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 Martin Rico y Ortega  (1833 - 1908)

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Lived/Active: Spain/Italy/France      Known for: Light filled, detailed landscape and marine painting, Venice scenes

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from Auction House Records.
RIO SAN TROVASO, VENICE
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Rehs Galleries, Inc.:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Martin Rico y Ortega was born on November 12, 1833 in Madrid during a time of prolonged civil strife in Spain. Conflict between reformers and authoritarian factions in the royal family and the government produced not only civil war in the 1830s and 40s, but also continuing economic uncertainty well into the last decades of the century. Perhaps because of this social upheaval, Rico y Ortega's career as a painter flourished outside of Spain, first in Paris and later in Venice. He was part of a generation of young artists who gravitated toward Paris at mid-century, pioneering the path that would subsequently be followed by Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Joan Miro and Salvador Dali, among others.

The young Rico y Ortega received his earliest art education from his brother Bernardino Rico, who worked as an engraver. He then attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid where he studied landscape painting with Jenaro Perez Villaamil. As the first professor of landscape painting at the Academy,Villaamil was deeply influenced by English artists such as John Constable; and likewise, his students absorbed the habit of painting on site and striving to capture the atmospheric conditions of clouds, water and light. During his student years, Rico y Ortego was also influenced by Juan Antonio de Ribera, a pupil of Jacques-Louis David and later the Director of the Prado Museum; and by Federico de Madrazo, who had studied in both Paris and Rome, and regularly exhibited his work at the Paris Salons. These connections would later serve Rico y Ortega well in his career, including introducing him to Mariano Fortuny who was Madrazo's son-in-law.

As he began to establish his professional reputation in Madrid, Rico y Ortega exhibited his paintings in 1858 and 1860 at the Exposición Nacional. In 1860, he received a fellowship that enabled him to pursue further studies in Paris, where he made the acquaintance of the Barbizon painters, particularly Charles-Francois Daubigny. During this period in the early 1860s, he also traveled throughout Europe, hiking through Switzerland, Brittany and England to study the varied landscape forms of those regions. His sketchbooks from these journeys illustrate the breadth of his interests as well as the strong influence of J. M. W. Turner's approach to landscape painting. [i]

Back home in Paris, he turned his attention to developing his own stylistic vocabulary and creating a reputation as a distinctive landscape painter. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1864, winning a prestigious silver medal in 1866. During this early period, Rico y Ortega's work reflected the plein-air approach of the Barbizon painters as well as the Realists' emphasis on depictions of everyday life. Washerwomen of Varenne, (1865, Prado), illustrates this clearly; in this strikingly horizontal composition, a large group of women toil silently at their laundry on the banks of the Seine while the skyline of Paris defines the panoramic view of the distance. Although the bright silver tonality creates a somewhat idealized image, there is no mistaking the arduous nature of the women's work.

Rico y Ortega continued to show his work at the annual Paris Salon, and later, at the Salon des Artistes Francais. Although he returned to Spain during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, he was back in Paris in time to exhibit seventeen new works at the Exposition Universelle in 1878. That year was especially significant for a bronze medal at the Exposition and, more importantly, the honor of being made a Chevalier of the Legion dâ la Honneur. Eleven years later at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, he again received a silver medal.

Years of living in Paris and traveling through Europe gave Rico y Ortega a broad perspective on the aesthetic ideas of the time. In his 1878 View of Paris, (Prado) there are echoes of Impressionism in the short, vibrant brushstrokes and a fresh color palette, but there is also a suggestion of almost photographic realism that is more akin to the Naturalist aesthetic of artists like Jules Bastien-Lepage. Added to this are time-honored techniques common to both nineteenth-century panorama painters and eighteenth-century vedute artists, such as shifting the perspective of architectural elements for the most picturesque effect.

Despite his peripatetic beginnings, Rico y Ortega settled permanently in Venice in the 1870s where he remained for the rest of his life. He had first visited the historic city in the 1860s, and then gradually began spending his summers there. Although little is known of Rico y Ortega's personal life, putting down roots and establishing a home seems to have been important to the artist by the time he reached his mid-40s. The renowned light and atmospheric effects of the city had a profound effect on Rico y Ortega's work as well. His cityscapes, replete with colored reflections in the canals, shimmer in the Venetian light, but there is also clarity of form that distinguishes these images from the misty depictions of other painters of Venetian scenes such as Felix Ziem or Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

In the relative political calm of the late 1870s and 1880s, Rico y Ortega often visited his native Spain, exploring the landscapes of what had once been Moorish areas in particular. Images of the Alhambra buildings or the Guadaíra River illustrate the sharp, clear light of Andalusia, often with an almost photographic precision. Like many of his colleagues, especially in France, Rico y Ortega may well have been introduced to the use of photography as a tool for organizing a composition.

During his later years, the painter also worked as the artistic director of the international journal Illustration Espanola y Americana. This bi-weekly publication, founded by Abelardo Charles in 1869, presented a wide array of prints and drawings, thus making a critical contribution to the growing global market for art and design magazines.

