Salvador Clemente Pérez
Cádiz, 1859 - Madrid, 1909
Although classified as belonging to the Sevillian school of painting, Salvador Clemente Pérez initially trained at the Cadiz School of Fine Arts, where he was awarded various prizes in the highest categories. The school, a logical extension of the Provincial Academy, had benefited from the progressive improvement of the latter when in 1854 it was promoted to the rank of “first class” from the “second class” category it had been given when the government established Provincial Academies of Fine Arts in thirteen cities, among them Cadiz. Linked to the development of the realist trend, the director, history painter Ramón Rodríguez Barcaza (1820–1892), encouraged teaching activities at the school and his successes opened up new prospects for the pupils. Accordingly, after being awarded a bronze medal for a Still-Life at the local exhibition of 1879, Clemente decided to go and live in Paris, where he was taught by Léon Bonnat and Francisco Domingo. The latter extended his influence and guided newly arrived artists in Paris towards the espousal of the tableautin – not only Clemente but also José Morillo Ferradas (1853–1920), then on a grant from the Diputación (provincial authorities) of Cadiz; José Parada Santín (1857–1923); and, somewhat later, the Miralles Darmanin brothers (Enrique and José) and Domingo Muñoz Cuesta (1850–1935). An example of this tribute to the “Louis XIII” aesthetic of the 1600s, a tableautin from Clemente’s Parisian period, is Caballero de la corte de Luis XIII (“Gentleman of the Court of Louis XIII”).
In 1880 Clemente returned to Spain and settled permanently in Seville, where he became involved in artistic life, as he is recorded as being treasurer of the Free Academy of Fine Arts in 1887, living at Calle Rábida no. 11, left-hand apartment of the master floor, according to the academy’s yearbook. But the most colourful episode in his life is perhaps the short period he spent as master to the young Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881–1958) when the Moguer-born poet moved to Seville at the age of fourteen (autumn 1896) in order to learn the technique of painting. Jiménez turned fifteen that December and the following summer (1897) stopped studying at Clemente’s studio; he nevertheless continued painting at home, although by then his vocation for poetry had come to the fore. He does not have exactly fond memories of the painter, whom he describes as lacking in application: “…and the guitar and songs were the highlight of the afternoon. My master [Clemente] hardly painted either – and he was talented, but a failure. I do not know why I intuitively endeavoured to get him away from there; I wanted him to work, to paint great things, what I dreamed of. It made me very happy when he was about to start on a work, but what he did was always a failure compared to what I dreamed of. I reckon I did not carry on painting because the atmosphere dampened my hopes. If, instead of going to that studio, I had started off with a great master, perhaps I would be a great painter today.” A scholar of Juan Ramón’s facet of painter (María Carrera Pascual, continuing an earlier study by Ángel Crespo) explains that such a negative opinion (stemming solely from Juan Ramón’s private views) should be compared with that of other students, if he had any that is – and it is odd that the poet does not mention any fellow pupils or contemporaries who were also learning painting, as might have been the case of Vázquez Díaz (born in 1882). Likewise, even if we have to concede that Clemente was a poor teacher and a painter who lacked sensitivity, we must assume that he encouraged his pupil to copy the masters and practice the various fields he himself embraced: portraiture, landscapes with figures and still-lifes, and particularly the genre scenes Clemente was so fond of painting (precisely after settling in Seville in 1880, we should add). In short, the poor example provided by Salvador Clemente would not have been sufficient to discourage Juan Ramón had he not already been discouraged.
On returning to Seville Clemente took up genre painting – albeit with a précieux style characterised by sharp, precise textures and volumes – although a testimony from the period (or almost at least, as it dates from 1929), Cascales’s book, states that his favourite types of work were always light effects (even though he practiced other genres), and that he was outstanding at sunlit backgrounds according to the praise of the press of the day. Indeed, reviews such as that published in the Boletín Gaditano on 24 July 1882 of what must have been the picture that earned him the greatest fame, Volverán las oscuras golondrinas (“The Dark Swallows Will Return”) based on the known poem by Bécquer, indicate that he must have had a certain reputation in some periodicals. Another of his works, Rosas del tiempo (“Seasonal Roses”), a female portrait with roses, was praised in a Sevillian daily newspaper and what was probably a short stay in Granada is documented by the review published in El Defensor de Granada (no. 750) of a visit to the painter’s studio to see his output while he was staying in the city. El Fígaro of Seville (no. 597) likewise praises Los pavos (“Turkeys”) and another Sevillian daily, La Andalucía (no. 8,476), speaks highly of Petenera. The list of paintings provided by Cascales – which includes the commonly cited La feria de pájaros (de la Alfalfa de Sevilla) [“Bird Fair (of the Alfalfa in Seville)”], “a delight of colour and execution” submitted to the competition organised in 1882 by the newspaper El Porvenir) – is notable for the number sold abroad: in Uruguay, even to the president of the republic; in London to a gentleman whose name is also recorded, together with that of a minister plenipotentiary of the United States who also buys a picture from him; and even to clients in Berlin. An unspecified painting by him in the Buenos Aires National Museum of Fine Arts was shown beside others from the same museum by painters such as Zuloaga (his Return from the Harvest), Román Ribera, Manuel Benedito and others in an exhibition held in July 2008 on the Salentein estate, Uco valley, Mendoza, Argentina.
Clemente tried his luck at the National Exhibitions of Fine Arts only once, in that of 1897, and secured an honorary mention for the only work he entered, Para el Mercado (“For the Market”, 62 x 90 cm, cat. no. 250). He died in Madrid on 18 March 1909. In addition to the titles of his works quoted in the various press reviews, it is interesting to list some of those which are currently known through auctions, such as a Paisaje (“Landscape”, watercolour on paper, 13 x 8 cm, Madrid, Sala Retiro, 11/III/2008, lot no. 505), Niños con burros y pavos (“Children with Donkeys and Turkeys”, oil on panel, 19 x 31.5 cm, Madrid, Subastas Segre, 13/VII/2007, lot no. 44.298), Manola (oil on canvas, 73 x 51 cm, Montevideo, Castells & Castells, 15/XI/2006, lot no. 45), Tending the Animals (oil on panel, 24 x 14 cm, London, Sotheby’s, 14/XI/2006, lot no. 74), A Sevillian Balcony (oil on canvas, 136 x 71.2 cm, signed and dated: “S. Clemente/SEVILLA 1883”, Sotheby’s London, 16/XI/2005, lot no. 102), Covered Wagon, Seville (oil on canvas, 9.84 x 16.83 cm, New York, William Doyle, 2/IV/2003, lot no.53), En la fuente (“By the Well”, oil on canvas, 89.50 x 46 cm, Sotheby’s, London, 19/XI/2001, lot no. 204), Café Terrace (43.18 x 58.42 cm, New York, Sotheby’s, 1997, lot no. 186) and Paisaje con pastora (“Landscape with Shepherdess”, oil on canvas, 83 x 166 cm, Madrid, Ansorena, 31/XII/1991). Clemente also dabbled in book illustration, an example of which is Manuel Cano y Cueto’s book El hombre de piedra (with a prologue by Siro García del Mazo and drawings by Salvador Clemente, Madrid, 1889), a collection of poems about a legend that sprang up around the piece of a statue located in a Seville street with the same name as the legend and the title of the book. His illustrations are chiefly borders which surround the text-block, in the manner of antique miniatures, drawings at the end of the sections or – in landscape format – heading the first page of each chapter. They are signed and dated 1889.