José Gallegos y Arnosa

Jerez de la Frontera, 1859 - Anzio, 1917

  • Choir Boys

    c. 1885-1890
  • Rumours


José Gallegos Arnosa was born in Jerez de la Frontera on 3 May 1857 according to Pescador (writing in 1906) or in 1859 according to most biographical references.

He was from a modest family and first studied at the school run by the local Academy of Fine Arts (that of Santo Domingo). The patronage of Guillermo Garvey, the winery owner for whom his father worked, enabled him to go and live in Madrid at the age of sixteen and to enrol at the San Fernando Academy.

Years later, in the catalogues of his first National Exhibitions, he stated – probably to enhance his prestige – that his master had been Federico de Madrazo, who made him study “thoroughly” the works of Murillo, Velázquez and other accomplished artists.

In 1878, having been established in Madrid for five years, he left a testament to his learning in Casamiento árabe (“Arab Wedding”), a work sufficiently important to be acquired by the state in 1882. Another work, En el harén (“In the Harem”), attests to the prestige he enjoyed in Jerez, as it was exhibited at the local academy.

Gallegos moved to Rome in 1880 and made the Italian capital his permanent residence except perhaps for a short stay in Tangiers – unless it predated the aforementioned paintings – a brief return to Spain between 1900 and 1906, and travels around Italy and various European cities. He spent his final period in Anzio, very close to Rome, where he came into contact with the colony of Spanish artists who had espoused the précieux aesthetic.

He made his début in the Eternal City with a large painting entitled Botín de Guerra (“War Booty”) in which he continued with the Orientalist themes, as shown by the contemporary reproduction in the most important illustrated review of the day, La Ilustración Española y Americana (8 January 1885), in connection with its exhibition at the 1884 National Exhibition of Fine Arts, where it was awarded a third-place medal.

In this period, although his works tended to be sold through dealers, his contribution to the official exhibitions is borne out, with respect to the Spanish National Exhibitions, by the works he entered in 1881, 1884, 1910 and 1912. He submitted four paintings to the first: El loco de los ángulos (“The Angle Fanatic”) – inspired by Quevedos’ Vida del Gran Tacaño Quevedo – Fiesta de moros (“Moorish Celebration”), Moro del Souss (“Moor of the Souss”) and Tipo Napolitano (“Neapolitan Type”). Following the aforementioned National Exhibition of 1884 there is a gap of sixteen years after which he staged a return, submitting four small paintings (by then the format he generally used) to those of 1910 and 1912: Restauradores de alfombras (“Restorers of Carpets”) and El viejo maestro (“The Old Master”) in the first year and Patio andaluz (“Andalusian Courtyard”) and Puesto de flores (“Flower Stall”) in the second.

He also showed works at the Circle of Fine Arts in 1880, 1881 and 1882: Vendedor árabe (“Arab Vendor”), Una esclava (“Female Slave”), Plaza de Tánger (“Square in Tangiers”) and Dos moros tangerines (“Two Moors of Tangiers”).

Outside Spain Gallegos showed his work at the International Exhibition of Art in Rome in 1883; at Berlin, where he was awarded a gold medal in 1891; and at Munich. His international renown is reinforced by a Parisian testimony of 1907, according to which his work is considered to represent the specifically Spanish character that has not yet succumbed to the dictates of the French style, unlike other colonies of artists.

Reference is often made to his most cited paintings [Una procesión en Venecia (“A Procession in Venice”), La visita del cardinal (“The Cardinal’s Visit”), Un bautizo (“A Baptism”), La communion (“The Communion”), Un monaguillo (“An Altar Boy”), La firma del contrato de boda (“Signing the Wedding Contract”) and En el coro (“In the Choir”), among others], which capture the magnificence of Catholic worship in details ranging from the embroidery on chasubles and liturgical objects to the architectural and decorative elements, in keeping with the trend for religious genre scenes featuring altar boys. He is also reported as having painted scenes of fairs and festivities more closely based on real life showing girls singing and playing the guitar.

Esteban Casado