Ricardo Villegas y Cordero was born in Seville in 1849. José’s younger brother, he followed his own artistic vocation. Initially, however, with his parents’ encouragement, he studied science at the University of Seville from 1870 to 1872. He then moved to Madrid to study architecture, although he became increasingly interested in painting, inspired by the early successes of his brother José in Rome.
In 1874, thanks to his brother, he received a letter of introduction from Fortuny (shortly before his death) introducing him to the wealthy collector William Hood Stewart, who had his home in Paris. But instead of leaving for the French capital, Ricardo Villegas y Cordero took the road to Venice, where he met the Spanish painter Rogelio Egusquiza, who was passing through the lagoon city after attending Fortuny’s funeral in Rome.
The move to Rome: Fortuny’s legacy
It was to Rome that the young man went in 1875 to stay close to his brother, with whom he lived in the house on Via Flaminia. His drawing became impeccable thanks to the long hours of practice in José’s studio and gradually, his painting also became very luminous, evidently taking its cue from the small virtuoso and brilliant touches of Fortuny’s chromaticism. At the same time, he inherited from his brother a passion for historical and genre themes, treated with sensitivity and imagination.
He sent his works to the Society for the Protection of Fine Arts in Seville. He achieved great success with Orientalist and genre subjects, such as The Bazaar in Tunisia and The Palm reader. Attention to exotic details, costumes, settings, but above all a warm and attractive colourism that expands in perfectly managed space make Ricardo Villegas y Cordero a painter highly appreciated throughout Europe, like his brother.
History and Orientalism
Between small canvases of costume and large paintings sold by Goupil in Paris, including The Guesser, he built up his success, culminating in the International Exhibition of Fine Arts in Munich in 1884 with Cockfighting, which won first prize in the first class.
This success was followed by the National Exhibition in Madrid and Naples in 1887. The works presented, A Farrier and A Fisher, represented not only the artist’s definitive affirmation on the international stage, but also a radical change in style. While up to this point Fortuny’s luministic virtuosity had prevailed, there is now a greater monumentality of the figures and formal solidity, together with an accentuated chiaroscuro reminiscent of Velázquez’s 17th century.
The Death of Viriato, the most important painting in Ricardo Villegas y Cordero’s history, dates from 1890. Kept in his brother José’s Moorish-style villa, it did not achieve the success he had hoped for, which came in 1891 at the Barcelona International Fine Arts Exhibition with Castañera.
In 1892 he continued to produce history subjects, with the Presentation of Columbus to the Catholic Monarchs, acquired by the Seville Town Hall, following the celebrations for the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America. At the same time, he continued to work on small chamber paintings with genre and orientalist subjects, including The Punishment of the Odalisque.
He died suddenly in 1896 on the River Guadalquivir while hunting with a group of friends. In his memory, his brother José established an annual prize for painting students at the Seville Academy of Fine Arts.