José Gutiérrez Solana
Madrid, 1886 - Madrid, 1949
The painter and writer José Gutiérrez Solana was born in Madrid into a wealthy family originally from Santander. In 1900 he enrolled at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and during his youth he frequented the literary gathering at the Café de Levante, where he met the Baroja brothers, Valle-Inclán and Zuloaga. Together with his inseparable brother Manuel, he visited lesser known corners of Madrid and various rural areas of Spain in search of unusual images and to gain first-hand knowledge of the local customs, carnivals, bullfights and religious expressions. He first entered the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1904, but was rejected and relegated to the so-called “Sala del Crimen” along with other artists such as Juan Gris, Romero de Torres, Nonell and Joaquim Mir.
From 1909 to 1918 Gutiérrez lived in Santander, where he began writing. On returning to Madrid he again frequented the city’s literary gatherings, especially that of Ramón Gómez de la Serna at the Café Pombo, which he immortalised in his famous painting of 1920. At the Bilbao International Exhibition of 1919 the panel selected the best three paintings for the city’s museum. The chosen painters were Gauguin, Anglada i Camarasa and Solana. This initial recognition was repeated at other official exhibitions: gold medals at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1922 for Vuelta de la pesca (“Return from Fishing”) and at the Barcelona International Exhibition of 1929 for Las coristas (“The Chorus Girls”). He also took part in overseas exhibitions (Chicago, Pittsburgh, London, among others) and in other more renewal-oriented competitions such as the Exhibition of Iberian Artists of 1925. In 1928 he made the de rigueur trip to Paris, to which he returned in 1938 fleeing from the Spanish Civil War. When the war ended Eugenio d’Ors convinced him to return to Madrid. His prestige as a painter gradually strengthened, although the yearned-for medal of honour at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts was not awarded to him until 1945, by that time posthumously.
The dramatic and gloomy conception of reality that is conveyed in his paintings is in line with the coarse realism practised by the intellectuals of the Generation of ’98 and is considered a continuation of the tenebrist trend in Spanish painting that spans from Valdés Leal to the black paintings of Goya. His writings follow the same guidelines and prominent among them are Madrid, escenas y costumbres (1912 and 1918), La España negra (1920), Dos pueblos de Castilla (1924) and the novel Florencio Cornejo (1926). The grotesque everyday themes, dark palette and impastoed technique that would characterise his output throughout his career convey a sombre and tragic image of Spanish society.