Emilio Ocón y Rivas

Peñon de Velez de la Gomera, 1845 - Malaga, 1904

  • Seascape

  • Preparing for the Catch

  • Arriving from the Catch

  • Large Sailing Boat Leaving the Port of Seville with the Gold Tower in the Background

    c. 1874

Emilio Ocón y Rivas is the founder of the School of Marine Artists of the 19th-century painting scene in Malaga. Although he was born in Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera on 21 December 1845, he moved to Malaga at a very young age and his family’s local origins link him closely with the city. Indeed, together with Denis and Martínez de la Vega, he is one of the three artists who, with the support of Bernardo Ferrándiz and the impetus given by the latter to painting and art in the city, developed what would be one of the main schools of 19th-century Spanish painting.

In 1857 Ocón y Rivas became a pupil of the School of Fine Arts, where he began his artistic training under Antonio Maqueda and Ángel Romero and made the most of it as evidenced by the “distinction” he was awarded by the “heads” department.

Owing to his great love of the sea, he also studied the art of navigation during 1860–63. Blessed with great skills at drawing ships, he was recommended to Carlos de Haes in Madrid, where he went to study, and enrolled for his classes at the San Fernando School. The cost of his studies was defrayed by the Malaga Diputación (provincial authorities), which set up a scholarship for him which he enjoyed from 1868 to 1870. On Haes’s initiative he furthered his studies in the Netherlands, where he was a pupil of Jean-Paul Clays and Louis Hendrych. After his scholarship period was over he settled in Malaga, where he began to exercise his profession in the studio he shared with Denis and Martínez de la Vega.

In 1871 he steered his career along the official route by entering three seascapes in a National Exhibition for the first time: Vista de Málaga en un día de calma (“View of Malaga on a Day of Calm”), La calma en la desembocadura del Escalda (“Calm at the Mouth of the Escalda”) and Puerto de Málaga en un día de calma (“The Port of Malaga on a Day of Calm”), achieving an honorary mention for the first. In 1873 he won a medal first-class at the Vienna Universal Exhibition and applied unsuccessfully for a scholarship to study in Rome in 1883.

Have settled in Malaga in 1870, he became a member of the circle of intellectuals who revitalised the local culture and had a hand in its management as vice-president of the section of painting and sculpture at the city’s Lyceum, as a member of the jury for the Barroso prize awarded by the council and as a participant in the exhibitions organised by various institutions. He showed several seascapes, some representing views of the Netherlands, at the exhibition held by the Lyceum in 1872. He also contributed to the exhibition staged by the council in 1880 and others held in 1883 and 1899, showing local seascapes or others executed during his stays in Europe.

To mark the arrival of Alfonso XII in 1877, Ocón y Rivas was commissioned to execute a picture of La llegada de Colón a América (“Columbus’s Arrival in America”) for the king’s landing pavilion and took part in the exhibition held in the king’s honour with El desembarco de los restos del Exmo. Sr. D. Martín Larios (“Bringing Ashore the Remains of His Excellency D. Martín Larios”); he was awarded the grand cross of Isabella the Catholic for all this. In 1887 he produced a Marina bíblica (“Biblical Seascape”) for the album sent to the pope.

His relationship with teaching began in 1875 when he secured the post of assistant lecturer in drawing applied to the arts and manufacturing at the Malaga School of Fine Arts. In 1883 the chair in landscape painting, financed by the Diputación, was established and held by him until his death.

In 1893 Emilio Ocón’s prestige as an artist and lecturer was recognised and he was appointed a member of the San Telmo Academy. Two years later, in 1895, the council named a street in the city after him.

In addition to painting, he worked as a cabinetmaker and produced frames and coffering that were highly sought after. He also designed stained-glass windows, such as those (no longer extant) for the parish churches of Marbella and Coín, and undertook the restoration of The Transfiguration of the Lord for Malaga cathedral.

Ocón died on 9 July 1904 of liver disease caused by the ingestion of paint due to his habit of wetting brushes with his mouth.

Teresa Sauret Guerrero