Juan Martínez Abades

Gijon, 1862 - Madrid, 1920

  • Gathering Seaweed on the Banks of the Berbés, Vigo

  • Exterior Port and Abra of Bilbao with Punta Galea


Born in Gijón in 1862, Juan Martínez Abades studied at the school founded by Jovellanos, where he made copies of some of the drawings in the collection assembled by the enlightened minister from Gijón. He moved to Madrid, where he attended the Special School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving between 1880 and 1887. At the beginning of his stay there he frequented the studios of the Gijón-born painter Ignacio Suárez Llanos (who later died in 1881) and the sculptor José Gragera y Herboso, deputy director of the National Museum of Paintings. He won several medals and consolation prizes while at art school and in 1885 he was awarded a travel grant from the Diputación (provincial authorities) of Oviedo. His first large painting, La muerte de Mesalina (“The Death of Messalina”), which he submitted to the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in 1884, is reminiscent of Rosales. Most of his initial output was oriented towards seascapes and port scenes, which would secure him fame, as well as towards landscapes, in which he followed the guidelines of his master Carlos de Haes and, sometimes, of Manuel Ramos Artal, who was active as a painter in Asturias around that time. As a scholarship student, he submitted three figure paintings to the Diputación: ¡Pobre hijo mío! (“Poor Son of Mine!”, 1885), La persona (“The Person”, 1886) and ¡Serás buena! (1887) which, like the aforementioned painting, are housed in the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias. He spent from 1888 to 1890 in Italy on a scholarship of merit awarded by the Diputación of Oviedo to further his studies. In 1890 he won a medal second-class at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts for El Viático a bordo (“The Viaticum on Board”, San Sebastián, Museo Municipal de San Telmo). That year he opened a studio in Madrid, although he made many trips to the different coastal regions of Spain, especially Asturias – where he used to spend part of the summer – Galicia, Cantabria, the Basque Country and also the Canary Islands, where his wife had been born. In 1892 he won a medal second-class for El entierro del piloto (“The Burial of the Pilot”, collection of the Fondo de Arte Masaveu) at the International Exhibition of Fine Arts held in Madrid. From 1894 to shortly before his death he painted numerous illustrations for the Blanco y Negro weekly. He took part in a good many of the exhibitions organised by the Circle of Fine Arts in Madrid from 1893, in all the National Exhibitions held between 1884 and 1917 (he obtained awards in those of 1897 and 1899 and a consideration of first-place medal in that of 1901), in the Universal Exhibitions of Barcelona (1888) and Chicago (1893), and in the International Exhibitions of Brussels (1910), Rome (1911), Munich (1913) and Panama (1916). In 1905 he designed the stage sets for La galerna and the following year the decoration of the twenty lunettes for the assembly room of the city hall in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In 1913 he held a solo exhibition at Iturrioz in Madrid and the following year he set sail for Havana, where his work enjoyed great commercial success. His painting, which consisted of large pictures on social themes in the 1890s, later focused on naturalistic portrayals of the coastal landscape, with a keen observation of the light and the movement of the sea.

Mention should also be made of Martínez Abades’ contribution to musical creation. As a boy he had received singing lessons from the maestro Passutti in the artistic society La Armonía, but it was in 1911 that he began to produce his own compositions, initially (1911) based on Asturian folk motifs and later cuplés, which brought him great fame and were sometimes illustrated by the painter himself. He died in January 1920 and shortly afterwards an exhibition of three hundred of his paintings was held in the premises of the Circle of Fine Arts in Madrid.

Javier Barón