Eduardo León Garrido

Madrid, 1856 - Caen, 1949

  • The Beau at the Soirée


Born in the Spanish capital on 20 February 1856, Enrique León Garrido appears to have learned the rudiments of painting from his father, the politician and amateur painter Fernando Garrido Tortosa. He studied at the Special School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving but above all with Vicente Palmaroli, who planned a conventional academic career for him and may have encouraged him to sit the first exams for a full scholarship to study at the newly established (1873) Accademia di Spagna in Rome. He applied for one of the two places in history painting (figures) and also for what was initially the only place in landscape painting at the tender age of seventeen. A study of the exercises he did (which we examined for our doctoral thesis) shows that in the first exercise (a bozzetto measuring 0.30 x 0.40 m to be completed within a day – in other words what the San Fernando Academy formerly called its “quick test” for its end of year prizes from the 18th century onwards – on the theme, assigned by lots, of the Apparition of St James to King Ramiro as Narrated by Father Mariana in His History of Spain) Garrido easily obtained fourth place out of the thirteen contestants who sat the history painting examination (he had been assigned the letter “N”, according to the system of concealing the names in order to guarantee the impartiality of the board of examiners), and dropped out of the first exercise in landscape, according to the records. In the second exercise in history painting (a nude from life) he got through with an extremely respectable first place, becoming one of the only four contestants to sit the final part. However, he was overtaken in the third and last exercise (A group of the rape of the Sabine Women, a painting measuring 1.50 x 1.25 m to be completed in two months – the equivalent of the former test of “thinking” – after sketching the subject in a day; the sketch was submitted to the board to be examined at the end of the long exercise). It is known that the winners – who became the first qualified scholarship students of figure painting at the Rome academy – were Pradilla and Plasencia. However it is less known that Hermenegildo Estevan, subsequent winner of the scholarship for landscape painting and long-standing secretary of the academy in Rome, stated that Casado del Alisal, director of the academy and also a member of the board of examiners, had invited both winners, then promising young artists, to sit the exams and had practically offered them a place, as he greatly influenced the education of this first year of scholarship winners, keen to get the Rome academy off to a successful start with “the best and most select young people who were beginning to be applauded”.

And so Garrido, who had come so close to success, applied directly to the Minister of State (to whom the institution was organisationally responsible) for an unpaid scholarship in case any vacancies arose in the other sections. He argued that he had done well in the public examination (coming first in the second exercise) and that his problems in the third exercise stemmed from the fact that it had been the first time he had attempted a history painting, referring to “the responsibility of finding himself orphaned and without the means to continue with art at the age of seventeen”. His application was accompanied by a recommendation signed by eight people (J. Moreno Benítez, Francisco Javier Moya, J. Abascal and others) and likewise addressed to Sagasta, the Minister of State. The report drafted by the civil servant, Jacobo Prendergast, was unfavourable to his request; the “conforme” and “fecho” indicating approval of the official’s opinion herald the negative reply Garrido would receive.

It appears that he at least made the most of his examination exercises, as his Rape of the Sabine Women was exhibited at the Martínez silversmith’s shop. He cannot have fared badly, as he showed his work the following year (1875) and one of his paintings was acquired by the new king, Alfonso XII. At this point it seems that he must have at last secured a grant from the Diputación (provincial authorities) of Madrid to study in Paris, where he sought the company and teaching of Palmaroli (who had been based there since 1873), like other students the master had had at the School of Arts and Crafts, such as Ramiro Santa Cruz, Joaquín Pallarés and José Alcázar Tejedor (another unsuccessful applicant for the first scholarships for the Spanish academy in Rome), although the most important of them all, Casimiro Sainz, remained in Madrid.

In Paris Garrido came into contact with Raimundo de Madrazo, whose painting influenced him deeply and conditioned his choice of neo-Rococo elegant courting scenes; he used sparkling colours not only for the many scenes of dancing but also in genre scenes set in interiors with few figures, generally female, engaged with great sensuality in applying makeup or in their toilette, if not resting idly. Like Federico de Madrazo’s son, he also often used the same female model – as in Guapa con pandereta (“Beauty with Tambourine”), El reposo (“Resting”) and La dama de la mantilla, (“Lady in a Mantilla”), among others – and sometimes, as in the latter, he was evidently inspired by works by Raimundo portraying his model Aline Masson.

Genre scenes were by no means his only type of output, as evidenced by his participation in the Paris Salons (although he also exhibited his works in Munich and London): he entered a San Jerónimo (“St Jerome”) in that of 1875 (no. 864, being recorded as a student of the Madrid School of Fine Arts and of Palmaroli, living at the Rue Duperré no. 9). There are many examples of the portraits he produced and entered in the Salons of 1877, 1881 and 1887. But, as is only logical, he also showed his genre paintings at these events: at that of 1877 he exhibited La soñadora (“The Dreamer”, which was considered more of a portrait) and was documented as being connected with Goupil; and in 1879 he submitted La vuelta del paseo (“Return from the Stroll”, no. 1.317), which could also be considered a portrait, and a very modern one, as it is not always easy to draw a line between portraiture and the social types portrayed in genre painting, but above all because he often used the same female model. This last work of 1879 is a faithful reflection of the tone of that year’s Salon, which was “dominated by ambiguous genre scenes connected to some degree with Fortuny, which play with double entendre” (Reyero 1993, who likewise points out in his study of this Spanish painting in Paris that the number of genre works shown at the Salon reached a peak in 1879 and 1880). In 1880 he showed A los quince años (“At the Age of Fifteen”, 56 x 46 cm, no. 1.546) and Bajo el encanto de un dulce pensamiento (“Charmed by a Delightful Thought”, 80 x 100 cm, no. 1.547), and continued to take part in 1881 and 1882.

Although it is held that after settling in Paris in 1875 Garrido never returned to Spain, he did travel to Italy accompanying Palmaroli when the latter, after living in Paris from 1873 to 1883, moved to Rome following his appointment as director of the Spanish academy in that city. (Incidentally, Alcázar Tejedor, a student of his, also ended up there, but not as an official scholarship student of the academy in Rome although he and a few other members of the Spanish colony did show their works with the official group in 1884.) Garrido made the most of his knowledge of the Venetian canals visited during his travels around the neighbouring country, evidencing the appeal Venice held for Spanish painters owing partly to its artistic connections: Fortuny’s widow settled in Venice, making it an attraction for followers of Fortuny [his brother Ricardo de Madrazo (1852–1917), Martín Rico (1833–1908), etc.], while Fortuny’s best known follower, José Villegas (1848–1921), who also became a focal point for Spaniards at the end of the 19th century, chose Venice for numerous stays from 1877 onwards.

Garrido also travelled to the United States in 1896, where his painting is held to have enjoyed considerable commercial success, as it did in London. But when he settled in France he was appointed a lecturer at the School of Arts and Crafts in Varennes-sur-Allier (Allier, not far from Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of Auvergne) at the beginning of the 20th century (1905), although he died in Caen (Calvados, Lower Normandy) on 24 February 1949. His lack of contact with the Spanish art scene explains his absence from the National Exhibitions of Fine Arts, the official competitions par excellence, and the fact that he is poorly represented in Spanish museums. It is therefore particularly significant that the Museo Nacional del Prado should own one of his paintings, Portrait of a Boy (oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm, signed, inv. P4336).

Esteban Casado