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See Four Spanish Masterpieces Updated to Reflect the Consequences of Climate Change

Timed to coincide with the ongoing U.N. Climate Change Conference, the campaign is a digital effort to warn the world

El Quitasol (The Parasol) by Francisco del Goya, digitally doctored into a scene that portrays the consequences of climate change (World Wildlife Foundation and Museo del Prado)
smithsonianmag.com

In Francisco del Goya’s 1777 painting El Quitasol (The Parasol), a young woman lounges in the shade of a parasol held by her male companion as graying clouds—possibly signaling an impending downpour—gather above. Unphased by what might be brewing in the atmosphere, the pair beam at the viewer, exuding a blissful, almost cherubic warmth.

Now, nearly 250 years later, that storm has finally arrived—and thanks to climate change, it’s a bit of a doozy.

The Parasol is one of four paintings digitally doctored to raise the alarm about climate change in a collaborative effort between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The campaign, titled “+1,5ºC Lo Cambia Todo,” Spanish for “+1.5 degrees Celsius changes everything,” underscores the urgency of limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) more than what was measured in the 1850s. Even this seemingly small bump, scientists have warned, will ravage the planet on an unprecedented scale.

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Francisco del Goya's El Quitasol (The Parasol), before (left) and after (right) doctoring that reimagines the 1777 painting as a portrait of climate change refugees (World Wildlife Fund and Museo del Prado)

“Updated” just in time for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which is currently underway in the Spanish capital, the artworks serve as a warning. According to the team’s website, the images portend “rising sea levels, the extinction of species, the social drama of the climate refugees or the impacts on rivers and crops due to extreme drought.”

In The Parasol’s newest iteration, the subtle grimness deftly rendered in del Goya’s brushstrokes takes center stage. The man and woman’s cheery expressions are gone, replaced by looks of anguish. (Notably, the already-glum expression of the dog in the young woman’s lap appears unchanged.) Their once-resplendent clothing is now in tatters, and the grassy knoll they rested on has transformed into an endless landscape of tents and huddling figures fighting to keep warm. They’re climate refugees—and even the infamous parasol, the painting’s very namesake, has been traded for a battered umbrella.

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Joaquín Sorolla's Niños en la Playa (Children on the Beach), before (left) and after (right) doctoring that adds a scene of species extinction to the 1909 painting (World Wildlife Fund and Museo del Prado)

Joining The Parasol are three other masterpieces, each warped into its own personal dystopia. Joaquín Sorolla’s Niños en la Playa (Children on the Beach), formerly a playful seaside scene, devolves into kelp-strewn chaos littered with the corpses of fish. Diego Velázquez’s Felipe IV a Caballo (Philip IV on Horseback), once featuring the Spanish royal in glorious regalia atop his trusty steed, now struggles to stay afloat amidst rising sea levels. And Joachim Patinir’s El Paso de la Laguna Estigia (Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx) showcases the toll extreme weather events exact even on the underworld, as Charon wrestles with his oar in the dry bed of the River Styx.

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Diego Velázquez's Felipe IV a Caballo (Philip IV on Horseback), before (left) and after (right) doctoring that portrays the Spanish royal in the 1635-1636 painting inundated by rising sea levels (World Wildlife Fund and Museo del Prado)

The doctored masterpieces will be displayed on billboards throughout Madrid’s city center and released online via WWF’s #LoCambiaTodo digital campaign, reports Caroline Elbaor for artnet News. Per WWF’s website, the team hopes the campaign “will reach every corner of the planet.” (Breathe easy, folks: The originals remain intact at the Prado.)

“This project represents an opportunity to continue placing art and its values at the service of society,” Javier Solana, president of the Royal Board of Trustees of the Prado Museum, says in a statement, as quoted by Elbaor. “The symbolic value of the masterpieces and the impressive artistic recreation that we present with WWF is an excellent way to transmit to everyone and especially to the young generations what is really at stake in this fight against climate change.”

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Joachim Patinir's El Paso de la Laguna Estigia (Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx), before (left) and after (right) doctoring that drains the water from the painting, dated to 1515 to 1524, which now shows a dry riverbed. (World Wildlife Fund and Museo del Prado)
About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Undark magazine, Popular Science and more. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University, and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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