We take you on a journey through the history of art in Spain with the most renowned painters and their emblematic works.
From Juan Gris’ “papier collé” technique, to Zurbarán’s religious-themed works or Dalí’s enigmatic paintings, here are 10 Spanish painters whose works have left their mark on the history of art.
1. El Greco (1541-1614)
The painter of Greek origin lived in Crete until he was 26 years old, but had most of his artistic success in Spain, which is why he cannot be missing from the list. Before moving to Spain, he lived for several years in Italy, where he interacted with the great Renaissance painters of the time. Although he developed his own style, his techniques were initially marked by the Byzantine style, and later by Renaissance and Mannerism. Upon his arrival in Toledo, the artist created some of his most recognized works, many of them with religious themes. Among his most acclaimed works are The Burial of the Count of Orgaz for the Church of Santo Tomé in Toledo, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest (Prado Museum) and Laocoön (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
2. Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
This painter of the Spanish Golden Age was born in Badajoz, although he later settled in Seville. And it is here where he received numerous commissions from both noble families and large convents. Zurbarán’s paintings are mainly of religious themes and, although his works were associated with tenebrism, he developed his own style over the years. In 1636 he was hired by the King to collaborate in decorating the Buen Retiro Palace and from that date, his works were also exported to South America. Among his most well-known works are Saint Serapion (Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford), Christ on the Cross (Art Institute of Chicago), and Saint Hugo in the Refectory of the Carthusians (Museum of Fine Arts of Seville).
3. Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)
The Baroque painter is considered one of the best Spanish painters of all time, so much so that even Manet referred to him as “the painter of painters“. Velázquez trained in Francisco Pacheco’s workshop in Seville and his great talent was evident at an early age. In fact, he painted The Luncheon (Hermitage Museum) and Old Woman Frying Eggs (National Gallery of Scotland) at the age of 18. The use of chiaroscuro (representing light and shadow in 3D objects) in his early works is reminiscent of Caravaggio, and during this period his works focused on religious themes and still lifes. Later on, he was able to make a great artistic career by becoming a court painter. During this period, he made a large number of portraits of the Spanish royal family, such as Las Meninas (Prado Museum), one of his most recognized creations. In addition to portraits and religious themes, his repertoire also included mythological compositions, such as The Triumph of Bacchus (Prado Museum).
4. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)
Murillo was born in Seville in 1617 into a large family (he was the youngest of 14 siblings). After being orphaned when he was only 9 years old, he was left under the guardianship of one of his aunts. Although there is not much information about his beginnings in the art world, it seems quite likely that his academic training was forged in the workshop of Juan del Castillo. His first important commission was a series of canvases for the convent of San Francisco, among which is The Kitchen of the Angels, currently on display at the Louvre Museum.
Throughout his career, the artist was involved with religious themes and received important commissions for the monastery of San Agustín, Santa María la Blanca and the Hospital de la Caridad. Among the most outstanding works of the Baroque painter, it is worth mentioning The Young Beggar (Louvre Museum), Boy With A Dog (Hermitage Museum) and The Holy Family with a Little Bird (Prado Museum).
5. Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)
Francisco de Goya is considered one of Spain’s most important artists and his mark on the history of art is undebatable. A painter and engraver, he was a forefather of the pictorial movements of the 20th century. During his career, he interpreted the different styles of the time in his own way, from Rococo to Neoclassicism or Pre-Romanticism. At the age of 13 he began his artistic training at the Academy of Drawing in Zaragoza, but it took him years to progress in the art world. His trip to Italy in 1770 was a turning point, allowing him to see and study the work of the great artists of that time.
Upon his return to Zaragoza, he began to receive more commissions and, years later, he moved to Madrid to paint tapestries for the royal court. His fame grew and in the 1780s he became the fashionable portraitist of Madrid’s high society. Nine years later, King Charles IV appointed him painter to the King’s Chamber. During his long career, not even the serious illness that caused his hearing loss affected his creativity. de Goya is known for his religious works, his portraits and, of course, also for the paintings in which he immortalizes historical moments. Some of his most emblematic works are The Third of May 1808, Saturn Devouring His Son and The Nude Maja, which are currently on display at the Prado Museum.
6. Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923)
The Valencian painter discovered his love for art when he was a child. After completing his training at the Velencia School of Artisans, he presented his works to several provincial competitions, but he went unnoticed. Until 1883, when he won his first medal at the Regional Exhibition of Valencia. After a trip to Rome, he fell in love with classical and Renaissance art and, shortly after, while visiting Paris, he discovered impressionism. Not only did he achieve recognition in Spain with his work, but also in the rest of Europe and even in America.
The artist preferred to paint outdoors and his works are characterized by the masterful use of light. A good part of his works represents everyday scenes and landscapes, in which the Mediterranean is the protagonist. During his artistic career he created more than 2,200 works, often labeled as an Impressionist or Luminist. Some of his most recognized works are Walk on the Beach in the Sorolla Museum, Sewing the Candle and Boys on the Beach (1910) in the Prado Museum.
7. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The Malaga-born painter and sculptor is one of the founders of Cubism and his works are found throughout the world. His artistic talents were evident when he was just a child; at the age of 8 he created his first oil painting, and at the age of 13 he had his first exhibition in A Coruña. After studying at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts and at the Lonja School, Picasso spent some time in Paris, where he got to know artists from the Montmartre and Montparnasse neighborhoods.
During his long career, Picasso played a fundamental role in the history of art in all his creative stages (blue period, pink period, cubism, etc.). Some of his most representative works are Guernica (Reina Sofia Museum), Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (MoMA) and The Weeping Woman (Tate Modern).
8. Juan Gris (1887-1927)
The painter and illustrator José Victoriano González-Pérez was born in Madrid but, after moving to Paris at an early age, he settled in Montmartre. It was there that he created most of his works. He initially worked as an illustrator for different publications up until 1910, when he made the leap to painting. Juan Gris is one of the greatest advocates of Cubism, and his greatest contribution to this artistic movement was the technique of “papier collé”, which consists of using paper or cardboard cutouts that are combined with oil on canvas. Some of his most recognized works are Portrait of Picasso (Art Institute of Chicago) and The Open Window (Reina Sofia Museum).
9. Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Painter, sculptor, engraver and ceramist, Joan Miró is one of the greatest ambassadors of surrealism in Spain. Although his style of work was more “detailed” in the beginning of his career, the artist focused on the subconscious and the dream world after moving to Paris. His works became more abstract and, in a way, more “childish”, prioritizing simple shapes and primary colors. Upon his return to Spain, he settled in Palma and began to work in ceramics and sculpture. Among his most recognized works are The Harlequin’s Carnival (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), The Farm (National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.) and Dona i Ocell (Joan Miró Park in Barcelona).
10. Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
This versatile artist (painter, sculptor, engraver and writer) is one of the greatest ambassadors of surrealism. After spending his early years in his native Figueras, he moved to Madrid to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, although he was expelled before taking his final exams. During his academic days, he was in contact with Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel. He later settled in Paris, where he met Picasso, whom he deeply admired, and Joan Miró. There he joined André Breton’s surrealist group, although he was kicked out from it years later.
In the late 1920s, he invented the paranoiac-critical method, which had a great influence on other contemporary artists. At this time, Dalí met his future wife and inspiration, Gala. Among his most emblematic works are The Persistence of Memory (MoMa), Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum) and The Great Masturbator (Reina Sofía Museum).