19 June to 16 September 2007
With the collaboration of the Consorcio Turístico de Madrid
On 19 June the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum inaugurates another exhibition devoted
to a living artist; on this occasion the American painter Richard Estes, principal founder and
one of the leading figures of international Photo-realism. A group of 33 of his most important
works offer a complete survey of the artist’s career from the 1960s to the present day.
The exhibition has been jointly organised with the Palazzo Magnani in Reggio Emilia and, in
Madrid, with the collaboration of the Consorcio Turístico de Madrid. It marks another initiative
on the part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum within its new exhibition strategy to focus on
contemporary art, launched last year with the exhibition on Robert Rauschenberg and the
start of the new Studiolo exhibition series.
Among the works chosen for Richard Estes are particularly outstanding examples from the
private collection of the artist himself, as well as loans from other private collections and
prestigious institutions, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American
Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Marlborough Gallery, New York, the Portland
Museum of Art, and the Toledo Museum of Art.
The painter of NewYork
Richard Estes was born in a small town in Illinois in 1936. Together with Malcolm Morley, Chuck
Close and Duane Hanson he was one of the founders of the Photo-realist movement which
arose in the US in the late 1960s. Through the use of photography as a direct visual source,
Richard Estes has specialised in the representation of real landscapes. His work is admired for
its extraordinary technical mastery, primarily to be seen in his celebrated views of the city of
New York, where he currently lives and works.
Other cities such as Chicago, Paris, Venice, San Francisco and Barcelona have also been the
subject of his gaze, but never as regularly as New York, with its focus on Manhattan, Central
Park, Long Island, the bridges over the Hudson, and the city’s buildings, shops, vehicles and
other forms of transport. Estes conveys the reality of a great metropolis, using and
manipulating it to reveal his own version of reality and to expand and develop his own artistic
vision. While he has on occasions defined himself as a realist painter, what really interests Estes
is the construction of the painting and the visual impact of the work.
Image: Richard Estes. People’s Flowers, 1971 For more information and/ or images, please contact :
Óil on canvas, 153 x 101,2 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza /Press Office
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit Tel. +34 913600236/914203944 / Fax. +34 914 202 780
with the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid firstname.lastname@example.org;www.museothyssen.org
The illusionistic effect of Estes’ compositions suggests that they have been directly copied
from a photograph. In fact, they are the result of a combination of various photographic
shots which the artist has taken in situ. His interest lies not in copying them literally but in
manipulating them and reconstructing them to create an image which, although
scientifically incorrect, seems real to the human eye; a realist image but one that does not
correspond to any specific moment in terms of light, colour or chance elements.
While Estes occasionally works in other genres, such as portraiture (of which an example is
included in the exhibition), his most famous works are his urban landscapes depicting façades
of buildings, shop windows, escalators, cars and fast-food restaurants. The human form is
barely to be seen in these compositions, as Estes is not interested in it, and when figures
appear they are simply presented as a further element in the landscape, often conveying a
certain sense of isolation. Overall, an atmosphere of objectivity and lack of emotion is
characteristic of Estes’ paintings.
Photo-realism arose from two artistic traditions: trompe l’oeil painting and the meticulous
technique used to create the delicate but highly detailed finish of 17th-century Dutch
painting. Artists such as Vermeer have been an important influence on Estes, particularly
Vermeer’s detailed observation of reality and use of equipment such as the camera obscura.
His work also looks back to the European tradition of urban view painting from its origins with
the vedute painters of the 18th century led by Canaletto. More recent precedents may be
found in the work of Charles Sheeler and the American painters of the 1930s who frequently
used photography to achieve greater precision of line and form.
Reflection and reflections of reflections
In contrast to other Photo-realist painters who move directly from the photograph to the
canvas, Richard Estes only uses the photograph as his starting-point. For the artist, the
photograph is merely an instrument that allows him to capture the moment and all its
complexities. Estes takes various shots of his chosen location in order to subsequently play
around with them and devise the definitive image that appears on the canvas. The result is to
make the painted image a sort of optical illusion, an enormously complex representation of
refracted light. Obvious differences apart, the process is similar to that used by Canaletto to
create his famous views of Venice: both artists depict real and recognisable buildings and
places but they reorganise the perspective in order to achieve their desired effects. In
addition, Estes plays brilliantly with reflections, another of the most characteristic and unique
features of his work.
