Tuesday, March 28

Who was Mariano Benlliure: the story of the hands behind the bust at the Goya Awards

With the 36th Goya gala, the city of Valencia has become a tribute to one of its most emblematic sculptors, author of the bust that represents the award. Giant reproductions of the Goya Awards statuette have been located since last Friday at 12 points in the city as a claim and tribute to the hands that sculpted the statuette: those of the sculptor Mariano Benlliure Gil.

Benlliure (Valencia 1862- Madrid 1947) is part of an emblematic triad of the city at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, together with the writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the painter Joaquín Sorolla. In 2013, the Valencia City Council dedicated the exhibition BSB Three Valencian friends (Benlliure, Sorolla and Blasco Ibáñez) to works and correspondence of the three artists. Benlliure, the lesser known, was the link between the two, paying homage to them in his compositions. His is the cenotaph of Blasco Ibáñez, which until April of last year remained in the Museum of Fine Arts, designed by the sculptor to crown his crypt, and his is the bust of Sorolla, commissioned by the Hyspanic Society. Together with them and other artists he founded, in 1894 in Valencia, the Círculo de Bellas Artes, to promote professional relationships and mutual support in various disciplines. At the same time, in the midst of the effervescence of intellectual Valencia, Blasco Ibáñez presented his diary The village and Teodoro Llorente, the National Exhibition of 1895, where Sorolla won the first medal.

The study of the correspondence between Benlliure and Sorolla by the historian Violeta Montoliu points to their aspirations to build a school of Fine Arts in Valencia. Montoliu reviews “a recognized artistic roots with which they feel committed and for which they undertake with great enthusiasm a project that was born as a dream”, and points out: “The initial impulse, born within an Association of Valencian Artists that was maintained over two decades without any institutional backing, makes us rethink once again the concept of ‘school’ from the sentimental point of view of its members, among whom are the two aforementioned artists who, although living and working in Madrid and abroad, they strive hard to dignify the profession and the recognition of Valencian art”.

Benlliure, son and brother of painters, began in sculpture in a self-taught way working in different workshops until in 1881 he went to Rome to complete his training. At first he worked as a painter-watercolorist and with his benefits he was able to dedicate himself more freely to sculpture, a trade that would earn him recognition. From the Italian capital he sent his works with which he began to collect awards at competitions and numerous medals at national and international exhibitions. In 1884 he obtained his second medal with Accident! (private collection), the sculpture that made him famous, and in 1887 the first medal with the Statue of the painter José de Ribera (Plaza del Poeta Llorente, Valencia), according to the biography of the artist in the Prado Museum. The Madrid art gallery and the San Pío V Fine Arts Museum in Valencia house a large part of his work.

Goya’s bust was made around 1902 as a commission from the Madrid City Council to celebrate the coming of age of Alfonso XIII. The work now housed in the Prado Museum is a reduction of the design prepared by the Valencian artist for the full-length sculpture of the painter, designed as a monumental fountain to be installed in the hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida and which was finally located in the north facade of the art gallery. Benlliure presented the bust of Goya in plaster at the VIII Biennial Exhibition of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in 1902, before the inauguration of the monument, which he later used as a reference for the marble and bronze replicas. After a bureaucratic tug-of-war that lasted several years, in June 2019 the Film Academy and the sculptor’s foundation signed an agreement by which the latter, depositary of the sculptor’s rights, authorized its reproduction.