Martín Rico Ortega

El Escorial, 1833 - Venecia, 1908

  • Peasants

  • San Lorenzo River with the Campanile of San Giorgio dei greci, Venice

    c. 1900
  • A Summer’s Day on the Seine

    c. 1870-1875
  • Venice


Born on 12 November 1833, at the age of twelve Martín Rico began studying at the Liceo Artístico y Literario (Lyceum) and later became a pupil of the painter Vicente Camarón, who would introduce him to landscape painting, which shaped his artistic personality in a decisive way.

The brother of the engraver Bernardo Rico, with whom he later collaborated in illustrations for magazines, he also studied at the San Fernando Academy and travelled around Spain with his painter friends Pablo Gonzalvo and Plácido Francés.

Rico took part in the National Exhibitions of Fine Arts between 1858 and 1867. In 1859 he was awarded a grant by the government to study abroad and established himself in Paris, where his works are recorded as being shown in several Salons and his style evolved under the influence of the realism of the Barbizon School.

After remaining for some time in the French capital, he returned to Spain following the outbreak of the French-Prussian war and spent several months in Madrid before moving to Granada, where he came into contact with Fortuny. From this point onwards his art was deeply marked by the Catalan master; he learned the watercolour technique and developed an extremely precious style of drawing and luminous colours, which led him to be called the “Daubigny ensoleillé”.

In 1872 he accompanied Fortuny on a tour around Italy and was fascinated by the light of Venice, where he spent all his summers thereafter and which he would paint in endless views of streets, buildings and canals.

An extraordinarily prolific painter, in 1874 Rico settled permanently in Paris, where his paintings were fought over by the dealers who distributed his work – according to Ossorio for “high prices” – to Europe, the United States and the Galería Bosch in Madrid.

In 1878, at the height of his successful career, he and Raimundo de Madrazo organised the Fortuny room at the Paris Exposition Universelle and he was awarded a gold medal and the Legion of Honour. He also won a medal third-class at these competitions and a second-place medal in that of 1888. He was made a commander of the order of Isabella the Catholic in 1884.

After a stint in Madrid, where in 1895 he was appointed editor in chief of La Ilustración Española y Americana, one of the most prestigious periodicals of the day, he published his autobiography entitled Recuerdos de mi vida, which he wrote in 1906 in Venice, the city where he died on 13 April 1908.

Martín Rico is, without a doubt, the most important of the Spanish landscape painters who followed Fortuny’s précieux style. After his initial realistic works, which clearly display the mark of the School of Barbizon, he evolved towards an extremely refined technique thanks to his outstanding skills at drawing glossy surfaces and his impassioned command of vivid, full colour that was so much to the liking of the European market during those years and led to a certain amount of repetition in his vedute, especially his countless panoramic views of Venice.

José Luis Díez