Claudio Bravo, a Chilean-born artist whose technically dazzling trompe-l’oeil paintings of paper-wrapped packages and draped cloth blended hyper-realism and classical Spanish influences, died on June 4 at his home in Taroudant, Morocco. He was 74.
The cause was complications of epilepsy, David Robinson, the director of his New York gallery, Marlborough, said.
After working in Madrid in the 1960s and establishing a reputation as a society portrait painter, Mr. Bravo made an immediate impact with his first New York show, at the Staempfli Gallery in 1970.
His paintings, depicting crumpled paper, paper bags and paper-wrapped packages tied with string, put technical virtuosity at the service of an imagination shaped by old master painting, especially the work of 17th-century Spanish artists like Zurbarán, Cotán and Velázquez. Unlike American photorealists, who took the world as they found it, Mr. Bravo rooted his commonplace objects in a rich art-historical soil that lent depth and mystery to his work.
The headline in The New York Times to John Canaday’s review of that 1970 show was an art dealer’s dream: “The Amazing Paintings of Bravo.”
After moving to Tangier in 1972, Mr. Bravo expanded his repertory to include landscapes, animal portraits, still lifes and human subjects, often in exotic Moroccan costume. He later executed a series of paintings that deployed lush, color-saturated fabrics that looked as if they had been snatched from old master paintings.
Ken Johnson, in a review in The New York Times of Mr. Bravo’s fabric paintings at Marlborough in 2000, wrote that “you could think of this work not as realism but as a kind of soulfully enriched Color Field painting.”
Claudio Nelson Bravo Camus was born on Nov. 8, 1936, in Valparaíso, Chile, and grew up on his family’s farm in Melipilla, where his father was a rancher and businessman. While attending a Jesuit school in Valparaíso, he took lessons with Miguel Venegas Cifuentes, an academic artist, but he was largely self-taught.
At 17, he had his first exhibition at the prestigious Salón 13 in Valparaíso. He also danced with the Compañia de Ballet de Chile and acted at the Teatro Ensayo at the Catholic University of Chile, but after moving to Concepción he became a sought-after portrait painter.
In 1961 he moved to Spain and continued to paint socially prominent subjects, including the daughter of Gen. Francisco Franco. In 1968 he was invited to the Philippines to paint Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and other members of that country’s elite.
It was during this period that he began painting packages in a heightened realist style. “The photorealists, like machines, copied directly from photographs,” he told Americas magazine in 2001. “Always I have relied on the actual subject matter because the eye sees so much more than the camera: half tones, shadows, minute changes in the color or light. I think I was working more in the tradition of the Color Field artists, like Mark Rothko, whom I still greatly admire. There was also a touch of the Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies, because he, too, did paintings involving string across a canvas surface.”
Mr. Bravo was hugely successful. He owned four villas in Morocco and an apartment in Manhattan. In 2004 Sotheby’s sold his 1967 painting White Package for more than $1 million.
Although strong demand for his paintings freed him from the need to do portrait work, he did accept the occasional commission. In 1978 he painted a portrait of Malcolm Forbes, dressed in a motorcycle racer’s jumpsuit and surrounded by motorcycle helmets.
In 1994 the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work that drew more than 280,000 visitors. “That exhibit was a social phenomenon,” the museum’s director, Milan Ivelic, told the newspaper El Mercurio. “No one imagined that over 250,000 people were going to attend, because Bravo had spent the previous two decades living in Morocco and was virtually unknown here in Chile. He had never had much Chilean coverage, but people came in droves nonetheless.”
Mr. Bravo is survived by two sisters, Pilia Bravo of Zaragoza, Spain, and Jimena Bravo of London.
His work is the subject of two large monographs, Claudio Bravo: Paintings and Drawings, published in 1997 by Abbeville Press, and Claudio Bravo: Painting and Drawings, published in 2005 by Rizzoli.