Evaristo Valle

Gijón, 1873 - 1951

  • Nude I

    c. 1945
  • Nude II

    c. 1945

Of the brilliant generation of late 19th-century Asturian artists, Evaristo Valle was the most exceptional and modern. His interest in art became obvious at a very early age. In 1883 his family moved to Puerto Rico, where his father was appointed a judge. In his autobiographical notes, the painter wrote: "There under his guidance I began painting on small panels whatever my father put on the table: a bottle, a glass, a banana..." His father's sudden death in 1884 not only forced the family to return to Spain but also prevented Valle from receiving an academic education, with the result that he was self-taught and became a painter later in life.

In 1898 he went to Paris to work for the Camus company as a lithographer and perfect his technique. While in the French capital he associated with Urrabieta Vierge (1851–1904), a great Spanish draughtsman who had made a name for himself in France. Urrabieta Vierge liked Valle's work and his encouragement proved to be a positive influence on him. When the preparations for the 1900 Universal Exposition were completed, there was much less employment available and Valle travelled to Belgium, Holland and Italy, after which he returned to Gijón, where he took up his previous post with the lithographers Mencia and Paquet.

At an exhibition of his work at the Jovellanos Institute, Gijón, in 1903, the editor of the Heraldo de Madrid, Francos Rodríguez, discovered Valle's painting and expressed his admiration for it. Valle was subsequently awarded a grant by the Gijón City Council to go to Paris, but it was withdrawn in 1904 when it was discovered that he had been painting in Noreña, where he had spent a period enjoying the scenery. While in Paris he coincided with Aurelio Arteta and Anselmo Miguel Nieto and also with Cristóbal Ruiz, with whom he struck up a close friendship. He also came into contact with Ignacio Zuloaga and the journalist Luis Bonafoux. The cancellation of his grant plus dire financial straits forced Valle to return to Gijón in 1905, where he set up a studio and began producing oil and gouache compositions. The importance of Valle's versatility with regard to his use of different pictorial techniques cannot be overlooked. Eventually he began to move away from traditional painting, ignoring Madrid because, according to him, the new art was not felt there and he began creating figures of great character and deep lyricism.

Encouraged by a rise in the sales of paintings, in 1908 he made his third visit to Paris. There he met up with old friends, including Cristóbal Ruiz, and made the acquaintance of Vázquez Díaz and Amedeo Modigliani. Although things did not go badly for him in Paris with his portraits, he surprised his friends by suddenly suggesting an exhibition in Madrid; it was held in the Sala Iturroz, where he presented portraits, paintings set in Paris and Asturias, and others with social themes.

In his major biography on Valle, Lafuente Ferrari described the artist as "unique, refined and rare". Valle's shyness, which manifested itself in a persistent stutter, raised a defensive wall around him which inevitably led to deep introversion and melancholy. Due to acute hypersensitivity and numerous neuroses, he suffered from severe bouts of agoraphobia which forced him to stay indoors for long periods. Furthermore, the fact of being self-taught and having become a painter late in life added to his feelings of insecurity. Additionally, Gijón's provincial atmosphere often triggered in Valle a certain malaise which impelled him to travel. His journeys reveal a frustrated cosmopolitan disposition that reduced his bohemian vein to a kind of adventurousness which, although passionate, turned sharply inwards on itself.

The period from 1911 to 1936 can be described as one of fulfilment in which his stylistic and thematic characteristics took form through an unmistakably personal style of painting. Valle persistently pursued a number of themes in the form of series, outstanding among these being: theatre boxes, with an expressionist treatment of the figures and a sarcastic sense of humour taken directly, as Lafuente Ferrari pointed out, from Toulouse Lautrec; farce, which is perhaps the most representative work of his production; social issues, including his series on vagrants and loafers; mining with social criticism; landscape, often stark or generally as backgrounds to other themes, although always approached with special care and attention; peasants, sailors and the Caribbean. Portraiture was a genre he never abandoned and of which he was a true master. In 1922 he held an exhibition at the Palacio de Bibliotecas y Museos in Madrid curated by the art critic José Francés, who was always extremely supportive of him, and in 1928 he travelled to London and in 1929 to Havana. As Evaristo Valle was a cultivated man, his passion for painting did not prevent him from making forays into literature. In 1946 he collaborated with Lafuente Ferrari on his biography in a project which not only thrilled him but also did much to raise his spirits. Although Valle's art was rooted in the 19th-century world, it was at once profoundly modern. His gradual withdrawal from the handicap of naturalist-based genre painting and the prevalent realist regionalism enabled him to evolve towards the creation of an extremely personal style that was not to find continuity after his death.

Francisco Javier Pérez Rojas