Genaro Pérez Villaamil
Ferrol, 1807 - Madrid, 1854
Born in Ferrol on 3 February 1807, Genaro Pérez Villamil was still a boy when he enrolled at the Military Academy in Santiago de Compostela, but after moving to Madrid with his family he abandoned the military for literary studies. In 1819 he was wounded when fighting against the absolutist troops of King Ferdinand VII and taken to Cadiz as a prisoner of war and it was there that he began to develop his artistic skills. During those years he may have made a trip to England with his brother Juan, also a painter, and in 1830 the two of them travelled to Puerto Rico, where they decorated the Tapia theatre in San Juan. On returning to Spain three years later he travelled around Andalusia and in Seville he must have met the Scot David Roberts (1796–1864), one of the great masters of English Romantic landscape painting who would mark Villaamil’s style and conception of landscape, causing him to stand out from the rest of the Spanish painters of his day who specialised in this genre. In 1834 he established himself in Madrid and the following year he was made an academician of merit in the field of landscape painting at the San Fernando Academy, the institution of which he would be appointed deputy director in 1845; he also founded the Artistic and Literary Lyceum of Madrid. The following years were marked by a series of appointments and eventually the post of honorary court painter to Queen Isabella II. He produced a large number of spectacular paintings for the palace, mostly landscapes of Oriental inspiration and monumental interiors, including some of the masterpieces of his entire career.
From 1840 to 1844 Pérez Villaamil travelled abroad visiting Belgium and the Netherlands, where he made many small pictures, watercolours and drawings of their cities and monuments. He also spent considerable time in Paris, where he began to publish his España artística y monumental, the most important collection of lithographs of monumental views of Spanish cities of this type made by a Spanish artist and a splendid testament to the monumental and picturesque conception of travel in the Romantic world.
On returning to Spain he was awarded knighthoods of the orders of Charles III and Leopold of Belgium, and received the French Legion of Honour. From this point onwards he travelled extensively around Spain in search of new views to depict in his works and died in Madrid on 5 June 1854 at the age of only forty-seven.
Genaro Pérez Villaamil is, without a doubt, the great Spanish master of the picturesque and monumental brand of landscape painting made fashionable by Romanticism. An outstandingly talented draughtsman who worked quickly and precisely with a highly prolific output consisting of a huge number of paintings, watercolours and pencil and pen sketches, he produced chiefly panoramic views of monuments, cities and natural landscapes. These views are transformed by the romantic imagination of the artist, who divests them of some of their realism in order to achieve a more spectacular and grandiose result, always with a special decorative sense and a painterly language of vivid colours and rich impasto, expressed with an extremely supple texture and very free brushstrokes. These views nevertheless preserve a descriptive sense in the manner of the travelling artists, which he learned from Roberts.
José Luis Díez