Rico y Ortega's work also found an extensive market in the United States. For example, the collector William T. Walters of Baltimore was purchasing Gathering Oranges in Granada in the mid-1870s while the then new Metropolitan Museum in New York added A Spanish Garden to its collection in 1881. Similarly, the Prado Museum in Madrid was quick to accept at least five of Rico y Ortega's paintings from donor Ramon de Errazu in 1904.

At the age of 74, with a lifetime of artistic success behind him, Martin Rico y Ortega died on April 13, 1908 in his adopted city of Venice.


Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Martin Rico was born in El Escorial, Madrid.  His formal education was completed at the famous San Fernando School in Madrid, where he studied with Juan Antonio de Ribera and Federico de Madrazo.  Soon after graduating, he took to painting out of doors, first in the vicinity of Madrid, and later throughout the various regions of Spain. He won a government scholarship to study in Paris, and soon became friendly with Raimundo Madrazo and Eduardo Zamacois. Through these two influential painters, Rico made the acquaintance of Charles Daubigny, going to work in Daubigny’s studio in 1863.  This proved to be a turning point in Rico’s career: he was soon dubbed by critics as “a sunny Daubigny” and earned a contract with the well-known dealer Goupil, who sold his works internationally.

In 1872, accompanied by Mariano Fortuny, Rico toured Italy.  He was enchanted by the splendor of Venice, whose sites, waters and light he captured in innumerable paintings.  From 1879, by which time he had made Paris his permanent home, he spent his summers in Venice, renting a palazzo in which to paint.  He would often work sitting in a gondola, sketching buildings and bridges as seen from the water. Rico’s views of the city prompted the critic Emile Bergerat to write, “He [Rico] is a landscapist of the race of Guardí; his touch, like the Master’s, is spirited, lively, daring….”

Biography from Meadows Museum:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

The Spanish painter Martín Rico y Ortega (1833-1908) was one of the most important artists of the second half of the nineteenth century in his native country, and enjoyed wide international recognition as well, especially in France and the United States. From his earliest works painted in the mountainous countryside outside of Madrid to the later works he painted in Paris and Venice, throughout his life Rico stayed true to his love of painting en plein aire, despite his evolving artistic style.

Rico was born in Madrid and received his earliest formal training at the city’s Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he studied under Jenaro Pérez Villaamil (1807-54), the Academy’s first professor of landscape painting. Under the tutelage of Pérez Villaamil, Rico’s earliest works show him influenced by Romanticism, the style for which his teacher was known. In 1860, having been awarded a government-sponsored scholarship, Rico moved to Paris to continue his studies. Once in France, Rico looked to the artists of the Barbizon School for inspiration, and Charles-François Daubigny (1817- 78) in particular. His landscapes from this decade thus depict the French and Swiss countryside in a fully-accomplished Realist style. Toward the end of 1870, due to political and social unrest caused by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Rico decided to leave France and return to his native Spain.

At the invitation of his good friend and colleague Mariano Fortuny i Marsal (1838-74), Rico moved to the southern city of Granada, joining Fortuny and his wife Cecilia, as well as the painter Ricardo de Madrazo (1851-1917). The three artists worked closely during this period, with the styles of Rico and Fortuny overlapping so much that their watercolors – a specialty for both artists – were often confused for one another. It was during this time that, through Fortuny’s influence, Rico’s paintings began to reveal a newfound sense of luminosity and color. His time in Andalucía was, according to his memoirs, one of his happiest, and also one of his most artistically productive periods.

It was Rico’s discovery of Venice in 1872, however, that led to the perfection of his artistic style and the creation of many of his most emblematic works. This year, Rico and Fortuny traveled together to Italy, stopping in Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice: it was Venice, more than any other city he had previously visited, that captured Rico’s artistic imagination. From this first trip until his death thirty-six years later, Rico spent every summer with the exception of one working in the Italian “City of Light.” Venice’s unique setting, with its plazas, churches and canals, as well as its magnificent light, attracted many artists, including Édouard Manet (1832-83), Claude Monet (1840-1926), John Singer Sargent (1856- 1925) and Pierre Renoir (1885-1952). Joining this group of artists while following in the tradition of the Italian vedute of the eighteenth century, Rico frequently painted his Venetian scenes en plein aire, often from a gondola anchored to a canal or from the window of his room located in the Dorsoduro neighborhood.

Next spring, as part of the continuing collaboration between the Meadows Museum and the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Meadows will host a monographic showing of Rico’s work, marking the first retrospective ever to be presented on the artist. The project, under the direction of Dr. Javier Barón Thaidigsmann, Head of the Department of Nineteenth Century Painting at the Prado Museum, will travel exclusively to the Meadows Museum and will examine the artist’s chronological development. Included in the Dallas venue will be numerous works loaned from U.S. collections, reflecting the original interest that Rico’s work held for many American collectors, including Henry Clay Frick, Henry Walters, and William H. Stewart. An accompanying catalogue will provide a major contribution to the relatively minimal scholarship currently published on the artist. The publication will include an essay by Dr. Barón Thaidigsmann and catalogue entries by curators at the Prado and Meadows Museums, as well as an extensive biography organized by the artist’s granddaughter, Madame Claude Rico Robert.


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