Julio Vila y Prades

Valencia, 1873 - Barcelona, 1930

  • Valencians

    c. 1908

Thanks to his daughter’s biographical and bibliographical notes for the retrospective exhibition of his work held in Madrid in 1974, biographical information on the painter Julio Vila y Prades is regarded as considerably accurate. He was born in Valencia on 9 April 1873, the son of Valero Berenguer and Rosa Prades Tarazona. Having expressed a desire to become a painter he left home against his parents' wishes to enrol at the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Valencia, where he studied drawing and painting under Joaquín Agrasot, Juan Peyró and Francisco Domingo Marqués. His acceptance in 1893 at the workshop of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida in Madrid proved decisive to his career as an artist. Vila y Prades remained in Madrid until 1904 and during that time entered his work in a number of painting competitions with considerable success.

In 1904 he spent a short period in Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian before returning to Madrid. He had always wanted to visit the Americas and with the help of his master Joaquín Sorolla he contacted the industrialist José Artal, Count of Artal, in Buenos Aires, where he would travel in 1905 to work. During this period he produced various genre scenes and landscapes featuring the Argentinean pampa, particularly important in this respect being Conduciendo hacienda ("Running Bulls", 1905, Captaincy General, Seville.)

In 1906 he returned to Europe, and with the help of former classmates from the Académie Julian, settled in the coastal town of Concarneau in Brittany, where he painted a number of interesting seascapes and Breton genre scenes, including Las murmuradoras ("The Gossips", 1906, Vila Artal Collection). On his return to Madrid later that year with his friend Verdugo Landi, he produced a number of drawings covering the marriage of Alfonso XIII for publication in the La Esfera and ABC daily newspapers. In 1907 he travelled to Valencia as his mother's health was failing and upon her death in 1908, returned to Madrid. At this time he took part in numerous group exhibitions and painted some of his most famous canvases: Caravana Gitana ("Gypsy Caravan"); Los arroceros ("The Rice Growers"), which won second prize at the Madrid National Exhibition; and Jurado de carreras del siglo XVIII ("18th-Century Race Judges"), for which he won a gold medal at the Paris Salon. That same year he returned to Buenos Aires, where he married Carmen Artal, the daughter of his friend Jose Artal. This period also saw Vila's development as a muralist through a number of commissions for Argentinean institutional buildings, including the Tigre Club, the Club de Mar del Plata and the Tucumán government building. In 1909 he spent several months with his wife in Paris studying the paintings at the Louvre and, indeed, returned to Europe several times over the next few years, having won acclaim with his work in both Europe and the Americas.

In 1914 he moved with his family from Buenos Aires to Paris but on the outbreak of World War I decided to return to Spain, in 1915 settling in San Sebastian, where in Ategorrieta he would set up a permanent home and a studio he called Cheerful. In his homeland he became well-known as a landscape artist and portrait painter of influential families including the royal household, and produced several portraits of the king.

Over the next few years he took part in a number of exhibitions, travelling to different countries as commissions arrived. In this respect, he was in New York and Caracas in 1917, in Havana from 1918 to 1919, and in Mexico in 1920. In 1921 he returned to San Sebastian, where he received a commission to decorate the ceiling of the Gran Kursaal, completing the work (sadly no longer extant) in 1922. Also in 1921 he travelled to Peru, where he received a commission for a number of large murals depicting the Battle of Ayacucho for the new Museo Bolivariano in Lima. In 1924 he went to the USA, where he made the mural decoration of the Spreckels Foundation's Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum in Los Angeles. That same year he also visited a number of South American countries.

In 1926 he returned to Spain to continue working on the Battle of Ayacucho at a new studio in Tarragona. In 1928 he was awarded the Order of the Sun by the Peruvian government. In October of that year he travelled to Barcelona, where he painted several portraits for King Alfonso XIII. He was unable to complete the Ayacucho mural as he fell ill in Barcelona and died on 9th July 1930. He was buried in San Sebastian.

Julio Vila y Prades's very varied and extensive work can be seen in museums and institutions all over Spain and the Americas and in a number of private collections. Most of it, however, belongs to the Vila Artal family collection, in Madrid.

María Luisa García Serrano