In the years prior to 1873, the Spanish landscape painter Martín Rico y Ortega (1833–1908) had trained in Madrid and Paris, and painted even further afield in Switzerland. But it was when he was sharing a studio with Marià Fortuny in Granada, during 1871-72, that he developed his mature style.
In 1873, Rico and Fortuny left Spain and travelled to Italy, where they visited Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. Of these, it was Venice that became Rico’s enduring love, and its was his paintings of that unique city which made his art and reputation. The following year, Fortuny stayed near Naples at Portici, where he tragically caught malaria and died later in Rome.
From then on, Rico travelled to Venice to paint each summer. Unfortunately the dating of those paintings is not very clear, but here follows a selection of some of the best in approximate order of date.
Many of Rico’s views of Venice show lesser-known canals and less-frequented areas, like A Canal in Venice from about 1875. Although populated by the occasional gondola and a small clutch of children, they have a wonderful air of peace and serenity. His broken reflections are painted more tightly than those of John Singer Sargent, but Rico is reputed to have painted mainly en plein air.
He continued to paint some views when back in Spain, including this marvellous Doorway of a House in Toledo (1875-78). Its dazzling sun-bleached walls are shown here near noon, with little shade offered even in the backstreet at the right, and only the working animals and a small dog out in the sun.
In A Spanish Garden, which he completed before 1881, a young child is playing in the small pond surrounding a fountain.
When Rico painted famous landmarks in Venice, such as the Courtyard of the Doge’s Palace in 1883, he seems to have caught them when there are more pigeons than people. A small splash of colour to the left of centre is a carpet which is being beaten, suggesting that this was painted in the early morning, although the clock at the left is hard to read.
This undated view of the Grand Canal just catches the dome of the church of Santa María della Salute, Venice, and is also known by the fuller title of Grand Canal and the Church of Santa María della Salute, Venice.
Canal in Venice is another undated view of one of the minor ‘backstreet’ canals which is profoundly serene.
Rico’s undated cross-canal view of Venice reminds me of Claude Monet’s 1908 paintings of the Palazzo Da Mula Morosini, although clearly a different location and contrasting style. However, this does appear to be a ‘proper’ plein air oil sketch with rougher facture, for once.
In 1883, Rico apparently visited Paris in the late Spring or early summer, where he painted this superb wide View of Paris from the Trocadero. His style is again a little looser, but he is painstaking in even distant detail, which encompasses the Hôtel des Invalides, the Pantheon, and the towers of Notre Dame beyond. Fortuny’s influence remains strong even here, nearly a decade after his death.
Some of Rico’s later paintings of Venice are more populous and bustling, such as his San Lorenzo River with the Campanile of San Giorgio dei Greci, Venice from about 1900. He again strikes a careful balance between the painterly and detailed realism.
In about 1902, he painted a more direct view of the church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with a small fleet of gondolas.
Rico seems to have maintained his summer visits to Venice right up to the year of his death. This unusual view Near the Grand Canal, Venice was painted in 1908. A person is in the water beside the gondola, and the boatman is assisting them with a boathook while the other occupants seem quite detached from what is going on.
Martín Rico, the great Spanish landscape artist who painted Venice most successfully, died in Venice that Spring, on 13 April 1908, at the age of 74.