Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor y Zaragoza was born in El Ferrol, La Coruña, in 1875. He trained in the workshop of painter Manuel Domínguez, who involved him in the decoration of a room in the Ministry of Agriculture in Madrid, among other works.
Retirement in Rome
After receiving a scholarship at the end of the 1890s, he moved to Rome to attend the Spanish Academy.
Right from the start, he became the interpreter of a luminous and chromatically full painting style, which starts from the drawing solidity of ancient painting and arrives at a verism rich in personal nuances, in which the moving and charged brushstroke supports the entire structure of the representation. Specialising in the execution of dramatic, everyday and popular scenes from Castile and Galicia, he perfectly conveys the character of the Spanish people in all their most intimate facets.
During his third year of retirement in Rome, in 1902, Sotomayor made a study trip with the painter Manuel Benedito to Paris, and then visited several of Flanders, such as Bruges. Numerous sketches and drawings of these places appear in his earliest production, including Una calle de Brujas, a fast-paced, light-filled composition.
Increasingly characterised by a mellow, full brushstroke, in which luminosity plays a primary role, he produced paintings that were deeply linked to Spanish customs, such as The Grandparents of 1905, dedicated to an elderly couple from Segovia, immersed in the serene, everyday life of their simple home. Also from 1905 is El Paular, where material and compendiary brushstrokes are filled with light and sketch two men in the sun. 1905 was also the year of his first participation in the Venice Biennale, where he exhibited Interior of a cloister and In the old church. At the International Exhibition in Barcelona in 1907 he won the gold medal, which he also received in Munich in 1909 and Buenos Aires in 1910.
Santiago de Chile and the “Sotomayor Generation”
In 1908, Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor moved to Santiago de Chile to teach at the Chilean School of Fine Arts, becoming its director in 1911. The painter’s contribution was truly decisive for the young Chilean artists, who were emblematically brought together in the current known as “Generación 1913” or “Generación Sotomayor”, to clarify how significant the stylistic revolution produced by Sotomayor’s presence in Santiago was.
Following this experience in Latin America, he was appointed deputy director of the Prado Museum, becoming its director in 1921, a post he held until 1931, the year of the beginning of the Republic, and which he resumed at the end of the Civil War and until his death in 1960. Despite his commitment as director of one of the world’s most important museums, he continued to paint throughout his career, participating in the Venice Biennale again in 1924 with Interior and in 1928 with Portrait of Mrs. M. di R. He would go on to produce vibrant masterpieces of colour such as Tecelanos, Armonia (the artist’s daughter) and Monserrat Güell as Diana at the Bath. Considered one of the best portrait painters of the time, he also received prestigious commissions from the Spanish Crown as well as from the most important aristocratic families.