Zabaleta, Rafael

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Rafael Zabaleta

Quesada, Jaen, 1907

Quesada, Jaen, 1960


In 1925, a young Zabaleta left for Madrid to attend the San Fernando School of Fine Arts. In 1932, one of his pieces was chosen to illustrate the review that Manuel Abril had written of the student exhibition for the magazine Blanco y Negro. Several years later, in 1935, he traveled to Paris, where he had the chance to become acquainted with and study the work of the most prominent contemporary artists. 

He was affiliated with the Republican Union and played an active role in the defense of Spanish cultural heritage during the Civil War: he was named Deputy of the National Artistic Treasure in 1937, and, as such, was in charge of carrying out heritage protection and recovery work in Valencia, Guadix and Baza. Around the same time, he started working on a series of drawings about the war. Once the war was over, he was sent to the Higuera de Calatrava concentration camp, together with his friends Alfonso Caballé and Cesareo Rodríguez-Aguilera. He was released after fifteen days and went to Madrid. However, he was reported for his actions at the National Artistic Treasure and jailed in Jaen, where the drawings he made during the war were confiscated. 

After he left prison, he settled in Madrid and immersed himself in the intellectual life of the capital, painting in the Círculo de Bellas Artes and participating in “tertulias” (discussions) such as the ones held at Café Gijón. Zabaleta was in contact with the most prominent artistic groups in Spain at the time, but also with artists based in Paris. In 1942, Galería Biosca organized his first solo exhibition. The following year, Luis Felipe Vivanco introduced him at the first Salón de los Once, held at Galería Biosca and organized by Eugenio d’Ors‘ Academia Breve de Crítica de Arte (Academy of Art Criticism). 

The painter immersed himself in activities that promoted an artistic renewal of Franco’s Spain in the 1950s.  In 1951, he had a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, and one of his pieces received an award at the First Hispanic-American Art Biennial. In 1955, he participated in the First Abstract Painting Conference. His work was again recognized at the Third Hispanic-American Biennial, held in Barcelona. Starting in 1957, Zabaleta often took part in the Salones de Mayo, exhibitions organized by the recently created Asociación de Artistas Actuales de Barcelona (Association of Modern Artists of Barcelona). In 1959, he collaborated with the Sociedad Anónima de Intelectuales y Artistas (Limited Company of Intellectuals and Artists) to promote a future Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. In 1960, when several halls in the Spanish pavilion of the Venice Biennale were devoted to his work, his life was cut short by a brain hemorrhage. 

Noemi de Haro