José Benlliure Gil
Cañameral, 1855 - Valencia, 1937
José Benlliure was born in Cañamelar, a seaside village in Valencia, on 30 September 1855. The son of a modest painter and decorator and brother of the sculptor Mariano Benlliure, he studied from a very early age at the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Valencia and at the private studio of Francisco Domingo Marqués.
In 1872 he applied to the Diputación (provincial council) of Valencia for a travel grant. Although his application was unsuccessful, he was awarded a sum of money that enabled him to make a study trip to Paris, where he came into contact with the art dealer Goupil. On returning to Valencia, he devoted himself to painting works for the National Exhibitions. In 1876 he won a third-place medal for Descanso en la marcha (“Rest on the March”); and another third-place medal in 1878 for El Gólgota or Escena del Calvario (“Golgotha” or “Calvary Scene”).
In 1879 Benlliure travelled to Rome, where he remained until 1896. In 1880 he married María Ortiz Fullana and the couple settled in Rome, where their four children were born. In 1882 he signed a contract with the English dealer Martin Colnaghi; he also worked for the English dealers Arthur Tooth and Wallis & Son, the French dealer Adolphe Goupil and the Germans Rudolf Baugel, J.P. Schneider, Wedells and Mayer, Eduard Schulte and the firms Hermes & Co., Honrath & Van Baerle. All these dealers distributed his works around Europe and the United States and also conditioned his style by requiring him to paint in a manner similar to that of Mariano Fortuny and Francisco Domingo Marqués.
Despite painting for this market for small genre paintings, he also produced large works which he submitted to the National Exhibitions. In 1887 he won a first-place medal for Visión del Coliseo (“View of the Coliseum”), in which critics noted a certain influence of his Italian painter friend Domenico Morelli. In 1887 he showed this work at the Munich International Exhibition and was awarded a gold medal. In 1891 he entered Lección de catecismo (“Lesson in Catechism”) in the Berlin Exhibition. He embraced various genres – history paintings, genre scenes, portraiture and landscapes – although he was appreciated above all for his peculiar genre paintings. When the international markets began to shun his work, as it had become outmoded, he turned to illustrations, such as for La vida de san Francisco de Asís in 1926 and for Blasco Ibáñez’s novel La Barraca in 1929; he maintained intense institutional relations.
After a short stay in Valencia, he returned to Rome in 1903 on being appointed director of the Accademia di Spagna and held this post until returning to Valencia for good in 1913. In 1924 he was appointed director of the Museum of Fine Arts and in 1930 president of the San Carlos Academy. He died in Valencia on 5 April 1937.