Manet and Gérôme (figs. 4a-c) devoted paintings to the subject, and a decade later the anecdotal masters Jehan George Vibert and Aimé Nicolas Morot did their own quite similar depictions of the corrida crowd (figs. 4d-f), although without the close up expressiveness of Burgess.
By 1865 when Burgess painted Bravo Toro!,there was already an established tradition of Spanish subjects in England primarily due to the Scottish artist John Phillip (1817-1867), who had first visited Spain in 1851 and was known as “Spanish Phillip.” Works by him, full of colorful details and crowds (fig. 5a), even won the approval of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. And at the very Royal Academy exhibition of 1865 where the still relatively unknown Burgess showed Bravo Toro!,Phillip’s impressive The Early Career of Murillo(fig. 5b) received much more attention.
Only rarely did Burgess again attempt such complex subject matter. In general he tended to depict single figures of seductive Spanish ladies (figs. 6a-b), but following his visit there in 1869 at a time of upheaval, he did touch upon social and political concerns as in his 1877 Licensing the Beggars in Spain (fig. 6c), which gained him election as an associate Royal Academician and was sold to Thomas Holloway for the highest price ever paid for one of the artist’s works. But only rarely did he equal the bravura and range of Bravo Toro!with works such as his 1866 The Fan Seller(fig. 6d)and the 1884 The Scramble After the Wedding (fig. 6e). This latter painting was to be one of the highlights of New Yorker George Seney’s collection (exhibited in 1887 and sold in 1891) and make Burgess known in the United States. In December 1888 the painter was elected a full Royal Academician.
As has been observed Burgess’s conception of a seated, raucous crowd was reminiscent of Hogarth’s well-known 1773 etching The Laughing Audience(fig. 7) with its similar focus on the vivid reactions of the spectators, placed in tiers, rather than the spectacle itself. However, Burgess’s lively Spanish types were quite distinctive, and the painting not only consolidated his reputation, but came to be regarded as his most outstanding work. Thus, when in 1880 The Art Journaldevoted an extended biographical article to the artist, it reproduced a wood engraving of this painting (fig. 8) and observed:
Thechef-d’oeuvreof the artist’s early period upon which so much of his reputation has been founded, was one of the most popular pictures of the exhibition of 1865, ‘BRAVO TORO!’ a Spanish bull-fight. The encounter itself is not seen, but the spectators of it are grouped together on the canvas with striking and vivid reality… In this clever and characteristic work…terrible excitement, amounting to savageness, is depicted on the faces of the male sightseers; and horrible eagerness adds to the repulsiveness of features, which at least under these circumstances are scarcely human. The contrast between these and the women occupying the box above is great; coldly and almost calmly, they await the issue of the barbarous contest, caring nothing for the life of the man or the suffering of the beast…But the artist is true and skillful in his delineation of this phase of Spanish life, and we cordially commend the talent which represents it so faithfully. The rich costumes and natural groupings are most admirable.
Two years later the Magazine of Artin its review of the artist’s career was less concerned with the moral issues of the bullfight and opined:
So long ago as 1865 Burgess established himself in the estimation of the public, as well as in the opinion of the best judges, as a painter of no mean power, by the exhibition of a picture which, from its nature has been hard for him to surpass. It is not often that an artist can hit upon a subject that lends itself so entirely to pictorial treatment as did that of ‘Bravo Toro!’… Full of beauty and fine in color, powerful in drawing, expression, and execution, it deservedly claimed, and has retained, a large meed of public favour.
A reduced replica of the work by Burgess was exhibited in 1866 at The Birmingham Society of Artists and was later sold in 1948. Now the recent rediscovery of Bravo Toro!, and its subsequent cleaning have revealed once again all the brilliant colors and power of expression of this long lost masterpiece of Victorian painting.