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Ramón Estalella Pujolá (1893-1986) is perhaps one of the most fascinating Spanish painters of his time. Estalella was born in Madrid to father Antonio Estalella, who owned a Cuban tobacco factory and surrendered his Spanish nationality for that of Cuba. As a result, Estalella was born under Cuban citizenship. Estalella’s interest in art began at an early age; he studied painting under the direction of Eduardo Chicharro and later José María López Mezquita and regularly attended intellectual gatherings of writers and artists called the ‘Jardín de los Poetas’, or the Garden of Poets. During this time he befriended many influential figures of the 20th century, including Salvador Dalí, Joaquín Sorolla, and Federico García Lorca and immersed himself into these intellectual outlets as they rewarded and fulfilled him both intellectually and artistically. His circle of friends consisted of historically significant figures, writers, artists, and diplomats such as Emilio Prado, Julián Besteiro, Max Jacob, Amado Nervo, and Luis Buñuel.
Estalella graduated from the University of Madrid with a degree in law. A few years later, he was required to return to Cuba to renew his doctorate in Public Law. That same year, 1925, Estalella witnessed the blossoming of his career on multiple levels as he also had his first solo exhibition which was rather successful. Upon graduation, Estalella was qualified for the position of chancellor at the Cuban Embassy in Madrid and was destined to fulfill that title. Assuming a career in diplomacy left little time for his art as he fell into the position of power after the Cuban Ambassador in Madrid suddenly passed. Seeking to employ his artistic ability at the same time, Estalella lent his talents to multiple forms of involvement, including contributions to Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s book as an illustrator. He also painted fans and figurines as a means of income before dedicating himself fully to painting. Early on, he was perhaps best known for his contributions to La Esfera (The Sphere) and Blanco y Negro (Black and White), bringing him acclaim in the public eye.
Serving as Chancellor in the Cuban Embassy in Spain, Estalella entered the diplomatic world during a time of uncertainty and instability. He invested emotionally in the lives of the families of this tragic time, helping nearly 600 people seek asylum during the civil unrest that took place during the Spanish Civil War. Estalella risked his own safety as a result of the sense of duty he felt in this position, even though the rational path of action would have been to seek refuge at this time. This era was particularly tumultuous as many experienced severe hunger, illness, and violence. Estalella was an inherently compassionate, a cultivated hero who felt responsible for assisting those in need of help and dedicated his life to defending those who were condemned by the Communists and Franco as well. Following the beginning of Fidel Castro’s career there were a number of shootings. Feeling incapable of representing a government such as Cuba’s in this time of extreme violence, Estalella took a position opposing the very government that he represented. After expressing his discontentment with the recent political actions, Estalella knew that his statements would force him to resign from the Embassy.
The political turmoil soon ended permitting that his family to return to him from asylum and that he return to his painting. Feeling betrayed by the Cuban government, Estalella applied for Spanish citizenship. These were trying years for Estalella, and after devoting his time and effort to save others, he was soon forgotten. Never wishing to use his diplomatic career as a launch for his career as a painter, he struggled to make sure his new artistic path was not affiliated with his diplomatic past. Finally free of his diplomatic obligations and able to fully dedicate himself to his gift, Estalella produced the majority of his work during these years. This lonely path lead Estalella into a deep depression, and he did not even believe in his own art. As time passed, his painting was healing, and he found comfort in the beauty he captured in his works. Estalella developed a distinct style with elements reminiscent of Cubism and Art Deco that is visible both in his graphics and in his landscapes. He experimented with different techniques but felt most comfortable with his Impressionistic style. Never taking credit for some of his more abstract landscapes, they remained unsigned and never seen tucked away in a corner of his painting studio.
He experienced a rather celebrated and successful career later in his life. He frequently received astounding reviews and was named ‘Socio de Honor de la Asociación de Pintores y Escultores’ (Honourable Member of the Association of Painters and Sculptors). He participated in the Primera Exposición Bienal Hispanoamericana de Arte (First Biennial Hispanoamerican Exposition of Art) in 1951 and won first prize in both the 1974 Salón de Otoño as well as the 1978 Exposición del Ayuntamiento de Madrid (City Hall Exhibition in Madrid). He regularly participated in the Exposiciones Nacionales (National Expositions) and the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Circle of Fine Arts) under general director Florentino Pérez Embid. Although most of his exhibitions took place in Spain, he also showed his work in Chile and Mexico. Ramón Estalella’s last exhibition in 1982 at the ‘Salón Cano’ in Madrid proved a tremendous outcome of an accomplished career. Shortly after having witnessed the magnitude of his success, Estalella passed away.
Ramon Estalella y su tiempo by Ramon Estalella Manso de Zuniga, Cristobal Halffter