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Begin - Online Appraisal Information - Art Movements and Biographies - Fine Art - 19th Century Art Movements & Artists - Romanticism - Spain - The growth of Neo-classicism and Romanticism - Antonio María Esquivel
Antonio María Esquivel
(b Seville, 8 March 1806; d Madrid, 9 April 1857)

Spanish painter. He was trained at the Real Escuela de Tres Nobles Artes in Seville, and he started his artistic career at the age of 21 in an environment of mediocre standards, where he stood out for his great ability in drawing. After working for ten years in Seville, Esquivel went, in 1831, to Madrid, establishing himself rapidly in a privileged position among the painters who worked at the Court. He soon acquired a great reputation as a portrait painter, although he also created lavish religious compositions and colorful scenes of local life. After his triumph in Madrid, Esquivel returned to Seville in 1838 ready to profit from the brilliant reputation he had acquired. In the following year, however, progressive blindness dramatically curtailed his development, and brought him to such despair that he twice tried to commit suicide. These circumstances moved the artistic circles of Madrid and Seville to organize collections of money to provide enough for the artist to live on, and also to cover the cost of treatment, which happily allowed his sight to be restored in June 1840. After this grievous experience Esquivel decided to return to Madrid where he soon recovered his prestige, his career culminating in his being appointed Pintor de Cámara by Isabella II in 1843 and being elected to the Real Academia de San Fernando in 1847. In the following year he published his famous Tratado de anatomía pictórica, in which he summarized his teaching on this subject. Esquivel’s untiring activity of the last ten years of his life produced both a large number of paintings and many undertakings to promote and defend the fine arts.

Esquivel’s principal talent was for drawing the figure from life; but his finished work suffers from certain coldness in facial expression. His greatest success was in the painting of portraits, although the quality of these is uneven. This imbalance was largely due to the differing levels of interest aroused in the painter by his models, and also to the size of the fee that had been agreed. In his most successful works Esquivel was careful to capture not only physical appearance but also the characteristics of the clothing with all kinds of textures and sheens. Esquivel’s self-portraits are of great interest; among these are the Self-portrait in the uniform of an Academy Member (1847; Madrid, Mus. Lázaro Galdiano) and a later Self-portrait (c. 1850; Madrid, Casón Buen Retiro), the best that survives. Esquivel also painted a touching Self-portrait with Wife (c. 1827; Seville, Marqués de Aracena priv. col.). In his female portraits Esquivel showed the clear influence of 19th-century English painting, a style imbibed during his period of training in Seville through contact with his English patron, Julian Williams. Such an influence is reflected in the several versions of the Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Daughter (e.g. 1830's–40's; see Guerrero Lovillo, pls 20 and 21). Other female portraits of high quality are that of Doña Concha Argüelles (Barcelona, Mus. A. Catalunya) and that of the Señora de Carriquirre (1845; Seville, Mus. B.A.). Equally attractive are Esquivel’s portraits of children, where he catches the innocence of infancy. The early portraits of Isabella II and of her sister Luisa Fernanda at the ages, respectively, of eight and six years (both 1838; both Sanlucar de Barrameda, Prince Alvaro de Orleans priv. col., see Valdivieso, 1981, figs 30 and 31) show great technical skill. There is also a magnificent portrait of Isabella II as Infanta (1838; Madrid, Banco de España). In 1845, Esquivel again painted the two sisters (Seville, Alcázar).

As Esquivel was one of the most important portrait artists of the Madrid Court, he was often called upon to paint the most notable politicians, military men, aristocrats and intellectuals of his time. Among his works of this kind is the equestrian portrait of General Prim (Madrid, Mus. Romántico). Among the most important members of the aristocracy painted by Esquivel were the Conde de Cabarrús (1842; Jerez de la Frontera, priv. col., see Guerrero Lovillo, pl. 41) and Don Juan Dómine (1838–40; Seville, priv. col., see Valdivieso, 1981, pl. 314). This last portrait is a work of particular interest in Esquivel’s development, as he started to paint it shortly before going blind and finished it after recovering his sight. Esquivel was also active as a painter of portrait miniatures; and of particular interest as records of Esquivel’s cultural setting are the group portraits, A Reading of Ventura de la Vega on the Stage of the Príncipe Theatre (1845; Madrid, Casón Buen Retiro) and A Meeting of Literary Men in the Painter’s Studio (1846; Madrid, Mus. Romántico). Both paintings contain a large number of portraits of the principal actors and literary men of the time.

