Rafael García Hispaleto

Seville, 1832 - Paris, 1854

  • The Shell Seekers


Rafael García Martínez was the second of the six children born to Antonio García Gallardo of Belalcázar and the Sevillian María Encarnación Martínez Flores: José María, Rafael, Dionisio, Manuel, María Adelaida and Manuel María Antonio.

A future painter like his brother Manuel, Rafael was christened the day after his birth in the collegiate church of the Divino Salvador in Seville, where his mother had been baptised in 1806 and where his parents had been married twenty-three years later.

Their first family home was at number five of the Calle del Rosario in the parish of San Pablo-La Magdalena. Rafael’s father ran a wholesale business in foreign and colonial goods, which allowed the García Martínez family to live comfortably or in financial straits, depending on the circumstances.

Rafael and his brother Manuel, who led parallel lives, received their early artistic training at the Santa Isabel Academy of the Three Noble Arts in Seville. Rafael is recorded as having enrolled for drawing from life and plaster modelling at the age of fifteen; his instructors were Joaquín Domínguez Bécquer (director of drawing), Eduardo Cano (principles of drawing class), Salvador Gutiérrez (heads and figures class), José María Romero (class on parts) and Manuel Barrón; and he had as a classmate Valeriano Domínguez Bécquer, nephew of Joaquín.

The young artist displayed an evident precocity, as he was barely seventeen when he first showed works at a local exhibition, chiefly portraits. He soon excelled in this genre – so much so that in 1853 he painted portraits of the infantas María Josefa and María Isabel of Bourbon, sisters of the king consort Francisco de Asís (Reales Alcázares, Seville). By then Rafael proudly went by the name “Hispaleto”, meaning “Sevillian”, to distinguish himself from other artists with the same surname. Thenceforward his fame as a painter of portraits and other types of works grew in Seville and also in Madrid, where he established himself in the middle of the century thanks to the support his compatriot Antonio María Esquivel gave to Andalusians like him who arrived in the capital. There he met the Marquis of Salamanca who, on Madrazo’s advice, bought his painting Quevedo leyendo una de sus producciones (“Quevedo Reading One of His Productions”) and awarded him a grant to go and live in Paris. He remained there for a very short time – that which remained of his life and in dire circumstances owing to events: his patron in Spain became ruined and a cholera epidemic in Paris claimed hundreds of lives, among them that of poor Rafael, who was only twenty-two at the time.

Gerardo Pérez Calero