Born in Salamanca, Antonio Carnicero (1748-1814) received his initial artistic training under his father Alejandro, a sculptor, before winning a scholarship at the age of twelve to attend the Academy of San Luca in Rome. On returning to Spain in 1796 he was appointed pintor de cámara to King Carlos III, a post later taken up by Francisco de Goya. Towards the end of his life he was embroiled in political intrigue when the young Prince Asturias Fernando VII, whom he had tutored in drawing as a boy, went on to overthrow his father in the conspiracy of the Escorial in 1806. Arrested on 7 November 1807, Carnicero spent ten days in prison before being released. Like Goya, Carnicero was forced to work for Joseph Bonaparte in order to keep his position as court painter, and later removed from office on the grounds that he had apparently served the king abroad. He died on 21 August 1814, just days before amnesty was declared by Ferdinand VII.
A renowned portraitist of Madrid’s royalty and nobility, Carnicero was also inspired by the popular gatherings in the city’s vast parks and plazas, creating early and definitive works in the popular costumbrista style. These elegant works were a product of the French taste for eighteenth-century civic scenes, imported to Spain with the Bourbons, and demonstrate the same immaculate attention to details of costume and manners, which had earlier been applied in his drawings for the series Spain and the Indies (Trajes de España e Indias, 1777).
These two paintings, along with the following lot, were probably designed as part of a decorative scheme for state rooms or a grand chamber, and their masterful compositions and decorative aspect are partly the result of the years Carnicero spent, from 1775, working in the execution of tapestry cartoons for the Royal Household. In the harmonious construction of space and grand scale of the architecture, his period as a set designer for the Theatre de la Cruz and the Teatro del Principe is clearly visible. While no doubt influenced by his studies at San Luca, this architecture is probably the product of his own invention.
This pair is linked both thematically and compositionally, as the imposing and majestic architecture hosts the spectacles of a corrida de toros and the ascent of a hot air balloon, observed and enjoyed by all aspects of Madrilène society. The bullfight recalls Carnicero’s closely-observed series of Tauromaquia etchings, Coleccion des las Principales suertes de una corrida de toros, executed in 1790, anticipating Goya’s own Tauromaquia series by about 25 years. The appearance of picadors in the arena also helps in dating the piece to just before the Anglo-Spanish wars of 1796-1808, as from this moment, picadors disappeared from the bullring. The Montgolfier Brothers’ first balloon fight in 1783 gives a terminus post quem for the pair, and is recalled in one of his most famous works, The Ascent of a Montgolfier Balloon in Aranjuez (1784; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). These lively and decorative paintings capture Madrilène society in a spirited and faithful manner, placing them in the most elegant and finely crafted setting.