There is little we know about Spanish painter José Manuel Capuletti. Largely forgotten since his death, among his admirers and collectors were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ayn Rand, Arthur Rubinstein and the former King of Spain Juan Carlos I. Influenced by Dali’s Surrealism, Capuletti’s art is serene and contemplative, a refreshing meditation on life. The Surrealist absurdity he presents is minimal, enough to spike our curiosity and sow some intrigue.
Romeo and Juliet with a Witness presents a scene apparently in the middle of nowhere: two ballet dancers dressed as Juliet and Romeo (the latter holding a skull) are giving a performance for only one viewer – a woman in the left foreground, sitting on a high stool, with her back turned at us. Capuletti often depicted women with their backs towards the viewer, usually a brunette model with short hair. It’s very likely that the model for this painting was his wife, Pilar.
By now you’re probably noticing the similarities to Hammershøi’s interior rooms, an artist who also featured his wife with her back turned to us. The difference is that in Capuletti’s works the subject is facing great vast spaces, so you don’t get the same sense that they’re withdrawn and rejecting life. On the contrary, although they’re alone, they seem perfectly connected to the spaces they gaze upon, as if inhaling their immensity.
In this artwork, an overcast sky is covering two thirds of the painting, with the glimmer of the blue sea and city buildings on the horizon. Judging by her body posture, turned more towards the left, the woman sitting on the stool doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the Romeo and Juliet performance. Her head is orientated towards the sea. With her high heels removed she is attempting to be at ease, but perched on the edge of the seat, we sense a tension in her pose.
The whole scene resembles a dream more than anything else, in typical Surrealist fashion. In another similar painting called Romeo and Juliet, Capuletti has Juliet sitting on the stool instead, reading a newspaper, and ignoring Romeo’s performance. If eager to look for interpretations, you could say that here the woman is disregarding the spectacle of love, being instead drawn to the vastness of the skies and the sea. Capuletti is thus building quite a triangle of symbols, featuring love, death and the permanence of nature.
Last but not least, it’s also worth noting that in the Shakespearean play Juliet’s full name is Giulietta Capuleti (Italian), echoing the Spanish artist’s last name.