Valeriano Domínguez Bécquer

Seville, 1833 - Madrid, 1870

  • Courting (Pelando la pava)


The son of the painter José Domínguez Bécquer (1805–1841) and Joaquina Bastida y Vargas (†1847) and brother of the poet Gustavo Adolfo (1836–1870), Valeriano Domínguez Bécquer was born in Seville. Orphaned at a very early age, he followed the family tradition and trained as a painter with Joaquín Domínguez Bécquer (1817–1879), a cousin and assistant of his father. Like José and Gustavo Adolfo, he used the surname Bécquer and, like them, died young – in his case at the age of thirty-six in Madrid, three months before his brother.

Painters could earn a good income in Seville during that period thanks to the demand from travellers who visited the city and took back with them small pictures featuring views and typical figures of Seville as souvenirs. Valeriano successfully made a living from paintings of this kind for a few years but – restless like his poet brother – he soon found the city too limiting for his aspirations and decided to travel to Madrid in 1862, a year after separating from his wife Winifreda Coghan, with whom he had lived since 1855 and married in 1861 and by whom he had two children. In the capital the brothers spent a few more years that were marked by more financial straits than successes and collaborated on several projects for illustrated reviews.

In 1865, through Gustavo Adolfo, Valeriano was awarded a grant from the Ministry of Development to tour Spain and paint customs that were dying out as a result of the advent of the railway and incipient industrialisation. He travelled around Aragon and Castile and painted, among others, El chocolate (“Chocolate”), La carreta del pinar (“Wagon in the Pine Grove”) and La fuente de la ermita (“The Hermitage Fountain”, 1867), a series that faithfully captures the traditions and costumes of the areas he visited from an approach that is more ethnographic than picturesque. A far cry from the anecdotal, light-hearted and clichéd Sevillian genre painting of his formative period, these subjects are portrayed with a serious intent, imbued with a presence which lends the figures a monumental appearance that is completely absent from his Andalusian painting.

Some of Valeriano Bécquer’s portraits, a genre he had practiced since his period in Seville, such as Gustavo Adolfo (1862) and the Girls in the Museo del Prado as well as that of his daughter Julia (1866, Madrid, Museo Lázaro Galdiano), testify to his skills, which were far greater than those of most of his contemporaries and comparable only to those of Federico de Madrazo. Valeriano was also a foremost painter of group portraits, as evidenced by works such as Carlist Painter and His Family (1859, Madrid, Museo del Prado) and, above all, Interior isabelino (“Isabelline Interior”, 1856, Cadiz, Museum of Fine Arts). This work recalls the finest 17th-century Spanish religious painting and creates an intimate domestic setting that is very rare among his contemporaries.

It is precisely thanks to Valeriano that we not only know what Gustavo Adolfo “officially” looked like – through his surviving portrait – but have an insight into the family intimacy of the two artists, which Valeriano captured in drawings such as those made at the monastery of Veruela during their many stays there.

Valeriano, one of the most original painters of 20th-century Spain who is still little known and appreciated, left one of the very few testimonies of the 1868 Revolution in Cadiz, a drawing showing the fleet at the harbour. After “La Gloriosa”, as the revolution was known, he made a series of eighty-nine watercolours that were highly critical of Isabella II and her “court of miracles” – also in collaboration with Gustavo Adolfo, who wrote the satirical verses – in an album entitled Los Borbones en pelota which they signed jointly as “Sem”.

María de los Santos García Felguera