Manuel Rodríguez de Guzmán

Seville, 1818 - Madrid, 1867

  • At the San Isidro Fair

    c. 1860-1867

Rodríguez de Guzmán was a pupil of the Seville School of Fine Arts, where he is recorded as still studying in 1845, and of José Domínguez Bécquer, who introduced him to what would be his main area of work, genre painting.

During his Sevillian period, which ended in 1853, he was appointed an honorary member of the Santa Isabel de Hungría Academy in Seville in 1847, being nominated by Manuel Barrón. Throughout 1852 he worked as an unpaid ancillary assistant in figure drawing classes.

As for his oeuvre, in 1838 he presented what was a rather exotic history painting for the time to the Circle of the Lyceum: El juicio de Ana Bolena (“The Trial of Anne Boleyn”). This was not his only foray into this genre, as he is also recorded as having painted Pedro I mandando arrojar por una ventana el cadáver de su hermano (“Peter I Ordering His Brother’s Corpse to Be Thrown out of a Window”) and Toma de Vélez por Fernando el Católico (“The Capture of Vélez by Ferdinand the Catholic”), all of them unlocated. He also explored the field of religious painting in 1851 with a San Sebastián en el martirio acompañado de un angel (“St Sebastian in Martyrdom with an Angel”), its whereabouts likewise unknown. A Baptism and a Confession (both dating from 1860) are known from the Madrid period; they belong to a private collection held in the capital and appear to have been part of a series of the seven sacraments.

Notable among the paintings from this initial period in Seville – in addition to a certain French feel about the early works, a tribute to the style of Murillo then in vogue in Seville and the following of distant European examples – is the existence of characteristic genre scenes such as El ciego cantor (“The Blind Flamenco Singer”), La trapera (“The Rag Woman” which, like the previous painting, is reminiscent of Murillo), Las buñoleras (“The Fritter Sellers”, 1851) and the two versions of La fiesta andaluza (“Andalusian Festivities”), both executed in 1851. In all these works Rodríguez de Guzmán displays his characteristic compositional skills, masterfully portraying the varied expressions of the figures, even in small settings. His first period in Madrid in 1852 was interrupted by a temporary return to Seville in 1853 to undertake more ambitious works such as La procesión del Rocío (“The Procession of the Rocío”) and La Feria de Sevilla (“The Seville Fair”, Riofrío palace), lively compositions featuring many figures who sing, dance or cheer on others with a host of different gestures.

His Madrid period was ushered in by a commission received from Isabella II in 1853 to paint “the customs of all the provinces of Spain in pictures measuring two varas, to form a royal gallery of this genre, for which 30,000 reales a year shall be paid”. The commission was intended to illustrate the most famous celebrations and pilgrimages of the different regions but was never completed. He only worked on it from 1853 to 1855, producing The Burial of the Sardine, at the Virgen del Puerto (Museo del Prado, on deposit at the Museo del Romanticismo) and The Santiponce Fair (Museo del Prado), which some hold to be his masterpiece along with the aforementioned La procesión del Rocío and La Feria de Sevilla. These works were designed to be accompanied by a literary contribution, in the form of a description of the paintings made by his father Manuel Mariano Rodríguez, which was completed for three of them.

Also dating from the beginning of his period in Madrid are two pictures painted for the British ambassador in Spain and Rodríguez de Guzmán’s membership of the Society for the Protection of the Fine Arts founded by fellow Sevillian Antonio María Esquivel. The artist was also involved in another more ambitious project of Isabella II’s reign, the portrait gallery of monarchs inspired by the French gallery of Louis Philippe, for which he produced King Eurich (1856, Museo del Prado, on deposit at the Diputación de Lugo).

Bullfighting as a genre theme was also depicted by the painter in works such as El torero Lucas Blanco (“The Bullfighter Lucas Blanco”), Una vara (“A Lance”), Brindis de un torero (“A Bullfighter’s Dedication”) Suerte de recibir and Preparativos de un picador (“Preparations of a Picador”). His contribution to literary themes is based above all on Cervantes, and draws – as well as from an episode of Don Quixote set in Andalusia, Don Quixote Writing to Dulcinea from the Sierra Morena – from the Novelas ejemplares for a painting of Rinconete and Cortadillo (1858, Museo Nacional del Prado), which is a genre scene set in Cervantes’ Seville. This work earned him an honorary mention first-class at the National Exhibition of 1858 (he had participated in the first of these exhibitions held in 1856, winning only a third-place medal). He also took part in the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855, although the recent monograph by L. Méndez Rodríguez provides full information about this.

It is more useful to stress above all his genre painting, which includes new works such as La habanera (Museo Nacional del Prado, on deposit at the Museo de Palma de Mallorca) and Una gitana diciendo la buenaventura a unos gallegos (“Gypsy Woman Telling Some Galicians their Fortune”, Museo Nacional del Prado, on deposit at the Museo de Zaragoza). Another theme he explored is the Aquelarres or Witches’ Sabbaths, paintings inspired by Goya that were a major novelty in his oeuvre in that they trace his reception of the influence of the Aragonese painter through the works of Alenza and Eugenio Lucas. Finally, his contribution to portraiture includes small full-length figures painted close-up and outdoors, sometimes by a tree trunk, such as the Duchess of Medinaceli, the Duchess of Alba and the Empress Eugenia de Montijo, dressed in striking Andalusian costume.

Rodríguez de Guzmán’s art has been defined – for example, José Luis Díez – by his ability to compose scenes full of small figures whose headwear and clothing are rendered in minute detail with a firm hand and vivid colours, as well as by his skill at capturing social types in their diverse attitudes and gestures in a supple, colourful technique and enveloped in a vibrant light. Rodríguez de Guzmán succeeds in portraying the full flavour of all kinds of Andalusian, Madrid and bullfight settings, among others, with great charm and an intensity that awakens the spectator’s curiosity.

Esteban Casado