Palencia, Benjamín

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Benjamín Palencia

Barrax, Albacete, 1894

Madrid, 1980


A central figure in the development of the Spanish artistic avant-garde, he initially practices a late-impressionist landscape that was indebted to the ideas of 98 and to Zuloaga in the long and layered brushstrokes. Juan Ramón Jiménez introduced him to the intellectual groups of the time, an influence that was reflected during the following decade in watercolors of still lifes and portraits of boys where the cubist faceting can be seen. In 1926 he collaborated with Alberti in the set design of his work La pájara pinta. He also designed the emblem of García Lorca’s theater company La Barraca, where he served as artistic director, developing varied set designs.

In 1925 he exhibited alongside Pancho Cossío y Bores within the framework of the Sociedad de Artistas Ibéricos (Society of Iberian Artists). The following year he traveled to Paris where he immersed himself in the two streams that defined his work until the eve of the Civil War: surrealism and abstraction. He became part of the so-called School of Paris, where he sought the friendship and support of renowned artists such as Picasso, Braque, Cocteau and, in particular, the Cahiers d’Art environment, represented by Tériade and Zervos.

In 1928 he moved back to Spain permanently and a period of Mironian influences, with canvases populated by nudes, still lifes and landscapes, to which he liked to apply earth and ash. From 1929 he began to work closely with José Bergamín, on the Cruz y Raya magazine. Between the end of 1929 and the start of 1930 he founded, along with Alberto Sánchez, the so-called Escuela de Vallecas (School of Vallecas). In 1933 he joined the group Arte Constructivo (Constructive Art group) in Madrid, where he experimented with compositions in the manner of Torres García.

During the thirties he exhibited throughout Europe with great success, especially after his participation in the 1936 Venice Biennale. After the Civil War, he moved away from human subjects to immerse himself in landscapes. He restarted the Escuela de Vallecas with new members such as Álvaro Delgado, Del Olmo, Enrique Núñez Castelo, San José and Carlos Pascual de Lara, a group that represented the seed of the Joven Escuela Madrileña (Young Madrid School). At this stage, his work was characterized by desolate views of wastelands in earthy colors and occasional ink portraits of boys and peasants. After the series of female nudes that brought color back to his paintings in the forties, he returned his focus to the theme in which he started with brushes: landscapes.

Iván López Munuera