Esquivel was also deeply committed to religious painting. Although the technical execution of his religious work is always correct, it lacks spiritual feeling. Among the more powerful works are Transfiguration (1837; parish church of Santa Cruz de la Palma) and the Fall of Lucifer (1841; untraced). Esquivel’s skill at drawing from the nude is amply demonstrated in his figures of Adam and Eve (1842), Susanna and the Elders (2 versions, 1843 and 1854) and Joseph with Potiphar’s Wife (1854; all Seville, Mus. B.A.). In all three works, however, the rhetorical, declamatory attitudes of the figures cause them to lose sincerity and verisimilitude. Esquivel’s Mary Magdalene (1856; Seville, Mus. B.A.) is of high quality, combining accurate drawing with concentrated spiritual feeling. As a typically Romantic artist, Esquivel also painted historical subjects, although this was a minor aspect of his oeuvre (e.g. the Bell of Huesca, 1850; Seville, Mus. B.A.). Most of these are colorful, small in scale and successful in terms of composition; but once again overemphatic gesture and expression detracts from their effectiveness as historical scenes. Esquivel painted several works on mythological themes, the most successful being the Birth of Venus (1838; Barcelona, priv. col., see Valdivieso, 1981). This is a work of exceptional quality, in which Esquivel established the most admirable type of feminine beauty to be found in all his work. On occasions Esquivel attempted compositions whose main scenes were subtly erotic, in defiance of the rigid moral principles of the bourgeois society of his time. Only a few of these paintings are known. Among them is the Young Girl Taking off her Stockings (1842; Dallas, TX, S. Methodist U., Meadows Mus. & Gal.). Among Esquivel’s more successful scenes of local life is his picture of the dancer Josefa Vargas (1850; Seville, Col. Alba).

Writings

Tratado de anatomía pictórica (Madrid, 1848)

Bibliography

J. Guerrero Lovillo: Antonio María Esquivel (Madrid, 1957)
J. A. Gaya Nuño: Arte del siglo XIX, A. Hisp., xix (Madrid, 1966)
E. Valdivieso: Pintura sevillana del siglo XIX (Seville, 1981)
E. Valdivieso: Historia de la pintura sevillana (Seville, 1986)
Banda y Vargas, 1991, p.139 (Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
Barcelona, Museu d'Art Modern [cat.], 1987, v.1, p.344 (Antonio M. Esquivel Suárez de Urbina).
Bénézit, 1976.
Busse, 1977.
Cien años de pintura, v.2, 1988 (Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
Gaya Nuño, 1966, pp.209-210 (Antonio Esquivel, or Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
Guerrero Lovillo, 1957, pp.11, 23 (also as Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
London, Witt, 1978.
Madrid, Centro Reina Sofía, 1991.
Madrid, DGBA [exh.], 1956, p.107.
Madrid, Museo Municipal [exh.], 1989-1990, p.96 (Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
Madrid, Prado, Casón [cat.], 1985, p.63 (Antonio María Esquivel y Suárez de Urbina).
Madrid, RASF [cat.], 1988, p.73.
Ossorio y Bernard, 1883-1884.
Páez Ríos, v.1, 1981, p.318 (n.1806-op.1868[sic]).
Ráfols, 1954, p.254 (Antonio María Esquivel Suárez).
Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes [cat.], 1991, v.2, p.332.
Thieme-Becker, v.11, 1915.
Tomás, 1953, p.74 (Antonio Esquivel).
Valdivieso [González], 1986, p.366.
Valencia, Museo [cat.], 1955, p.316.
Vollmer, v.2, 1955 (Antonio Esquivel [no dates given]).
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