José Benlliure y Gil (1855 – 1937), was a one of the most important Spanish painters of the late nineteenth century. A classically trained academic painter, he is best known for his historical paintings and decorations of public buildings. A native of Valencia, he was born in the quarter of Cañamelar in the year 1855.
José belonged to a humble family that over time would contribute important figures to the world of the art: the painter Juan Antonio Benlliure and the famous sculptor Juan Antonio Mariano Benlliure, who was his brother. José started painting when he was only 10 years old, creating votive offerings and small cuadritos which he sold in his neighborhood to help contribute to his family’s meager income. At the age of 12, he was taken under the wing of artist Francisco Sunday Marquis., who not only taught him how to refine his skills, but also took him to Madrid and exposed him to the paintings of other renowned artists.
He was such a gifted artist, that in 1879, he was selected by the Spanish government to receive a pension in Rome for the Delegation of Valencia. This facilitated his first trip abroad. In the beginning his work consisted of genre paintings until the Italian painter Morelli advised him to create more religiously themed paintings such as “San Vicente Ferrer preaching on the final judgment ".
His interest for the Orientalist style was born through the persistence of another Spanish painter, MarianoFortuny (1838-1874). He made several trips to Algeria and Morocco (1888 and 1897), which provided him with themes for his Orientalist work based on ever day life. He depicted people going about different activities and painted small scale, architectural vignettes. The work of this period is rendered in various styles. Sketches, water colors, and full scale oil paintings depict his impressions with a warm, somewhat muted color palette. His approach to each piece varied as well, from the loosely developed to the highly detailed painting.
Bennlliure stayed on in Italy and became the leader of the Spanish art colony in Rome, where he practiced as painter and sculptor. He served as the Director of the Spanish Academy of Fine Arts between 1903 and 1913.
Upon his return to Spain his career was marked by the execution of several state orders for the decoration of public buildings. He owes his chief fame to his large historical paintings, titled the "Vision in the Coliseum" for which he won an award in 1887. His work consists of at least a hundred paintings, watercolors and drawings, most of which are representative of scenes and people he had seen or encountered in Italy, Spain and North Africa.
He died in Valencia in the year 1937. If you are ever in Valencia, Spain make sure to look up José Benlliure y Gil’s home and studio which were converted into a museum called the “Casa