Seville, 1808 - 1871
José Roldán was born in Seville in 1808 and died there in 1871. He attended the city's School of Fine Arts, where he was an outstanding pupil, and later teacher and director. In his mature years he was honoured on numerous occasions, being elected an academician at both the Seville and San Fernando Academies of Fine Arts and appointed a member of the Seville Artistic Monument Commission. He took a keen interest in photography, using it in the composition of some of his pictures.
His style is characterised by good draughtsmanship and soft colours, derived from the influence of Murillo, of whose work he was an outstanding copyist. However, the portraits in his genre paintings reflect the influence of José Domínguez Bécquer and Antonio María Esquivel. His repertoire was extremely varied as, apart from genre scenes and portraits, he also produced religious paintings, still-lifes and miniatures.
So whole-hearted was his interest in portraiture that he eventually painted his whole family, himself included (Self-portrait); most of these works are still in the possession of his descendants. He also painted the portraits of members of the local bourgeoisie and nobility, although his best works are of children. These he depicted with special grace and ease, influenced to a certain degree by 19th-century English painting. His masterpiece not only among his portraits of children but his portraiture in general is Retrato de los niños Miguel, Matilde and Rafael Desmaisieres ("Portrait of the Children Miguel, Matilde and Rafael Desmaisieres"). Painted in 1855, it now belongs to the collection of the Marquis of La Motilla. Another outstanding portrait is a full-length, life-size, painting of Ildefonso Núñez de Prado, in which the subject is seated elegantly. It is in a Seville private collection.
Examples of his works of genre painting include pictures of ragamuffins, beggars, farm workers, muleteers, roast chestnut sellers, wafer vendors and hunters. The best-known of this type, entitled La Caridad ("Charity"), dates from 1857 and can be seen in the Royal Palace at Aranjuez. With a rather melodramatic tone it depicts a mother with three children begging in the street and a fine lady coming to their rescue with alms.
Another of Roldán's best-known works, which stands midway between genre and historical narrative painting, is La visita de Isabel II al Hospital de la Caridad ("The Visit of Isabella II to the Hospital de la Caridad"), which can be seen in the Seville hospital of that name. Depicting an event which took place in 1862, it shows the Queen kissing the hand of the first patient she encountered in the hospital ward. Roldán included the Duke and Duchess of Montpensier and Antonio María Claret among her retinue.
Other paintings by José Roldán in this genre belong to various Seville private collections. His approach to themes of this kind tends to be good-natured with little social criticism, despite the gallery of extremely lowly characters that populate his paintings. The most famous examples of this kind include La maja en un meson ("The Maja at an Inn"), Descanso en el camino ("Resting along the Way") and Pilluelos jugando a los naipes ("Ragamuffins playing Cards"). Evident in the last scene is the influence of paintings by Murillo on similar themes. Roldán’s genre works include several compositions with interiors of religious buildings, such as Monjas mercedarias en el coro ("Mercedarian Nuns in the Choir") and Una iglesia durante una misa ("A Church during Mass"), the latter set inside the Hospital de la Caridad church.
Two pictures of vases which reveal great skill at capturing floral effects prove that José Roldán occasionally painted still lifes. During his lifetime he was also acknowledged as an outstanding miniaturist. Of the numerous paintings of this kind which he must have produced, only a few family portraits now in the possession of his heirs still exist. There is also documentary evidence that he painted religious themes, although only his copies of the works of Murillo have reached us.