José María López Mezquita
Granada, 1883 - Madrid, 1958
José María López Mezquita was born in Granada on 25 April 1883 to a wealthy textile merchant, Atanasio López Robles, and his wife Encarnación Mezquita Vélez. In 1894 he began to attend drawing classes taught by José Larrocha, who introduced him to Cecilio Pla during a visit paid by the latter to Granada. In March 1896 he travelled to Madrid, where he visited the Prado, and then on to Barcelona. In 1897 he settled permanently in Madrid and enrolled at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving, while also attending classes at the studio of Cecilio Pla. He became a member of the Circle of Fine Arts and received classes in modelling from life and nude drawing. He took part in a National Exhibition for the first time in 1899 and two years later, at the age of eighteen, he submitted the picture Cuerda de presos, for which he won a gold medal.
López Mezquita was granted a scholarship by the Infanta Isabella of Bourbon and travelled abroad in 1902. He spent several years touring France, Belgium, the Netherlands and England and lived for four in Paris, where he had his own studio and took part in public exhibitions and competitions. During a trip to London around that time he met the American painter and portraitist John Singer Sargent, and the two became firm friends. In 1903 he took part in the Paris Salon and was awarded a third-place medal for the painting entitled Reposo (“Resting”) or La siesta. In 1904 he submitted La madre del artista (“The Artist’s Mother”) and Miss Mumford to the Salon d’Automne in Paris. These works marked the start of a series of large portraits. He also showed the portrait of his mother at the Munich Exhibition that year.
He returned to Granada in 1905. His reencounter with the city and with his colleagues at the Centro Artístico spurred him to create one of his greatest portraits: Mis amigos (“My Friends”). He later showed this painting with great success in Paris, Brussels, Munich (where he was awarded a gold medal) and, some time later, New York. That year he returned to Madrid and submitted eight paintings to the National Exhibition, to which he returned with six in 1908.
In 1910 López Mezquita won gold medals at Buenos Aires, Brussels, Barcelona and the National Exhibition in Madrid, on this occasion for a splendid portrait of the Barmejillo family. In 1913 he was elected president of the Spanish Association of Painters and Sculptors and official Spanish delegate for the Munich International Exhibition, in which he took part together with the seventy artists who made up the Spanish section. Throughout the following years he again received awards at the National Exhibition (1915, runner-up for the medal of honour awarded to Francisco Domingo), the San Francisco International Exhibition (1915, silver medal), and the Panama International Exhibition (1916, grand prize of honour). He began painting portraits in 1917.
From the start of the 1920s López Mezquita taught painting at his studio. In 1925 he joined the San Fernando Royal Academy and the following year he held an important exhibition sponsored by Alfonso XIII, chiefly of portraits, at the Reinhardt Galleries in New York, which subsequently travelled to Chicago (Anderson Gallery) and Boston (Robert C. Vose Gallery). The founder and director of the Hispanic Society, Archer Milton Huntington, contacted the artist on the occasion of the exhibition. He commissioned portraits of himself and his wife and set up a new gallery in his museum to house a collection of López Mezquita’s painting. Huntington’s first commission was to complete the series of illustrious Spaniards that Sorolla had begun. The second, which was more important, was for a gallery of illustrious Spanish Americans and for two years López Mezquita travelled around South American republics to paint portraits of their respective presidents and prominent people. A third even more ambitious commission involved executing a collection of pictures of “the most salient features of our race, types, customs and landscapes of some Spanish regions”. He returned to Spain to carry out this work.
In 1931 he returned to New York, where, following the great success of the exhibition of 1926, he received many commissions to portray New York’s high society, intellectuals, scientists and other prominent people. He lived there for ten years making short trips to Spain and a few Latin American countries.
He happened to be in Madrid on 18 July 1936 when the Spanish Civil War broke out. He travelled to Valencia with his wife and son and eventually on to New York, where he lived for much of the post-war period, although he also spent time in Havana and Santo Domingo.
He returned to Spain in 1954, shortly before his death on 6 December that year.
Miguel Ángel Revilla Uceda