One of my favourite places to visit while I’m back at home is the Museo Néstor. This museum and gallery is dedicated to Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre (1887-1938), a Canarian symbolist artist. His painterly, dynamic, and imaginative pictures, with the depiction of endemic Canarian flora and fauna, are a delight to see.
Néstor was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to a rich family which enabled him to pursue and study a career in art in mainland Spain and abroad. He is viewed as one of the leaders of Spanish modernism and symbolism. Although he has, unfortunately and unfairly, little recognition outside of the Canary Islands, even considering that he had exhibited his work internationally. He was quite a precocious artist having painted El Baile de Máscaras (1898; ‘the Dance of Masks’) at only 11 years of age.
Although Néstor had stated a wish for his work to be displayed in a church, most of his artwork can be found in the Museo Néstor located next to the beautiful Doramas Park, Las Palmas. This museum was devised by Nestor himself and executed by his brother Miguel Martín-Fernández de la Torre, who was an architect. This harmony between the siblings created an ideal location to exhibit his work, which encompasses a great deal of inspiration in philosophy and the different studies of the creation of the universe. His longing for symbolism emphasised the use of certain materials, such as the use of antique altarpieces as frames. Thus his work is quintessentially Symbolist, with the use of fantasy to represent that which cannot be perceived in our physical reality.
His Poema del Atlantico (1912-23; ‘Poem of the Atlantic‘) contains some of his most famous work. It consists of an installation of eight paintings. Néstor’s brother Miguel wished to respect the former’s desire to locate his work in a religious space, thus designed the room that holds this installation to resemble a chapel. Both the circular structure of the room and its decoration emit quite a still and contemplative atmosphere. The room contains a small dome on the ceiling and a row of golden columns surrounding the walls enclosing the pictures. In addition, it boasts a mosaic floor with aquatic motifs. Although Néstor did not design what we see today, we can perhaps include the actual room as part of his intended exhibition, as his brother ensured that the artist’s original wishes of location were complied with.
The eight paintings that comprise Poema del Atlántico, are all of 126 x 126 cm dimensions, and are oil on canvas. These are divided into two separate, but not exclusive, sets of four pictures. The first set represent the different moments of the day in the landscape of the sea, El Amanecer (1912-13; ‘the Sunrise’), El Mediodía (1917-18; ‘the Noon‘), La Tarde (1917-18; ‘The Evening‘), and La Noche (1917-18; ‘the Night’). The second set represent the different stages of the sea: Bajamar (1921-23; ‘Low Tide‘), Pleamar (1921-23; ‘Tide‘), Borrasca (1921-23; ‘Storm‘), and Mar en Reposo (1921-23; ‘Calm Sea‘).
The installation itself was originally meant to be one part of a project of four installations that represent the different elements: water, earth, fire, and air. However, due to Nestor’s untimely death, the only completed element is water. Earth was left unfinished and whatever the artist had in mind for both the fire and air aspects, is unknown.
The pictures regarding Poema del Atlantico are painterly, vivid, and dynamic; palpably emanating movement. The scale of the figures depicted do not match reality; the human figures are dwarfed by the oversized water animals. This illusion of dynamic movement is repeated throughout all the pictures until you reach the last: Mar en Reposo. This last picture is eerily quiet, the two foreshortened human figures floating on a pale-coloured, foamless sea. Their arms are stretched out mimicking a cross. The whole picture has been overrun by a blinding sunlight rendering the colours to muted tones. It is hard not to think of that eternal endless rest that follows life, especially after such vivid pictures preceded it; all is silent and has stopped in time.