Effects of light and shade, and the particular texture of images produced by cameras are
perfectly simulated in Estes’ work, particularly in the representation of highly reflective
surfaces: shop windows, buildings with large windows, telephone booths, etc. These clean,
inanimate surfaces often become the only motif in the canvas. Estes’ reality is conveyed
through its reflection and as a result the world appears truly inverted, fragmented and
distorted. On other occasions this reality is doubled; a wall divides two scenes, the interior and
exterior of a bus, of a shop window, a boat, resulting in a juxtaposition of interior and exterior
spaces, of real images and reflected ones, and of images reflected in the reflection of other
Richard Estes (Kewanee, 1932)
Richard Estes was born in 1932 in Kewanee (Illinois). From 1952 to 1956 he studied painting and
drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was able to see the work of Edgar Degas,
Edward Hopper and Thomas Eakins, which formed part of that institution’s private collection.
In Chicago, Estes primarily studied traditional academic painting and also focused on
drawing. After he graduated he lived for six months in New York and worked for a further
three months in Chicago before permanently settling in New York in 1959. In 1962 the artist
lived and worked in Spain.
Up to 1966, Richard Estes earned a living from graphic design, working as an illustrator for
various magazines and advertising agencies. He continued to study art in a self-taught
manner and in 1968 held his first solo exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York.
In the 1970s the famous Ansonia building and adjoining streets on the Upper West Side were
Estes’ favourite subjects. These settings would continue to appear in his paintings of the 1980s
and 1990s. His art of those years can thus be seen as a reflection of the changes that took
place in New York with the passing of time, although this is a secondary consideration, and
what is most important is that these works reveal Estes’ artistic maturity and above all his
capacity for permanent and ongoing artistic reinvention.
The artist’s earliest compositions with street scenes use a sloping reflection in which the street
itself is reflected in a window or shop window located on the other side. In more recent works,
Estes includes various streets that run off at different angles. In both cases, the artist invents
methods to organise space and make the viewer move within and through the complex
composition. In his mature phase Estes has also started to expand his vision and imagery in
order to go beyond a close-up, direct scrutiny of shop windows, windows and reflections. The
result is his famous compositions of reflections in car windows and on polished metal surfaces.
Later, the artist used the camera to focus directly on close-up shots of shop windows, paying
attention both to what is to be seen inside and what these windows reflect. In the 1980s and
1990s Estes often painted divided images inside buses, trains and boats, as well as wider urban
views, often of bridges or the surfaces of water.
Title: Richard Estes
Venue: Rooms 47 and 48 of the permanent collection (ground floor)
Dates: 19 de junio – 16 septiembre, 2007
Organiser: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid and Palazzo Magnani, Regio Emilia
With the collaboration of: Consorcio Turístico de la Comunidad de Madrid
Tour and Venues:
Regio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani: 31 March to 27 May, 2007
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: 19 June to 16 September, 2007
Curators: Guillermo Solana, Chief Curator, Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza, Madrid
Sandro Parmiggiani, Chief Curator, Palazzo Magnani, Regio Emilia
Catalogue: Spanish and English
Address: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Paseo del Prado 8, 28014 Madrid.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00am to 19.00 pm. Ticket office closed at 18:30 pm.
Summer openning hours: In July and August the temporary exhibitions are open until 11 at
night from Tuesdays and Sundays.
- Richard Estes Exhibition: 4 € (reduced price: 3 € for students and visitors aged over 65 with proof of
- Richard Estes Exhibition + Permanent Collection: 10 € (7 € for students and visitors aged over 65
with proof of status).
- Richard Estes Exhibition + Van Gogh Exhibition + Permanent Collection: 12 € (8 € for students and
visitors aged over 65 with proof of status).
- Summer Nights: Richard Estes exhibition + Van Gogh Exhibition: 7 € (5 € for students and visitors
aged over 65 with proof of status).
Pre-booked tickets available at the Museum’s ticket office and on:
PRESS AND IMAGES INFORMATION: