José Gallegos was born in Spain on the
third of May 1857 in the Convento de la Victoria in
Jerez de la Frontera. He was the youngest of five sons.
One of them became a university professor in Buenos
Aires, another a coffee planter in Columbia, and another a naval officer who was killed in the war between
Spain and the United States over the Philippines. Little
is known of the fourth son.
de la Victoria
Jerez is a provincial town in Andalusia, and
at the end of the last century the sherry community
formed a small élite class of their own; the two leading
families were the Domecqs, and the Gonzalez. Today they
are still amongst the most important sherry producers
José Gallegos’ father, Don José worked in a sherry
‘bodega’ belonging to Don Gillermo Garvey, and it was
he who assisted José in his application for enrollment
at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. His father
pushed him toward architecture, where he was more
likely to be able to make an independent living.
Whilst at the Academy, José’s exceptional talent soon
became apparent, and the director of the Academy wrote
to his father requesting him to let his son stop his
architectural studies, and change
over to painting. He said that it would be a crime
to limit the expression
of such talent. José was allowed to change stream,
and became a pupil of Madrazo. Nevertheless his architectural
grounding was by no means wasted, as can be witnessed
in the altarpiece that he executed in the Church of
Santiago in Jerez . This massive work
is 10 metres high, and is decorated with thirty-six
and was executed between 1900 and 1906 under the patronage
of Don Gillermo Garvey .
altarpiece in the church of Santiago in Jerez
When José graduated from the Academy he moved to Tangier
in Morocco. There he worked hard, and was eventually
able to return to Madrid with enough paintings to hold
a one-man exhibition. Here was his first real success;
the critics were unanimous in their praise of his work;
he was acclaimed for his skill in the way he handled
large groups of people, and for his sense of colour.
A fine example of this is in the very large picture
War Booty in the Modern Art Gallery in Buenos Aires.
After remaining in Madrid for a short
period, he moved to Venice, where the well-known Spanish
painter Mariano Fortuny was living, and by whom he
to be greatly influenced.
1894 he settled in Rome where he had previously exhibited
between 1881 and 1883. Each year he would spend some
weeks in Assisi in company with a contemporary of his,
the sculptor Mariano Benlliure.
Together with Benlliure and with Salinas (Pablo and
Agostino), Villegas, Poveda, Barbasan, and Salvador
Sanchez Barbudo, José Gallegos represented the élite
of the Spanish artists in Italy at that time.
He adored Rome, and cemented his
bond with Italy by marrying a ‘Milanese’, Giuseppina
Trelanzi in 1887. Giuseppina is portrayed in The
Christening ; she has her head turned to acknowledge
the old man with white hair. The baby is Giuseppina's
eldest daughter Consuelo. This happy marriage lasted
only ten years, as Giuseppina died in 1897. There were
four children, all of whom are now dead. Whilst two
of the children remained in Rome, Consuelo returned
to Spain, where her children and grandchildren now live.