Cecilio Pla y Gallardo

Valencia, 1859 - Madrid, 1934

  • Playing on the Beach

  • Ladies in the Garden

    c. 1910
  • The Verbena

    c. 1905

The son of a professional musician, Cecilio Pla started out following the family tradition. After studying at the craft school in Valencia in 1876, despite opposition from his father, he abandoned music for painting. In 1878 he enrolled at the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Valencia, where Joaquín Sorolla was also a pupil. Two years later he visited Rome, Paris and Portugal. On returning to Spain he took up residence in Madrid and in 1882 he enrolled at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts while receiving private classes from Emilio Sala, who would become his main master.

Like other artists of his day, Cecilio Pla took part in the National Exhibitions. Early works such as Dante (1884) and El entierro de santa Leocadia (“The Burial of St Leocadia”, 1887) – both of which won a medal third-class – fall within the 19th-century tradition of history painting, a genre he would abandon thereafter. Also dating from the early 1890s are his decorations for the Madrid palaces of the Count of Valdelagrana (1890) and of Medinaceli (1891).

Throughout the following years Pla turned to realistic scenes with a social message such as Las doce (“Twelve O’clock”, 1892) and Lazo de union (“Tie of Kinship”, 1895) – both of which won second-place medals – Amor vencido (“Love Vanquished”, 1899, third-place medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900) and Dos generaciones (“Two Generations”, medal first-class at the National Exhibition of 1901). From 1893 to 1910 he also contributed as an illustrator to the magazine Blanco y Negro. He likewise decorated the Aguirre palace in Cartagena (1901), the palace of the Infanta Isabella in Madrid (1902) and the Madrid Casino (1902).

The new century marked the start of a new teaching assignment of great importance in Pla’s career. In 1900 he was appointed a lecturer at the General and Technical Institute in Salamanca (Salamanca University). He resigned from this post the following year to take up teaching at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid.

His marriage to Valentina Navarro (1900) and the birth of his two daughters Pepita (1901) and Cristina (1903) spurred him to extend his summer stays in Valencia, where his oeuvre evolved towards looser forms and the use of an intense palette.

In 1908 Pla was made a commander of the order of Alfonso XII. Two years later, when Emilio Sala died, he was given the chair in colour aesthetics and painting procedures at the Special School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving in Madrid, and in 1914 he published his Cartilla de Arte Pictórico, a compendium of practical advice for fine arts students.

During the last years of his life Pla enjoyed a high degree of official recognition. He was elected a member of the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1924 and of the San Carlos Academy in Valencia in 1928. A year before his death in Madrid on 4 August 1934, he was bestowed with the title of honorary citizen of the city of Valencia and a monographic exhibition of his work was held at the Federación Industrial y Mercantil in Valencia.

Juan Ángel López-Manzanares