Three Decades In Madrid

If Antonio Lopez-Garcia's "Lucio's Balcony" were not a great painting on its own, then the circumstances of its creation would clinch the matter. It took the 72-year-old Spanish realist 28 years to complete, from 1962 to 1990. That's partly due to his painting method: on site, same time of day, same season for each session. But it's also because he began the picture—which is now on view in a retrospective of his work at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts—as the setting for a portrait of friends, who soon moved away. Then the apartment changed hands three times. The most recent owners allowed López-García to set up his easel in the same spot and, decades later, finish.

The result is a brilliant combination of the artist's early "magic realism" and his mature style of planar symphonies dedicated to the architecture of his beloved Madrid. The work looks restrained, but López-García gets more chromatic melody out of his muted, chalky palette than most artists do from primary colors. When he decided "Lucio's Balcony" needed more space, he simply added more wood panels and let the seams show—realism within realism. As he explained some of the painting's nuances to me in Boston last week, López-García couldn't resist running his hands over the textures. "I suppose they have to allow him to touch if he wants to," said a viewer nearby.

López-García admires Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, but his work is quintessentially Spanish—just go upstairs and look at the concurrent exhibition of Spanish painting from El Greco to Velázquez. Believe me, he doesn't suffer at all by comparison.